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It's 12 minutes to gametime and the bleacher area seems to be more full than most nights this season. It is a Saturday night, after all.
Fun fact of the night: Detroit outfielder
Curtis Granderson attended UIC.
Nate Linhart gets the unenviable assignment of guarding 5-foot-11
Josh Mayo, who looks even shorter than that. I guess
Keith Dambrot wants a long defender to contest his shots.
Robert Kreps might turn out to be the more difficult player to guard. He's quick and active without the ball. And he can shoot.
Dambrot made a few smart substitutions by inserting
Darryl Roberts to deal with Kreps and
Mike Bardo to keep
Scott VanderMeer from getting easy buckets, of which he already has two.
Mayo came out, and in came
Steve McNees, who is sporting a fresh hair cut. When Mayo returned and Linhart took a break,
Jimmy Conyers got the assignment.
UIC is missing two starters.
Spencer Stewart broke his hand over Christmas break playing a pickup game at his high school.
Karl White has a sprained ankle.
For being such a great shooter, Mayo is a lousy ball handler. When he gets the ball in traffic, you can bet he'll turn it over.
Akron had an odd lineup of Bardo, Roberts,
Brett McKnight, McNees and Linhart. Two guys weren't on the roster last month. Two guys have no idea what they're doing with the ball. The fifth prefers not to play defense.
Michael Beaven pointed out to me that the hottest dance team member is not in uniform. By "hot," I'm sure he means dancing ability.
I'm sitting next to
Joe Dunn and
Steve French on press row. It's pretty neat to hear commentary without the radio. On a side note, French e-mailed me to contest my criticism of Akron's scheduling. He correctly asserted that the MAC is a one-bid league and will be, unless there is an elite team with a big-name player who chokes at the Q. Missouri State, I believe, didn't even get an at-large bid with an RPI of 19.
While all of that is true, the Zips have far too many cupcakes on their schedule. Supplanting two of those with road games would have the following benefits: 1) Good experience in front of a hostile crowd and against a superior team. 2) You get a fat paycheck from the host school out of it. 3) RPI still matters for the NIT, NCAA seeding and national recognition.
The Zips are getting sloppy on offense.
Chris McKnight and
Quade Milum are taking far too many outside shots.
Cedrick Middleton hasn't played much. Back in the hey-day for pro wrestling, a tag team partner would sit out most of the match if he was going to turn on his partner. Middleton is from Chicago. It's just something to chew on.
Here's a shout-out to my lovely girlfriend, who allowed me to attend tonight's game, despite the fact that she's back in town from Columbus.
The halftime performers were a group of jump-ropers called The Heartbeats. They were very entertaining. I don't know if the U will ever match the production value that
Mike Waddell's creativity brought.
Romeo Travis is in attendance again. Beaven said the European teams often have a three-week break for Christmas. This is to allow the American players to visit home. And a lot of the players are American over there. My question is, why doesn't somebody in the athletic department get Rome a seat in the lower bowl. He's up in the uncomfortable bleachers.
The Zips are finally working the ball in to
Jeremiah Wood. He has four points this half already.
Nick Dials does not look like his normal self. He seems to be a step slow on defense.
I'm really disappointed with Mayo. I hoped to see a pro prospect with that kind of 3-point accuracy. Unfortunately, he can't create his own shot, isn't very fast and lacks tenacity on defense.
Play of the year: Dials lobbed the ball to a soaring Milum for a fast-break alley-oop. Wow. The crowd went absolutely wild. They showed the replay on the Jumbotron. They need to put that on Youtube.com immediately.
Wood leads the Zips with 16 points. He just daintily dropped in two free throws.
Kreps and Bush just made consecutive 3s to cut the lead to seven. The Zips should be able to ice the game if they run 25 seconds off the clock, then dump it in to Wood.
Another amazing sequence: Milum banged the ball off the bottom of the rim. Linhart dove into press row to save it to Dials. The shot clock didn't reset, so Dials launched on off-balanced 3, and swished it.
UIC's Bush made a 3, then another Flame horse-collared Dials after the inbound. Dials made both free throws. The Zips wisely pressed UIC and Wood drew a charge. Dials is now on the line to ice the game. He made one of two.
Linhart swatted a 3-point attempt. They fouled Dials again, who sunk both.
0:16 -- Akron 79, UIC 71