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Conference comes down to the finish

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2001


TAMPA -- With four regular-season games remaining, the men's basketball team begins its most crucial stretch of the season tonight against Alabama-Birmingham.

With USF half a game behind Memphis in the Conference USA National Division, every game is important.

"I guess it's a big week," coach Seth Greenberg said. "The way our conference is going right now, there's no rhyme or reason a lot of times about why people win and why they don't. The unpredictability has been unbelievable. We play without (Chonsey) Asbury, (Artha) Reeves and (B.B.) Waldon and beat UAB. They turn around and beat Marquette. Marquette turns around and beats Cincinnati. The parity is amazing."

After UAB looms Memphis, Cincinnati and Southern Miss. The key to succes, the Bulls say, will be their ability to stay focused.

"It's crunch time right now, and we're just trying to take it game by game," senior Sam Sanders said. "We really don't want to look ahead. This is a crucial, crucial stretch right here."

A BETTER APPRECIATION: The season has been more unpredictable than he could have imagined, but you won't find senior forward Cedric Smith having a bad day on the basketball court.

Not anymore. The Jan. 27 plane crash that killed 10 people affiliated with the Oklahoma State program has given him a new perspective.

"Ever since that plane went down in (Colorado), I try not to get too down," Smith said. "I try to come in here every day with a smile because those guys would do anything just to be playing, just to be sitting on the sidelines, just to even be injured right now. That changed a lot of things for me. I try not to be down too many days. When I get down, I just think of that and I'm back on track."

FROM BAD TO WORSE: With all the adversity that has hit the women's basketball program, coach Jose Fernandez surely thought things couldn't get worse.

Sunday proved otherwise. Besides losing to Marquette, the Bulls lost two players to season-ending injuries.

"It seems like everything has gone wrong this year," Fernandez said. "Hopefully we'll take it all at once and get it all this year. It doesn't affect the future of the program, that's for sure."

Melissa Tape will miss the final two regular-season games with a concussion, but she could be cleared to play in the Conference USA tournament, which begins March2. Lindsey Smith sustained her second ACL tear and will not return. She will be evaluated at the end of the week and is scheduled for surgery in mid March. Tape averaged 37 minutes, Smith 32.

The Bulls will dress seven players, resulting in several lineup changes. Aiya Shepard will move to point guard, Shannon Layne to shooting guard, Sarah Lochmann to forward, Denetrice Stinson to power forward and Ashley Teets to center.

"It's going to be tough, but some people have got to step up," Fernandez said. "I told them we've just got to continue to fight adversity. ... We can't keep our heads down."

- Contact Bulls beat writer Antonya English at (800) 333-7505, ext. 8810 or by e-mail at English@sptimes.com.

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