Friday, February 17, 2006

Tops Survive Again; New Lockbox

I. Courtney Lee Kills Trojan Man, 74-73
In another test of the Hilltoppers’ intestinal fortitude, Western Kentucky found a way to escape Little Rock with a 74-73 win. Courtney Lee’s rise-and-fire 18-footer hit nothing but the bottom of the net with 1.7 seconds remaining and UALR’s desperation heave at the buzzer was not close. As the country looks at scores today, they will see this score and think, “Wow. WKU keeps pulling out close games on the road.” Well, this was not a close game for 36 minutes.

The Tops roared out of the gate with a 14-2 run to start the game and kept the Trojans at a distance until the end of the half behind some hot shooting from both Courtney Lee and Anthony Winchester. The Trojans closed the gap to 39-34 with an 14-4 run at the end of the half during a Topper letdown that was foreshadowing of what was to come. The Tops again blitzed the Trojans early in the second half building a robust 17-point lead behind some scrappy inside play from Boris Siakam and some left-handed sweeping hooks from The Great Red Pterodactyl. At about the 8-minute mark, it looked like the Tops would cruise on home with a comfy double-digit victory.

But, this was a road game against a physical opponent. The Trojans shaved the lead down to nine with four minutes left, and the Toppers unconscionably turned it over on four straight possessions at one point allowing UALR to cut the lead to one. They took the lead after Trojan guard Zack Wright made two free throws after a steal to give UALR a one-point lead with just seconds remaining. Enter C-Lee 18-footer. Game over.

In this writer’s opinion, WKU is not one of the teams with a cruise control. There is no “maintain” mode with this team. They are either starving sharks who smell blood in the water or they are helpless lambs being lead to the slaughter. They are either building a monster lead or losing it. It’s either high intensity or no concentration. Thirty-four minutes of intensity were enough last night, but barely.

II. No time for a new bracket today. How about an updated Lockbox?
In short: Maryland and Indiana are OUT. Cincinnati and Bradley are IN.

III. Last Night's GOI
--at Boston College 65, Miami-FL 54. It's slipping away for the U.
--at Cal 75, Arizona 66. Zona hasn't beat a good team lately.
--at Marquette 57, Georgetown 51. Marquette is looking very strong at this point.
--San Diego State 81, at UNLV 70. The Aztecs are pulling away in the Mt. West.
Sun Belt Slate
--Western Kentucky 74, at Ark-Little Rock 73. See above.
--at Arkansas State 75, Middle Tennessee 74. Tough to win in Jonesboro.
--UL-Lafayette 76, at New Orleans 69. Cajuns are putting it together at the right time.
--South Alabama 66, at Troy 52. Impressive road win for South AL.

IV. Weekend Forecast (view BracketBusters here)
Clashes of the Titans
--Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount. Lions have not lost at home since December 10 and are 8-2 intheir last 10.
--Pitt at Marquette. Both playing for seeding now.
--Michigan at Michigan State. In state rivalry alert! And it's a good one.
--Iowa at Minnesota. Careful, Hawkeyes. Careful.
--UConn at West Virginia. Too much fun!

Bubble Boys (He took it out.)
--Tennessee at Alabama. Big chance for Tide to bolster their profile at home.
--Florida at Arkansas. Ditto for Arkansas.
--Virginia at Florida State. Cavs hanging tough on the Bubble.
--Vanderbilt at Georgia. Both are in must win mode.
--Georgia Tech at Maryland. Terps need any kind of win.
--Iowa State at Oklahoma. It's now or never for the 'Clones.
--Kentucky at South Carolina. Gamecocks can climb into the picture with a win over UK.
--Louisville at Syracuse. The Desperation Game of the Weekend.
Sun Belt Slate
--Middle Tennessee at UALR
--Troy at FIU
--Denver at North Texas