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Conference USA Notebook

February 25, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Block party

Welcome to C-USA, where all those who enter the lane beware; your shot may find its way into the third row seats. The conference is home to some of the nation’s shot blockers, while many are unheralded or just flat out unknown. Three of the top eight shot blockers in the nation are from C-USA, while several others are capable at collecting many blocks in a short period of time.

Anwar Ferguson, the 7-foot center for Houston, is second in the nation in blocks, averaging 4.1 per game. Earlier in the season he went three straight games with eight blocks. If he had been with the Cougars for four years, he would have easily eclipsed Kenyon Martin’s C-USA career mark.

Coming on strong is Gerrick Morris of USF. The 6-foot-10 slender forward is fourth in the nation at 4.0 blocks per game and is just now hitting his groove. He tied a career high of ten blocks Saturday against Ferguson’s Cougars and has two other games with nine during the past two weeks. He may soon pass Ferguson for the conference lead.

Then there is the man who has been one of the top shot blockers in C-USA for the past three seasons, East Carolina’s Moussa Badiane. He is eighth in the nation at 3.3 blocks per game and is making his way up the conference rankings. While getting shutout against TCU, he averaged seven blocks during the previous three games.

Not far behind these three are Cincinnati’s Jason Maxiell and Eric Hicks, Tulane’s Quincy Davis, Memphis’ Duane Erwin and Louisville’s Kendall Dartez. Even guard Francisco Garcia, while standing 6-feet-7, is ninth in the conference, averaging 1.4 blocks per game.

Who’s still suiting up?

Time for the ole’ injury and eligibility report in C-USA. Jeremy Hunt did play for Memphis Saturday with a sprained ankle. He is questionable for the Tigers’ game Tuesday against Southern Miss but will likely be in action at Louisville Saturday. Speaking of the Cardinals, forward Luke Whitehead did not play against Cincinnati, also because of ankle sprain. Expect to see Whitehead back on the court this week against DePaul

The Blue Demons before Saturday’s game against Saint Louis that freshman Tyler Smith had been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Last, Cincinnati center Robert Whaley announced he was leaving the team Monday for the remainder of the season for personal reasons.

Schwab improves after lung transplant

For two years, Marquette Terry Schwab had been awaiting a lung transplant. Recently, his doctors gave him six months to live if he did not receive the transplant. He was diagnosed in late 2001 with the rare, incurable disease idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which attacks the air sacks in the lungs and hinders the body’s ability to process oxygen. The cause of the disease is not known.

Schwab finally received the double lung transplant on Feb. 16 and remains in the hospital in stable condition. He is expected out any day now. Schwab has spent the past week in the hospital “in order to limit the amount of oxygen he needs as the transplanted lungs grow accustomed to his body,” Marquette head coach Tom Crean said.

Around the stretch they come

Two weeks remain and so do a lot of questions. Right now, Memphis is in the driver’s seat to win the conference crown but still have to win at least one tough road game. They must still play at Louisville and Cincinnati, but if they win against the Bearcats and hold court when they play TCU and Southern Miss, they will clinch the No. 1 seed.

UAB and Charlotte are also in great shape should the Tigers stumble. If it comes down to a tiebreaker, the Blazers hold the advantage thanks to its 69-62 win against the Niners earlier this season. Cincinnati still has a shot at the crown, but likely will need to defeat Charlotte on the road and/or Memphis.

Near the bottom, USF is likely out of tournament, with a three-way race between Tulane, Houston and East Carolina fighting to earn the final two spots. In the middle, there is a possible dynamite matchup in the quarterfinals – Louisville versus Marquette. Last year’s top game could be this year’s No. 6 vs. No. 10 contest.

Around C-USA, top to bottom

Memphis (19-4, 10-2) Last week: 1-0

The No. 24 Tigers own a ten-game winning streak, reside in first place alone and are sitting pretty. Last week, Memphis’ lone game came Saturday against UAB on national TV (ESPN). With an eighteen game home winning streak on the line, the Tigers never trailed during the second half and hit key free throws down the stretch, securing a 71-61 win. Sean Banks scored 21 of his game high 24 points during the second half, scoring his first dozen from deep, then went 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.

Antonio Banks, mentioned above as a potential C-USA Player of the Year, played another outstanding all-around game. Banks finished with sixteen points, six assists and five steals. With Jeremy Hunt sidelined because of a left knee injury and center Ivan Lopez seeing limited action because of a sprained ankle, Memphis essentially won with six players. The key was answering every UAB run, as the Blazers continuously cut the Tigers’ lead during the final 20 minutes.

Memphis is now in great shape for the conference tournament and at the No. 1 seed. They own the tiebreaker against now UAB and Charlotte, two of three teams trailing the Tigers by one game. While the third team trailing them by one game, Cincinnati, gets them at home, Memphis currently is playing better than the Bearcats. If the Tigers pull the road win and hold court at the Pyramid against TCU and Southern Miss, they will secure the top seed for the tourney. Up next – against Southern Miss, Feb. 24.

Charlotte (17-6, 9-3) Last week: 2-0

The 49ers took care of business last week, defeating USF by twelve at home and then winning on the road against Southern Miss, 78-72. The wins kept Charlotte within a game of first place, with four very winnable games remaining on their schedule to close out the regular season.

Demon Brown, coming off the bench for the second straight game Wednesday after serving a one-game suspension, scored 22 points and hit six three-pointers to lead the Niner charge. Brown also added four rebounds and a team high four assists. Charlotte built a seventeen-point first half lead, let the Bulls get within five, then pulled away late during the second half. Saturday, the Golden Eagles battled hard all 40 minutes but were eventually done in by Charlotte’s depth. Five Niner players scored in double digits, led by Curtis Wither and Eddie Basden’s sixteen points.

As mentioned above, if Memphis slips up on the road at Louisville and Cincinnati, Charlotte could be in position to swoop in for the conference title. While its home game with Cincinnati appears to be the toughest matchup remaining, Wednesday’s road game at TCU should be the bigger concert. Just ask Louisville, which lost by 25 points in Fort Worth last week.

Cincinnati (18-5, 9-3) Last week: 1-1

For the fifth straight week, the Bearcats split their week’s games. For the first time in those five weeks, they defeated a quality opponent. After another lackluster performance Wednesday, an 80-69 road loss against UAB, Cincinnati held on for a 66-61 overtime win against Louisville. While the Cardinals were also struggling, worse than Cincinnati, the win was big for both their confidence and their resume.

Wednesday the Bearcats against struggled in the halfcourt, both on offense and defense. Cincinnati turned the ball over 20 times, allowed countless layups to UAB and only forced ten turnovers. Rebounds and second half free throws were the only two things keeping them alive. Tony Bobbitt, fresh off scoring 49 points during UC’s two games the previous week, fouled out with a big goose egg in the points column.

Saturday, it appeared Cincinnati might go down again when Nate Daniels hit a three-pointer with 16.6 seconds remaining in regulation, giving Louisville a 54-52 lead. Field Williams responded by sinking a jumper just inside the arc, tying the game with 0.2 seconds remaining. In overtime, Eric Hicks and Bobbitt scored key baskets to secure the win. Up next – against Saint Louis, Feb. 25.

UAB (16-7, 9-3) Last week: 1-1

While a win Saturday would have basically wrapped up the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament, it was still a pretty good week for the Blazers. They earned that win against a Top 25 foe they needed, defeating Cincinnati. They played close on the road against Memphis. And they are still in good shape for if not the No. 1 seed, at least a share of the regular season title.

Wednesday, the Blazers beat the Bearcats with their bread and butter – their depth. Eleven players contributed, no player tried to do too much, but whenever a big play needed to happen someone stepped up. The leading score, Morris Finley, only dropped in thirteen points, but that did not matter. Their scrappy defense again rattled its opponent, as UAB came away with eight steals.

Saturday, it seemed like if the Blazers just took the lead once during the second half, it would be a different story. Three times they but the lead to two points or less, but Memphis (aka Antonio Burks) answered with a basket. Finley scored nineteen points and nailed five three-pointers, but whenever his team needed him to make a crucial hoop, he always came up short. The good news for UAB – its remaining schedule is the easiest of all the contenders and it owns the tiebreaker against Charlotte and Cincinnati. Up next – at Tulane, Feb. 25.

DePaul (15-8, 8-4) Last week: 1-1

The Blue Demons shot themselves in the foot Saturday, not only diminishing their hopes of a C-USA title but severely hurt their chances at earning an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. While DePaul scored a road win earlier in the week, 66-54 at Houston, it lost at home to Saint Louis, 69-62, a team it had just defeated on the road less than two weeks prior.

Against the Cougars, DePaul’s starting frontcourt dominated as Delonte Holland, Andre Brown and Quemont Greer combined for 51 points, 24 rebounds and shot 14-of-17 from the free-throw line. Played at a slow pace, the frontcourt’s ability to control the glass on both ends (they combined for ten of the team’s thirteen offensive rebounds) and get to the line was the key.

Saturday the Demons looked great through 20 minutes, taking a thirteen-point lead into the locker room. Then the wheels feel off, as DePaul’s defense had no answer for the Billikens’ hot shooting. Saint Louis scored 50 points, shot 63 percent from the field and hit eight of nine three-point attempts. With the loss, it’s safe to say DePaul needs to either win against Louisville and Cincinnati or go deep into the C-USA Tournament to lock up a NCAA bid. Up next – against Louisville, Feb. 25.

Louisville (17-6, 7-5) Last week: 0-2

The Cardinals in a word are struggling. They have lost three straight and five of their last six. Tuesday was easily the team’s worst game of the season, an embarrassing 71-46 shellacking at TCU on national television. Saturday they, or at least Francisco Garcia, gained its confidence back before losing to Cincinnati in overtime, 66-61. The Cardinals started last week as the highest ranked team in C-USA yet finds itself tied for sixth place.

Tuesday was ugly. Louisville’s leading scorer (Larry O’Bannon) finished with nine points, the team hit only fourteen field goals, dished out just nine assists, turned the ball over seventeen times and finished with its lowest point total during the Rick Pitino era. They trailed by fifteen points at the half and made a few mini-runs during the second half, never to get closer than nine.

Saturday did not start much better for the Cardinals, as their fifteen first half points eclipsed the team’s season low for first half points, set Tuesday (eighteen). Garcia, who went 3-of-12 during the first half, finally broke out his recent slump. Still hampered by sprained ankles on both legs, Garcia went 6-of-11 during the second half and overtime, including 4-of-5 from deep. It was not enough. Louisville played without Luke Whitehead, who sprained his ankle during practice before the game. His absence was felt on the glass, as Eric Hicks grabbed fourteen rebounds for Cincinnati. In need of wins, it does not any easier for Louisville as its last four games are all against quality opponents. Up next – against DePaul, Feb. 25.

Saint Louis (14-9, 7-5) Last week: 2-0

The Billikens have quietly put together three straight quality wins after a four-game losing streak. After defeating Charlotte by one point last week, Saint Louis defeated Marquette at home Wednesday, 58-54, then pulled off an incredible second half comeback on the road against DePaul, winning 69-62 and getting revenge for home loss to the Blue Demons Feb. 11.

Saint Louis lived on the edge against the Golden Eagles, as they trailed with 30 seconds remaining and allowed Steve Novack two three-point attempts for the winning during the closing seconds. But free throws and Novack’s misfires enabled the Billikens to defeat Marquette for the first time in eight tries. In Brad Soderberg fashion, it was a balanced Billiken attack that iced the win. Five players scored between nine and thirteen points.

Saturday, Saint Louis found itself trailing by thirteen in the half before playing its best offensive half of basketball all season. They scored 50 points, and knocked down all but one three-point attempt out of nine. Reggie Bryant scored a game high 25 points, converting six treys. The wins vaulted the Billikens into a tie for sixth place, with a shot at a first round bye in the conference tournament not out of reach. They will face a difficult test though Wednesday. Up next – at Cincinnati, Feb. 25.

TCU (10-13, 6-6) Last week: 1-1

Nothing like responding to your biggest win in year’s to your worst loss of the season. This is what the Horned Frogs did last week, destroying Louisville on national TV Tuesday, 71-46, before losing on the road to East Carolina, 75-71. In the grand scheme of things though, Tuesday’s win easily out-weighs the disappointing loss Saturday.

Not only did the Horned Frogs defeat its first Top 25 team in two years and its first top ten team in fourteen years, they mopped the floor with them. Corey Santee and Nucleus Smith continually sank big baskets during the second half, scoring 20 and seventeen points, respectively. TCU out-rebounded the Cards by thirteen, shot 84.6 percent from the free-throw line and answered every Cardinal run during the second half, usually in spectacular fashion. So dominate were the Frogs, it was their largest win of the season. What the win did was put every C-USA team on notice: this is not a team you want to face in the conference tournament.

Then again, they did turn around and loss to the Pirates Saturday, a team that currently sits in twelfth place in C-USA. The score did not tell the whole story as the game was never that close. The Frogs trailed by as many as fifteen points during the first half and never could find an answer to Derrick Wiley. The C-USA Player of the Week, Wiley scored 23 points and out-shined the Santee. Up next – against Charlotte, Feb. 25.

Marquette (14-9, 5-7) Last week: 1-1

The Golden Eagles saw another game slip away Saint Louis, but broke their four-game losing streak Saturday against Tulane. However, it seems pretty clear that Marquette is going to have to win the conference tournament or not lose again until the tournament championship game to return to the big dance. Anything short of a winning conference record will not earn an at-large bid at this point for the Eagles.

Wednesday, Marquette led on the road during the final minute. However, their problem all season reappeared again – no dependable player other than Travis Diener. The junior guard again played a stellar game, finishing with 26 points. The rest of his teammates scored 28 points and shot ten of 34 from the field. Scott Novack had two chances to win the game during the final sixteen seconds, but both times misfired from beyond the arc He went 2-of-11 from the field and finished with five points.

Novack and company bounced back Saturday, as four players scored in double digits during the Eagles’ 81-69 home win against Tulane. Novack scored sixteen points, Terry Sanders twelve and Desmond Mason ten. Diener played perhaps his best overall game of the season, totaling 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. With starting center Scott Merritt struggling, little used Chris Grimm played a career-high 24 points, scoring six points and collecting eight rebounds, also career highs. Merritt only played thirteen minutes and left with two points and two rebounds. Up next – at USF, Feb. 26.

Southern Miss (12-11, 5-7) Last week: 1-1

The Golden Eagles continued their mediocre season, winning at home against Houston, 70-48, before losing on the same court Saturday to Charlotte, 78-72. After winning its first nine home games, Southern Miss has now lost three of its last four. On the bright side, they swept the Cougars with the win.

Against Houston, the Eagles played of their most balanced games of the season. Four players scored in double digits, five players tallied at least four rebounds and the defense forced the Cougars to shoot 33.3 percent from the field and recorded eleven steals. Against the Niners, Jarekus Singleton continued his strong second half of the season with 21 points, but it was not enough to stop the more-balanced Charlotte attack. Up next – at Memphis, Feb. 24.

Tulane (10-13, 3-9) Last week: 0-2

After three straight wins, the Green Wave came back to Earth with two road losses last week; 76-66 to East Carolina and 81-69 at Marquette. Currently Tulane sits in eleventh place, good enough to earn a bid into the C-USA Tournament. However, they are tied in the win column with East Carolina and Houston, with sit a half-game back at 3-10.

Sloppy play did the Tulane against the Pirates, as they committed fifteen turnovers and 23 fouls, leading to 32 free throw attempts. Ben Benfield finished with his highest point total in two months, scoring fifteen to lead the Wave. Saturday they lost the game at the free throw line again. Marquette went 22-of-31 from the line, while Tulane only attempted ten, hitting six. Freshman forward Dan Fitzgerald set career highs in minutes (29) and points (sixteen) and tied a career high in rebounds (four). Up next – against UAB, Feb. 25.

East Carolina (11-12, 3-10) Last week: 2-0

The Pirates had their best week of 2004, winning two straight for the first time since December and sneaking back toward .500. They also jumped back into contention for a bid to the C-USA Tournament, which they did not qualify for last season. Currently they are tied for twelfth place with Houston. If they are going to make it to Cincinnati, this week’s game is a must.

As mentioned above, this week belonged to Derrick Wiley. He scored 22 points during the Pirates 76-66 win against Tulane, one of four players to score in double figures. Freshman Mike Cook had another solid game, scoring fourteen points, dishing out six assists and collecting five rebounds. Both players duplicated their efforts Saturday against TCU, a 75-70 win for ECU. Wiley finished with 23 points and Cook dropped seven dimes, a career high, along with sixteen points. Erroyl Bing was a monster on the boards, finishing with fifteen to go with eighteen points. Up next – against USF, Feb. 28.

Houston (9-15, 3-10) Last week: 1-1

After losing on the road to Southern Miss, the Cougars snapped their longest losing streak of the season with a 53-52 win against USF Saturday. Anwar Ferguson did what he does best, as mentioned above, by blocking the game-winning shot attempt with two seconds remaining, preserving the win. Lanny Smith’s three-pointer with 1:05 remaining proved to be the real game-winner. Smith led Houston with fifteen points.

Earlier in the week, Southern Miss took it to the Cougars, winning going away, 70-48. In a repeat from many games this season, Houston shot 33.3 percent from the field, 25 percent from beyond the arc and only attempted nine free throws. To make matters worse, they only dished out seven assists and grabbed just six offensive rebounds. The fact they managed to score 48 points was an accomplishment. Up next – at TCU, Feb. 28.

USF (7-16, 1-11) Last week: 0-2

The Bulls are back to their losing ways. After finally breaking through for a conference win against Southern Miss Feb. 14, USF dropped two roads last week, dropping them two games behind everyone in conference standings. Their loss to Houston was especially difficult to swallow. If they had won, they would just need to defeat East Carolina on the road to be looking good at clinching a spot in the conference tourney. Now as it stands, they are a longshot to make it.

Wednesday the Bulls’ starting five did all it could to keep up with Charlotte’s explosive offense but fell a little short to the tune of 84-72. All five starters scored in double figures while averaging 37 minutes between them. Terrance Leather led the team with nineteen points and eight rebounds. Saturday, Leather and Gerrick Morris were monsters inside, but Anwar Ferguson blocked Bradley Mosley’s jumper with two seconds remaining to seal the win. Leather scored 22 points and grabbed fourteen rebounds, while Morris just missed a triple-double (fourteen rebounds, ten blocks, eight points). Up next – against Marquette, Feb. 26.


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