It’s a simple philosophy for the University of Akron basketball team. No breathers. No letting up. All business.
They know the importance and the emotional entanglements involved in tonight’s ESPNU televised game against Ohio University.
But the Zips are not exactly looking to play on emotion.
Why should they?
They are off to their best start in the Mid-American Conference in school history with a 12-1 record, 20-8 overall. For them it’s all about one thing.
“The last stretch of February, early March, this is where the fun is, winning the regular-season championship, which has never been done here,” UA guard Brian Walsh said.
Their win against Bowling Green guaranteed them a share of that title. A win over the Bobcats (22-6, 9-4) gives it to them outright. But a heated rivalry comes with the Bobcats, and the Zips lost by 25 points at the Convocation Center last year.
“I don’t think it’s a thought at all. I think we avenge that 25-point loss with a MAC championship and winning the tournament,’’ senior forward Nikola Cvetinovic said. “It’s going to be a tough environment. It always is down there. They are going to have 10,000 people, but we’ve already played in such environments. If we just do our game plan, we’ll be fine.”
UA coach Keith Dambrot agrees.
“I think that every game is mutually exclusive. They killed us, but I don’t think that’s going to motivate us any more or any less,” he said. “We’re going to play. Against OU we’re going to play whether they beat us or we beat them.”
But he expects coach Jim Groce’s team to play differently than the one that lost to the Zips 68-63 on Jan. 14. He said that the Bobcats played somewhat passively and conservatively.
“What we look for is they’re going to be super aggressive and super physical,” Dambrot said. “They always are down there. They’ll try to make it a war, basically.”
A win gives the Zips the outright title and the top seed in the MAC Tournament, but a loss would make it interesting. Buffalo, Ohio and Kent State are still fighting for positioning in the top four and the Zips have games remaining with the Bulls and the Golden Flashes.
If Buffalo were to win out and the Zips lose out, the Bulls could still take the top seed on a tiebreaker over the Zips.
Ohio remains in contention with Buffalo and Kent State with a shot at one of the two byes into the semifinals of the MAC Tournament. And they will have some swagger after beating Buffalo on the road.
The third and fourth seeds get a bye in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
Although the Zips want and plan to win all three, right now Dambrot said something else remains important.
“I think the biggest thing is you have to be even-keeled. No matter what happens in these next three, we’re playing three of the best teams in the league,” he said. “If we win all three or we lose all three, it still creates the same situation. We have to win the MAC Tournament.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://zips.ohio.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.