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Butler-UWM Rematch

January 10, 2004 Columns No Comments

Butler at Wisconsin-Milwaukee: Championship Rematch

by Nick Dettmann

MILWAUKEE – In the league’s proudest moment last season, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers and Butler Bulldogs met for the 2003 Horizon League conference championship.

It was a much-anticipated match-up, as 10,000-plus fans packed their way into the U.S. Cellular Arena in downtown Milwaukee to witness it. After it was all said and done, the storybook tale continued for the Panthers as they defeated Butler 69-52 to help them get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.

Now – less than 10 months later – the two teams re-adjourned for their first match-up of the 2003-’04 season. And it was at the same place where the two rivals last left off, downtown Milwaukee.

This edition of the rivalry did not start off the way the last one started. Last time around, UWM jumped out to a two touchdown, 14-0, lead on Butler and never looked back. This time, the two played tight in the scrappy affair as the Panthers held onto a 25-20 half-time lead.

But, it was the home Panthers that would take control and cruise their way to a 71-59 win over the Butler Bulldogs, dropping Butler to a disappointing 4-8 overall record and 0-3 in the conference.

“I thought the story of the game was our defense,” UWM head coach Bruce Pearl said. “To hold them to 21% in the first half was the key to the game. We didn’t get to the foul line in the first half, but we were fine.”

Dylan Page, who was hampered by early foul trouble, led the way for UWM (8-5, 3-0) as he had a game-high 23 points in only 21 minutes. Ed McCants and Joah Tucker rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Panthers with 13 and 11 respectively.

The bright spot for the Bulldogs came off their bench. Butler outscored UWM 32-13 in bench production, thanks largely to Duane Lightfoot. He had his third straight double-digit performance against UWM, as he scored 16 points and registered a career-high four blocks for the Bulldogs, but that was only half the story for the Louisville native.

Lightfoot found out on Wednesday night that his uncle in High Point, N.C., was shot to death at a convenient store that he owns. To help honor him, Lightfoot inscribed his uncle’s initials on his sneakers.

Also having a solid game of the bench for Butler was a 13-point showing by Jeff James. James went 7-of-9 from the free-throw line.

On the flip side, the Panthers got a little spark of their own from the bench. Nate Mielke, who has taken on a different role this season, had his best game of the season. The 6-foot-10 center had 10 points, two rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

“I think Nate was a huge lift off the bench,” Pearl said. “Not only with his scoring and defense, but with his energy level.”

“It felt great,” Mielke said. “I have taken on a different role this year, but it felt good.”

In sluggish and scrappy contest, neither team could get any type of offense going as, with score tied at 18, neither team score a point for 6 minutes and 12 seconds. A three-pointer by Nick Brooks with nine minutes left in the first half would be Butler’s last field goal.

UWM would shoot, however, 44 percent in the first half, while Butler could only muster 21 percent (6-of-29). Butler came into the game as the league’s worst shooting team and lowest scoring team and one of the worst in the country in each category.

The second half is where UWM took control and used the 4,207 that were in attendance to their advantage. Down 27-20, Butler would score six quick points to draw the deficit to 29-26, forcing UWM to call a time-out.

But, much like how Pearl called two quick time-outs against UIC to slow their rhythm, UWM would jump out and pop into the driver’s seat. After the time-out, UWM would go out on a 14-5 run over the next four minutes to stretch the lead to 43-30. The lead would not be less than 10 until the 19-minute mark of the half.

With 54 seconds remaining, Butler closed the gap to 64-59 after a Brooks three-pointer. From there, Butler was forced to foul, putting UWM at the line and would make 7-of-8 in the last minute of play.

“It’s not the team we’ve played in the past, but they are still a good team,” Page said. “They’re all hard-nosed guys but they aren’t experienced as they have been in the past. They lost a lot of key guys, but they’ll be good in the future.”

The two will re-acquaint themselves one more time this season. That meeting will take place in the legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Feb. 19. The last time the two met there, it was a game for the ages. It was the season finale with the conference regular season title on the line.

Trailing by one with less than three seconds remaining, Butler would inbound the ensuing pass off of two Justin Lettenberger free throws for what was, at that time, the most historic shot in school history. Freshman point guard Avery Sheets lofted a long three-pointer that felt nothing but net as the horn sounded, giving Butler the two-point win and a regular season championship.

The men’s contest was the second half of a women and men’s double-header between UWM and Butler. Before the men took to the floor, each school’s women’s squads took to the floor.

Led by 18 second half points by UWM All-American hopeful Maria Viall, the Panthers overcame an 8-0 first half deficit to defeat the Bulldogs 64-59. The Panthers improved to 5-7 overall and 2-0 in the conference, as Butler fell to 4-9 and 1-2 in league play.

Player leaves UWM squad

Ricardo Freeman, a junior college transfer from Seward (Kan.) Community College, has decided to leave the team, Pearl announced before the game.

Freeman, a back-up point guard, was averaging 1.9 points and 8.1 minutes per game in 12 games. He remains on scholarship at UWM and is enrolled in classes for the second semester. But he is free to pursue other basketball opportunities.


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