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Horizon League Finals Preview

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Horizon League Finals Preview

Preview by Nick Dettmann

No. 2 Illinois-Chicago vs. No. 1 UW-Milwaukee
For the second year in a row, the Panthers of UWM will play for the chance to go dancin’ in the NCAA Tournament. For the second year in a row, the league championship game will feature the top two seeds playing at the U.S. Cellular in Milwaukee. But this time around, the Panthers will play their even more hated rivals, the Illinois-Chicago Flames.

Since UWM coach Bruce Pearl came to Milwaukee, the two teams have split their eight game series. With each team winning on their home floor a majority of the time.

This is also the third straight season that the Panthers and Flames have met in the league tournament. And, just like the rest of the series, they have split the two meetings. The only difference this time, between the two teams that have earned the last two automatic bids into the “Big Dance”, is that there is a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line.

“I feel different,” said Pearl about his feelings going into tonight’s game as compared going into last year’s. “This is a new group. We talked about getting back and advancing. We’ve talked about history.

“As you look at the Horizon League, Milwaukee basketball really isn’t in the history books that much. But I feel different because there are so many guys out there playing big roles that weren’t on the team last year. This is their chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. This is why they came to Milwaukee.”

The Panthers won the first meeting of the year in Milwaukee on Dec. 23. Then, the Flames got revenge on Feb. 5 in Chicago.

A near capacity crowd is anticipated for tonight’s game. Many keys will be a factor to the outcome.

Both teams play a physical game and have an enormous amount of talent and depth. But the Flames come into Milwaukee with high confidence as they have won 11 games in a row and have won a school-record 23 games this season.

The Flames will need to get their star players of Martell Bailey and Cedrick Banks rolling early. Banks has a knack for playing his best games against UWM. Conversely for UWM, Dylan Page likes to bring his A-game when he plays UIC. Page scored 31 points in the last meeting.

UIC has the physical forwards that can defend Page in the paint, but their guards are too small to defend Page on the outside. So, UWM’s Adrian Tigert and Nate Mielke will be factors in getting rebounds. At the same time, UIC will need Armond Williams and Aaron Carr, two of the toughest players in the league, to step up as well in getting rebounds.

The deciding factor in the two meetings this season was which team got the biggest run at the most crucial part in the game. That will again be the biggest factor of them all. Who will take control in the crucial part of the game? Whoever does that will win and will be on their way to the Dance.

Prediction – UWM 88, UIC 83

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