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Conference USA Quarterfinals Recap

March 13, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Quarterfinals Recap

Recap by Zach Van Hart

No. 4 UAB 77, No. 5 Charlotte 66
The Blazers started the second half with a 16-2 run and would never trail by more than six points from there on, cruising to a 77-66 win in the quarterfinals of the C-USA Tournament. Morris Finley led the Blazers with 26 points and scored his team’s final eleven. After Brendan Plavich hit his seven three-pointer of game to make it a 66-60 game with four minutes remaining, Finley took over. He started the run with a three-pointer in the face of Plavich, then hit a jumper and six free throws to seal the win. “My teammates do a good job of finding me open shots,” said Finley, giving reason to his scoring outburst. The victory improved UAB to 20-8 and likely erased any doubt, if there was any, of it earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. It was the Blazers second win of the season against Charlotte, both away from Birmingham. They defeated the Niners at Halton Arena, 69-62, earlier this season.

Charlotte received a great shooting game from Plavich, who finished with 21 points, but lackluster performances from its top two scores, Demon Brown and Curtis Withers. Brown could not find the range from deep, shooting 2-of-9 from beyond the arc and finished with eleven points. Withers simply did not come to play, going 3-of-7 from the free-throw line while missing easy shots from point blank range. “I thought that if we got more field goal and free throw attempts than them, we would win,” said Charlotte head coach Bobby Lutz. “We did both those things, but what it came down to was we didn’t make shots.” UAB came to play though, showcasing its no-name, whole team effort throughout, until Morris took over late. Sidney Ball finished with thirteen points, while Ronell Taylor added eleven off the bench. Not only did the Blazers play their fast-paced game, forcing eighteen turnovers and scoring 25 points off those turnovers, but they beat the 49ers at their own game. UAB shot 11-of-23 from beyond the three-point line.

No. 1 DePaul 89, No. 9 TCU 65
The Horned Frogs flirted with its second upset in two days, but Andre Brown and Delonte Holland were having none of it. DePaul’s inside-out duo combined for 40 points and eighteen rebounds, as the team led by as many as 20 and never let the lead slip below eight during the second half, winning 89-65. “I’m pleased because I don’t think we played our best game and we still scored 89 points,” said DePaul head coach Dave Leitao. After falling behind 42-22, TCU finished the first half with a 7-0 run and looked ready to make the game close. But the Blue Demons never allowed the Frogs to gain enough momentum for a serious run and the outcome was never in jeopardy. Brown dominated play inside, shooting 10-of-18 from the field for 21 points, while grabbing eleven rebounds. Holland finished with nineteen and seven and Drake Diener scored fifteen points, including three demoralizing three-pointers during the second half. Nucleus Smith, playing his last game in a TCU uniform, led the team in purple with seventeen points. Corey Santee scored sixteen and Marcus Shropshire chipped in fourteen.

During the first half, DePaul was clicking on both sides of the ball. They shot 51.4 percent from the field and committed only two turnovers, while limiting TCU to 36.7 percent shooting. When Sammy Meija feed Brown with an alley-oop off a pick-and-roll at the 1:52 mark, pushing the lead to 20, it appeared the Demons were going to run away with it. But Santee’s outburst and TCU’s strong showing to start the second half kept it close. With ten minutes remaining, Shropshire knocked in a triple to trim the lead to eight. But Diener answered with his first big three-pointer and the led was back to eleven. “I thought we’d turn the corner and come back tonight,” said Shropshire. “We cut it to eight, but they came back and scored and that turned it back around.” This is the way it went throughout the next few minutes: TCU would make a mild spurt but was quickly thwarted by the Blue Demons. DePaul will now face UAB in the semifinals. Game time is at 4:30 p.m.

No. 3 Cincinnati 64, No. 6 Louisville 62
Playing in front of a pro-Cincinnati crowd, the Bearcats won a thrilling 64-62 game thanks to Armein Kirkland’s short jumper with 16.9 seconds remaining. Taquan Dean had a shot at the win, but his three-pointer with two seconds remaining was long. With the win, Cincinnati advances to the semifinals, where they will meet Saint Louis. With a sold out crowd of 16,202, about three-fourths Bearcat fans, Cincinnati fed of the crowd and never trailed during the final 9:42 minutes, although the game was in doubt until the final buzzer. “It was like being on our home court,” Bearcat forward Jason Maxiell said. “We used it to our advantage and the game came out our way.” Francisco Garcia did everything in his power to win the game for Louisville, scoring a career-high 28 points. But in the end, it was the balanced scoring of Cincinnati that out-did Louisville’s one-man wrecking crew.

Cincinnati held a two-point lead, 62-60, when Memphis tied the game on a phantom goaltending call with 48 seconds remaining. The Bearcats eventually called timeout with fourteen seconds on the shot clock and set up their play. Maxiell fed a posting Kirkland in the lane, who turned to his left and dropped in the five-foot bank shot with the shot clock down to three seconds. The Cardinals elected not to take a timeout and it almost worked. Garcia drew a double-team at the top of the key, leaving Dean open on the wing. Garcia found him and Dean had an open look, but it would not be his night of glory. Dean struggled all night, as did his teammates, from beyond the arc. Dean went 1-of-8 from deep; Louisville shot 6-of-25. Maxiell led the Bearcats with fifteen, while Kirkland added twelve, tying a season-high. Luke Whitehead scored twelve points for the Cardinals and led the team with eight rebounds. Kareem Johnson and Tony Bobbitt each scored nine for Cincinnati, who next plays at 7 p.m. Friday.

No. 7 Saint Louis 72, No. 2 Memphis 61
This one was supposed to be in the bag. Three great games, and then Memphis easily beating Saint Louis. Think again. The Billikens went up big, let the Tigers all the way back, then responded with another big run to win 72-61. The Billikens advanced to play Cincinnati in the second semifinal of the tournament; starting at 7 p.m. Reggie Bryant played his second-straight big game, leading Saint Louis with eighteen points. Izik Ohanon scored fourteen points and played huge during a key stretch for SLU. The Billikens jumped to a 26-12 lead during the first half, but the Tigers would come clawing back. Having trailed since the fifteen-minute mark in the first half, Sean Banks tied the game at 45 with a medium-range jumper with 8:17 remaining in the game.

That’s when it all went downhill. In what is becoming a regular part of this C-USA Tournament, Saint Louis answered with a 16-2 run, burying the Tigers and pulling the upset. Ohanon started the run with a short bucket, Anthony Drejaj hit a three-pointer, Bryant hit a long jumper and Ohanon sent home a powerful slam. After Ohanon and Banks traded two free throws, Bryant scored the back-breaker, getting a hoop and the harm to put the Billikens up a dozen. The Tigers tried to comeback, but would turn the ball over on three-straight possessions during the final two minutes. C-USA Player of the Year Antonio Burks would dish out ten assists but could very locate his shot, going 2-of-11 from the field and scoring six points. Banks led the Tigers with seventeen points, but only shot 5-of-15.

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