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Conference USA Notebook

January 27, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Neck injury, what next injury?

Marquette fans, coaches and players probably feared the worst when Travis Diener went down with a gruesome neck injury during the second half of the Golden Eagles’ 84-76 loss to Charlotte Tuesday. With 13:03 remaining in the game, Diener gave a head fake to Calvin Clemmons, who left his feet and landed on top of Diener.

Diener suffered extreme whiplash as he went to the floor. He remained on the ground for eight minutes, during which he was able to move his arms and legs. He was carried off the court in a stretcher with his neck in a brace and was released from a Charlotte hospital after having an X-ray and CT scan.

Without Diener, the 49ers proved to be too much for Marquette. The Golden Eagles got the deficit to two points with only eight minutes to play, but Charlotte responded with a 13-1 run to put the game away.

Despite the severity of the injury, Diener came back Saturday to play against DePaul and his cousin, Drake Diener. Travis out-played his cousin and in the process tied his career-high of twelve assists as Marquette broke its three-game losing streak to defeat the Blue Demons, 70-62. The Eagles are now 12-5 overall and 3-3 in C-USA play.

Diener was aided by star-in-the-making freshman Dameon Mason, who finished with a career-high 21 points. More on Mason later, but he will have to continue to play big as Marquette prepares for No. 6 Louisville in Freedom Hall Saturday.

Round 1 goes to Louisville

Statistically speaking, it was the most important game in C-USA history. No two C-USA teams had even been ranked higher when facing each other when No. 5 Cincinnati visited No. 6 Louisville Wednesday night at Freedom Hall. When the game was over another honor came – the worst C-USA loss ever for the Bearcats.

The Cardinals dominated Cincinnati during the second half and romped to a 93-66 win. Louisville was able to get to the foul line early and often, shooting 29-of-42 from the free throw line. Not only did the Bearcats only attempt 26 freebies, they could not convert even half of their shots, making only twelve. That combined with Taquan Dean’s gutsy 21-point performance led to the easy win for the Cards. Dean was doubtful for the game after suffering a groin injury earlier Wednesday. He decided to give it go and was the difference maker, going 5-of-10 from deep.

The Bearcats responded with the loss by earning their biggest win in C-USA in two years, an 83-47 drubbing of Southern Miss in Hattiesburg. The Eagles missed nineteen of their first 21 shots and never were in it. Cincinnati won like it had all season, balanced scoring and tough defense. The Bearcats improved to 14-1 overall and 5-1 in C-USA play.

Louisville responded by playing a horrible 30 minutes of basketball, but recovered and then held on for a 65-62 win at Tennessee. Trailing 43-36 midway through the second half, the Cardinals turned to their defense for a spark. They forced bad shots and a few turnovers and went on a 12-0 run to take its first lead since 5-4. Louisville would not trail the rest of the way. Dean was ineffective during the first half because of his groin injury and only played the final few seconds of the second half, simply to shoot free throws. Garcia suffered a groin injury and ankle sprain during the second half but still finished with 26 points. The Cardinals are now 15-1 and 5-0 in conference play.

The next two

UAB and Saint Louis can be found right below Cincinnati and Louisville in the conference standings, as both teams are 11-5 overall and 4-1 in conference. So, are these two teams for real or not?

The Blazers are for real. Their star, Morris Finley was injured earlier in the year, missed three games and needed several others to get back to 100 percent. Now that he is full healed, UAB is easily playing its best basketball of the season. The team also picked up its biggest win of the season Saturday, going to Charlotte and leaving with a 69-62 win. Finley led the team with seventeen points, but all seven players that mainly make up the rotation made significant contributions. UAB is kind of like an enigma as seemingly five players you’ve never heard of somehow beat you. With a favorable schedule on their side, the Blazers have a great chance to go 12-4 in conference.

The Billikens do not appear to be for real, at least right now. While they are 4-1, those wins came against Southern Miss, USF and East Carolina at home and against TCU on the road. Not exactly the power of C-USA. However, they have solid starting five, with guards Reggie Bryant and Josh Fisher serving as the team’s backbone. Also, thanks to weird scheduling, Saint Louis now goes on the road for three-straight games, only to come home for three-straight and then go back on the road for three-straight. How the Billikens can do at Charlotte, UAB and Memphis will answer some questions.

The Cardinals’ unsung hero

Sophomores Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean get all of the attention, but senior forward Luke Whitehead is the glue of the Cardinals. He does whatever his team needs him to do and quietly is one of the nation’s best third option. Whitehead is second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.3 points per game, while ranking first in rebounding at 8.5. At 6-foot-7 he is very versatile; he is a big man by nature but can dribble, run the floor and shoot from the outside. He is also a leader for the Cards and one of the reasons they are a top five team.

Where did this kid come from?

Supporters of the Marquette program said Dameon Mason was the next Dwyane Wade and that he was the future of the program. Well, the future is now. Mason introduced himself to the nation with his career-high thirteen points during an 85-73 loss to Cincinnati Jan. 14 and has not cooled off since. Since the loss to the Bearcats, Mason has entered the starting lineup and established a new career-high during two of those games.

Mason appears to have a lot of similarities to Wade. At 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds, his body is very similar to Wade. He is a great slasher to the basket and knows how to score. He has not developed his outside shot yet, taking only six three-pointers on the season to date, but he does have a good stroke, as his 75.6 free throw shooting percentage indicates. During the last four games, Mason is averaging 17.8 points per game.

Against DePaul Saturday, Mason scored 21 points and went 9-of-13 from the field. His sudden impact could not have come at more crucial time for the Eagles. They have lost three out of their last four and are still receiving inconsistent play from Steve Novak and Scott Merritt.

Where did this guy’s shot go?

Brendan Plavich was on cloud nine after he hit ten three-pointers against Syracuse earlier this season as Charlotte upset the Orangemen 96-92. However, he has hit rock bottom during the past four games. He has only made 9-of-36 from beyond the arc, including going 1-of-11 Saturday against UAB. His struggles have not affected the team too much though, as the Niners are 3-1 during the past two weeks.

Player of the week

Francisco Garcia, Louisville

The sophomore averaged 22.5 points, five rebounds and five assists during Louisville’s two wins against No. 5 Cincinnati and Tennessee. He also played through pain, tweaking his groin mid-way through the second half against the Vols, then was carried off the court 1:30 remaining because of an ankle injury. He came back in 50 seconds later.

The rest of C-USA

Charlotte (11-5, 3-2) Last week: 1-1

The 49ers played both games last week at home, but could only come away with one conference win. Charlotte gave Marquette its third-straight loss early in the week, 84-76, along with knocking out Travis Diener from the game as mentioned above. Demon Brown hit six three-pointers on his way to a team-high 23 points. The Niners’ backcourt had a monster game, as Curtis Withers and Eddie Basden combined for 32 points, thirteen rebounds and nine assists.

Against UAB at home Saturday, Withers was the only 49er who showed up. He went for 26 points and eleven rebounds. Along with Plavich’s struggles noted above, Brown also was cold. He went 1-of-10 from outside and finished with five points. Up next – against Saint Louis, Jan. 28.

DePaul (10-7, 3-3) Last week: 1-1

The Blue Demons did what they were expected to do: win at TCU and lose at Marquette, both by close margins. In Fort Worth Wednesday, DePaul dispatched the Horned Frogs, 61-54, by dictating the pace of the game. The Demons slowed down the full-speed-ahead Frogs and limited them to 33.3 percent shooting from the field. DePaul was very balanced on offense, led by Drake Diener’s twelve points and freshman Sammy Mejia’s eight assists.

During Saturday’s battle of the Dieners, the Blue Demons had no answer for Travis Diener’s passing or Dameon Mason’s scoring. Delonte Holland again struggled, scoring only seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. Quemont Greer picked up the slack, tying a season-high with 20 points, but it was not enough. Andre Brown still remains out of the lineup, as the Blue Demons have played without their star for the past nine games. There is still no word on when Brown will return. Up next – at East Carolina, Jan. 28.

East Carolina (8-7, 0-5) Last week: 0-1

The lights are going out on the Pirates’ season and there seems to be very little light at the end of the tunnel. East Carolina went on the road for its lone C-USA last week and was blown out during the second half, losing 70-47 to Saint Louis. This is all you need to know about Saturday’s game – no ECU player scored in double digits, all five Billiken starters scored at least ten points.

The loss of Gabriel Mikulas appears to be devastating for the Pirates, as there is no leader or go-to player on the floor anymore. Saturday, Saint Louis went into the locker room with a one-point lead but outscored ECU 43-21 during the final 20 minutes. Derrick Wiley led the Pirates with nine points, his lowest point production in five games. Up next – at No. 5 Cincinnati, Jan. 28.

Houston (7-9, 1-4) Last week: 0-2

The Cougars simply do not have a good team. This fact was obvious last week as Houston lost at home to Centenary of all teams, 63-57, before losing on the road at Memphis, 64-48. Houston led for nearly the entire game, but gave the lead away late as Andrew Wisniewski and his Gents won by making their free throws. Wisniewski finished the game with 27 points, including 13-of-14 free throws, six rebounds and seven steals.

Saturday was ugly, as Houston only managed ten points during the first half and trailed 31-10 at the break. The Cougars hit only five field goals, did not make it to the line and were out-rebounded 29-16. Andre Owens struggled, going 2-of-13 from the field, scoring six points. Fellow backcourt mate Marcus Oliver had a good week during the losing causes, averaging seventeen points per game. Up next – at No. 6 Louisville, Jan. 28

Memphis (12-4, 3-2) Last week: 2-0

The Tigers did exactly what they were expected, and needed, to do last week. They took care of business against the weaker teams of C-USA, beating Tulane on the road, 85-71, and Houston at home, 64-48. Against the Green Wave, Memphis was up big early, allowed Tulane to get within one during the first five minutes of the second half, and then went on an 18-3 to put the game out of reach. Freshman Sean Banks again led the team, scoring nineteen. Rodney Carney played one of his best games coming off the benching this year, finishing with fifteen points, including nine during the Tigers’ late run.

Against Houston Saturday, Memphis chucked up 35 three-pointers, as opposed to only 20 shots from inside the arc. Ten went in, which were enough to beat the Cougars. Banks again led the team in scoring, going for eighteen. Carney scored fourteen off the bench and Antonio Burks had twelve. Up next – against USF, Jan. 27.

USF (6-8, 0-3) Last week: 0-1

It’s nearly February and the Bulls still do not have a win in 2004. Actually, they have yet to play a competitive game during the calendar year. For the second time in three games, USF lost by 35-plus points, getting whipped by UAB Wednesday, 86-47. The Bulls did nothing right in Alabama. On defense, they allowed 71 shots, 35 made shots, 50 second half points and seventeen offensive rebounds. On offense, the shot 34 percent from the field, turned the ball over eighteen times and went 5-of-15 from the free throw line.

Bradley Mosley and Terrance Leather accounted for two-thirds of the team’s offense. Mosley scored eighteen and Leather totaled fourteen. Right now, it looks as USF is at the bottom of C-USA. Up next – at Memphis, Jan. 27.

Southern Miss (9-7, 2-3) Last week: 0-1

While the Golden Eagles’ week was not as bad as USF’s, it was not off by much. Southern Miss came in soaring and had high hopes for its showdown with No. 5 Cincinnati in Hattiesburg. Instead, the Eagles suffered their worst home loss in 22 years, as the Bearcats mauled them by the count 83-47. Charles Gaines, Southern Miss’ leading scorer, never made a field goal and finished with four points.

The Eagles turned the ball over sixteen times, many of them coming not from Cincinnati’s pressure but simply carelessness with the ball. They were atrocious from the field, shooting 23.3 percent (14-of-60). Their interior defense was also bad, as the Bearcats continued to either feed Jason Maxiell or hit cutters near the rim. Jasper Johnson led Southern Miss in scoring, as he finished with thirteen off the bench. It was the Golden Eagles’ first home loss of the season. Up next – at TCU, Jan. 28.

TCU (6-10, 2-3) Last week: 0-1

The Horned Frogs lost their lone game of the week, 61-54, against DePaul Tuesday. TCU led once, at 5-4, and despite cutting the lead to a single point early during the second half, could never retake the advantage. Their racecar-paced offense never got on track; neither did their star forward Chudi Chinweze. The 6-foot-6 forward scored a season-low two points while only attempting three shots.

Marcus Shropshire again led the Frogs in scoring with fifteen points. Corey Santee netted twelve and dished out six assists in the losing cause. Forward Corey Valsin again provided quality minutes off the bench, scoring eight points and collecting five rebounds during only sixteen minutes of work. Up next – against Southern Miss, Jan. 28.

Tulane (7-8, 0-4) Last week: 1-1

Well, at least for the Green Wave, they were able to get a win last week. Unfortunately, it was not in conference play. After losing at home to Memphis, 85-71, Tulane welcomed Savannah State with open arms and won for the first time in five games, 77-61. Against the Tigers, Tulane competed well but just did not have the firepower to come away with the upset. Quincy Davis scored 21 points and Wayne Tinsley had a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds, but it was not enough.

The Wave did have enough against the 1-20 Tigers, thanks to four players scoring in double digits. Tinsley collected another double-double, this time scoring thirteen and corralling twelve boards. He also dished out seven assists. Ben Benfield’s disappearing act continued, as he was shutout against Memphis and scored only six points against Savannah State. He is averaging just 3.6 points during the last five games after averaging a team-leading 11.9 points during the first ten games of the season. Up next – at UAB, Jan. 28

Games to watch

Charlotte at No. 5 Cincinnati, Saturday at 1 p.m.

This is one of two dangerous home match-ups for C-USA’s elite Saturday. The Bearcats and Niners always play heated games and this year should be no difference. Both teams are explosive on offense. Similar to the last few weeks, Charlotte (especially Brown and Plavich) will live and die by the three.

Marquette at No. 6 Louisville, Saturday at 3 p.m.

Last year, Louisville won in Wisconsin on a last-second three-pointer by Reece Gaines, while the Eagles made a huge second half comeback to win in Freedom Hall. Dameon Mason has stepped up lately for Marquette, but if Dean and Whitehead have their way, Louisville has this one in the bag.

Saint Louis at UAB, Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Both teams are 4-1 in conference play coming into the week. This however will be the second of three-straight road games for the Billikens. The Blazers are starting to look like the team everyone thought they would be at the beginning of the season.


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