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Conference USA Notebook

January 6, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Upsetting the SEC again

Knocking off the best in the SEC is no longer just the job of No. 12 Louisville. While LSU was not ranked No. 1, (they are not even in the Top 25), the Tigers were 8-0 coming into their game against Houston. The Cougars promptly knocked LSU from the ranks of the unbeatens with a 60-52 win.

Houston starting out the game with an 18-5 run and never trailed, taking a ten-point lead into the half. Andre Owens, after his 41 point outburst against Texas A&M Dec. 27, finished with eighteen points for the Cougars. Lanny Smith led the Cougars with nineteen points. The win capped off Houston’s first five-game win streak since the 1997-98 season.

The Cougars came back to earth against Louisiana Lafayette, losing 81-67. It was Houston’s second road game of the season, which they have lost both. Houston is by no means a contender for the C-USA title, but their proved they can at least hang with just about anyone in the conference and could pull off an upset or two.

Big week for the Billikens

Saint Louis is one of those teams that is going to hang around in every game, no matter who they are playing. Teams like that are dangerous, as both Dayton and Kansas State found out last week. The Billikens improved to 7-4 after winning on the road against previously ranked Flyers, 60-49, before winning a nail biter at home, 65-64, against the Wildcats.

After a slow first half, the SLU offense exploded for 41 points during the second half against Dayton. Coming again with only seven players, the Billikens had just eight assists but countered by hitting 20-of-28 free throws. The Flyers died by the three-point shot, making only 6-of-29 treys.

Against Kansas State, Saint Louis trailed by five late before Chris Sloan hit a three-pointer with 27 seconds remaining. After the Wildcats missed the front end of a one-and-one, Josh Fisher converted a three-point play with only 0.8 seconds remaining, giving the Billikens the thrilling victory.

Quietly, one of the most exciting and consistent player in C-USA this year has been Saint Louis junior Reggie Bryant. The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 17.9 points per game. After missing the first three games of the season, Bryant has been great in the eight games he’s played in. During the past four games Bryant has averaged 20 points per game.

Not fool’s gold

Charlotte has notched a big win on the road, beating the defending national champions. They have won by large margins and squeaked out wins in overtime. They have halted 30-plus home game winning streaks. Now, they have completed their best non-conference schedule under head coach Bobby Lutz. It appears that the 49ers are a legitimate contender for the C-USA title.

With scoring inside from Curtis Withers and Eddie Basden and scoring outside from Demon Brown and Brendan Plavich, the Niners are a very balanced squad that does not depend on a scoring style, let alone one particular player. Look out for the 49ers as the conference schedule starts.

Injury update

UAB’s Morris Finley has returned from his shoulder injury, playing 27 points and hitting his first three-pointer in a month against South Alabama Saturday. While he is still not 100 percent, he is getting very close.

DePaul’s Andre Brown missed his third-straight game, Saturday against Chicago State, with soreness and discomfort in his knee. Brown’s return date is still uncertain.

Charlotte’s Brendan Plavich missed the Niners’ game against Southern Miss with a hamstring pull. Look for Plavich to be in action against DePaul Tuesday.

Louisville’s Francisco Garcia bruised his left knee during the Cards game against Toledo Tuesday, sitting out the second half. But he played with no pain during the Cardinals’ win against Murray State Saturday.

Player of the Week

Curtis Withers, Charlotte

Withers averaged 20.5 points and 10.5 rebounds during the 49ers’ two wins last week, including a 64-59 win on the road against Southern Illinois. Withers is filling in a big role in the middle for Charlotte and his 10.0 rebound average is third in the conference.

The rest of C-USA

Cincinnati (9-0)

The Bearcats cruised in their final tune-up of the season, beating Elon 102-63 Tuesday night at the Fifth Third Arena. Balance has been the key all season for Cincinnati and their win against Elon was no different. Six players scored in double digits, led by Jason Maxiell’s double-double of nineteen points and ten rebounds. Eric Hicks, Jason White and Tony Bobbitt each scored thirteen points of the bench. The Bearcats shot 57.8 percent from the field, including 65.5 percent during the first half. Cincinnati also finished with a season-high 28 assists. Up next – at Tulane, Jan. 7.

DePaul (7-4)

Despite the absence of Andre Brown, the Blue Demons won both of their games last week, both in close fashion. Against SE Missouri State, DePaul won 57-50 before holding off crosstown rival Chicago State, 81-74. Against the Indians, the Blue Demons trailed 48-46 before finishing the game on an 11-2 run. DePaul struggled against Chicago State, which owns a poor 1-13 record, but held on for the win. C-USA’s leading scorer Delonte Holland continued his great season, scoring 21 and 24 points, respectively, during the Demons’ two wins. Up next – against Charlotte, Jan. 6.

East Carolina (8-2)

After defeating Radford easily at home, 87-50, the Pirates saw their five-game winning streak snapped on the road Saturday, losing to Mississippi 65-49. Against Radford, Derrick Wiley scored a season-high 26 points, leading for Pirates in double digits. Against the Rebels, ECU traveled outside of Mingis Coliseum for just the second time this season, and left with their second loss. Mississippi scored the first nine points of the game and never looked back. Wiley promptly responded after his 26 points with his season-low, only scoring four on the road. The Pirates went cold from the field, hitting only 17-of-49 shots. Up next – against UAB, Jan. 7.

Louisville (9-1)

The No. 12 Cardinals coasted to two home victories last week, defeating Toledo 92-56 and Murray State 91-69. Two things became evident last week for Louisville: Francisco is just as dangerous when he doesn’t score and Larry O’Bannon is starting to become another integral part of the Cards attack. Against Murray State and former Louisville assistant coach Mick Cronin, Garcia dished out a school-record fifteen assists, to go along with seventeen points and seven rebounds. Garcia is now second in C-USA in assists, averaging 6.4 per game. O’Bannon scored a career-high 20 points against the Racers and has averaged fourteen points per game during the Cards’ last three wins. Up next – against Southern Miss, Jan. 7.

Marquette (9-2)

The Golden Eagles, the last team out of the Top 25, won its third home game by five points or less against a weak opponent Monday, defeating Sacred Heart 77-72. The Pioneers, after trailing big early, got the lead down to one, 62-61, with less than six minutes remaining, but Travis Diener made a big three-pointer and big free throws late to seal the win for Marquette. Diener led the Eagles with 22 points and six assists. It has become apparent that Diener is the only Marquette player who consistently shows up every game. While Steve Novack, Scott Merritt and Terry Sanders are all talented players, all three tend to disappear from time to time. Up next – at Houston, Jan. 7.

Memphis (8-2)

Just like Marquette, the Tigers have been winning the close games. Last week Memphis won its third straight game by six points or less, knocking off pesky Oakland at home, 69-63. Playing with essentially six players, the Tigers were led by freshman Sean Banks’ 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting and Jeremy Hunt’s season-highs of fifteen points and nine assists. Oakland stayed in the game by hitting 11-of-26 three pointers. Up next – at Villanova, Jan. 6.

USF (6-5)

The Bulls won the USF Holiday Classic last week, defeating South Alabama 78-67 before coming back to beat New Orleans 66-61. A balanced attack led the Bulls against South Alabama, as four players scored in double digits and as a team USF shot 61.5 percent from the field. Against the Privateers, the Bulls employed a rarely-used 3-2 zone defense to spark an 18-1 run during the second half, keying the win. Free throws were the key for USF, going 16-of-20 from the charity stripe. Up next – against No. 12 Louisville, Jan. 10.

Southern Miss (7-4)

It’s becoming pretty obvious what the Golden Eagles problem is this season – playing away from Hattiesburg. Southern Miss is now 7-0 at home and 0-4 on the road after splitting its games last week. The Eagles lost handedly on the road at Auburn, 78-60, before winning during the waning seconds against New Orleans 61-59. Jasper Johnson, after a poor performance against the Tigers, hit a jumper with 0.8 seconds left to win in dramatic fashion against the Privateers. Up next – at No. 12 Louisville, Dec. 7.

TCU (4-7)

The Horned Frogs played twice last week and neither game was close. Against Grambling Monday, TCU scored a season-high 99 points, winning 99-71. Marcus Shropshire scored a season-high 26 points and Corey Santee nearly finished with a double-double, scoring eleven points and dishing out nine assists. Then against No. 22 Vanderbilt, the Horned Frogs gave up a season-high 95 points, losing 95-60. The Commodores had five players in double digits and Shropshire never showed up for TCU, getting shutout. Up next – against Saint Louis, Jan. 7.

Tulane (6-4)

The Green Wave snapped a three-game losing streak by defeating Nicholls State 61-56. Like all season, Tulane won with a team effort, as Ben Benfield led the team in scoring with thirteen points. Both teams struggled shooting the ball, each hitting only eighteen shots from the field. Do not expect to see the Green Wave in any high scoring shootout games as conference play starts this week. Up next – against No. 11 Cincinnati, Jan. 7.

UAB (7-4)

The Blazers wants nothing to do with the MAC for the rest of the season. Lucky for them, the only way they will play another team from the mid-major is if they play one in a postseason tournament. UAB dropped its second game of the season to a MAC team, again on its home court, losing 68-66 to Marshall. The Blazers recovered by defeating South Alabama Saturday, 90-75. Mark Patton hit two free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining to clinch the win for the Thundering Herd. Against South Alabama, Gabe Kennedy led four UAB players in double figures with nineteen points. Up next – at East Carolina, Jan. 7.

Games to watch

Charlotte at DePaul, Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.

The first C-USA game of the season is a good one. The 49ers have already proven it can win on the road. The health of Andre Brown and Brendan Plavich are big factors for each team.

UAB at East Carolina, Wednesday at 7 p.m.

This is a big game for both teams for different reasons. The Blazers have been inconsistent all season but finally look healthy now that Morris Finley is back. East Carolina has fallen apart in January the past two seasons.

Memphis at Southern Miss, Saturday at 5 p.m.

The Golden Eagles are 7-0 at home this season. Memphis has been playing everyone close, regardless if they are ranked or unheard of. This will be a battle of opposites: the big men of Southern Miss versus the guard play of Memphis.


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