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March 9, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Tuesday, March 9th

Bulldogs Take Care of Business: After a narrow one point win over Santa Clara last night, Gonzaga made all bubble teams breathe easier by taking care of St. Mary’s in the WCC championship game 84-71. Ronny Turiaf scored 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs to their fifth West Coast title in six years.

Extra Frames Needed: Northern Iowa took out Southwest Missouri State in double overtime 79-74 to earn the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Panthers watched a fourteen point lead in the second half disappear as the Bears forced overtime by closing regulation with a 21-7 run. Trailing by two late in the first overtime, Merrill Andrews hit a bucket for the Bears to send it into the second overtime. But in that second extra frame, Ben Jacobson, who had 26 points to lead all scorers, hit two big threes to pace the Panthers to the win.

Manhattan Punches Ticket: After leading much of the game, the Jaspers watched a 14-point lead get whittled to one before holding onto a 62-61 win over Niagara in the MAAC championship game and their second straight trip to the NCAA tournament. MAAC player of the year Luis Flores missed two free throws with 10.5 seconds to go which allowed Niagara one last shot to take the lead. Manhattan didn’t give the Purple Eagles a good look and Tremmell Darden’s potential game-winning three fell far short.

Capel Heads Back to the Tourney: Jeff Capel, the youngest coach in Division I, led his Virginia Commonwealth Rams to the NCAA tournament by beating George Mason 55-54 in the CAA tournament. After watching the Patriots tie the game with a three in the last ten seconds, the Rams brought the ball back down court and Jesse Pellot-Rosa drew a foul for a chance to win the game at the line. The freshman walk-on hit one of the two shots to give his team the win. The Rams are back in the tournament for the first time since 1996 when Jeff Capel was still in uniform for the Duke Blue Devils.

Houston Looks For a New Leader: The Houston Cougars have decided to take a new direction for their basketball program and reassigned head coach Ray McCallum within the athletic department. McCallum led the team to a 44-72 record in four seasons, including an NIT bid in 2002. Three years remain on his contract and it is believed he will serve them out as a fund raiser.

Okafor Visits the Doctor: Player of the year candidate Emeka Okafor underwent an MRI Monday and his availability for the Big East Tournament is in question. Back spasms have plagued the center all season long and the coaching staff will decide Thursday whether or not he will play this weekend. Conventional wisdom says that the Huskies will not drastically improve their NCAA tournament seed with a good finish in the Big East tourney and the hope to save Okafor for a run at a National Championship.

James Madison Coach Steps Down A 7-21 season has caused James Madison coach Sherman Dillard to resign with one year left on his contract. In seven seasons, Dillard had compiled a 93-106 record but never got past the semifinals in the CAA tournament. He graduated from James Madison in 1978 and is second on the team’s all-time scoring list.

Tonight’s Menu:

• Three more dance tickets get punched tonight. IUPUI takes on Valparaiso in the Mid Continent Conference final; Illinois-Chicago faces Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Horizon League final; and New Orleans challenges Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt final. Princeton, having already clinched the Ivy League’s automatic birth to the tournament, will play its last Regular Season game at Ivy rival Pennsylvania.

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