By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
During his first tour through Conference USA last season, Marquette guard Dwyane Wade played against the University of Cincinnati's Steve Logan three times.
He saw how competitive Logan was and he saw the little guard make shot after shot in crucial situations as he won the conference's player-of-the-year award for the second time in a row.
More important, he saw that, largely because of Logan, the Bearcats won 31 games, conference regular-season and tournament championships and a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.
"I just think every night Steve Logan laid it out on the line," Wade said. "He hit big shots all the time. I thought, next year I'm going to go out and lay it all on the line."
A year later, Logan is gone and Wade has assumed his mantel as the best player in the conference. He was the preseason selection to be the league's player of the year.
But what he wants most is to win the championship and make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.
Wade will lead the No. 18 Golden Eagles (14-3, 6-1 Conference USA) against UC at 4 p.m. today at sold-out Shoemaker Center.
The Bearcats (13-4, 6-1) are coming off a loss at DePaul. They haven't lost two games in a row since Jan. 20 and 24, 2001, when they lost at Saint Louis and to Louisville.
To beat Marquette, they'll have to find a way to contain Wade, the league's leading scorer at 23.2 points a game, and the ninth-leading scorer in the country.
The Golden Eagles have five other double-figure scorers, including 6-foot-9 forward Robert Jackson, who averages 21.3 points a game, but Wade is the one who makes the offense go.
"He's the best athlete that we've played against in the league since (Penny) Hardaway," UC coach Bob Huggins said.
Wade did not play his freshman season because of academics, but he made a huge splash as a sophomore last season when he averaged 17.8 points and was named first-team all-conference.
"Last year I just wanted to prove that I could play," Wade said. "I proved to people that I could play. Now I want to prove that I can win."
Wade, a 6-4 junior, was most effective driving to the basket last year. This season he still attacks the basket but has improved his shooting from 15 to 18 feet.
"I'll try to give him a little bit of a cushion and make him hit the outside shot," said UC forward Leonard Stokes, who will guard Wade. "But if he's hitting his outside shot, he's pretty tough to guard."
UC historically has done well containing big scorers from other teams, but Wade burned the Bearcats for 25 points last season in the Golden Eagles' win in Milwaukee. He scored 19 in UC's win at Shoemaker Center and 16 in UC's win in the C-USA Tournament final at Firstar Center.
Wade seems to accumulate points at will. He's adept at scoring in transition, often after stealing the ball himself. He had seven steals in Marquette's win last Saturday over DePaul.
"One of the things that separates Dwyane, that makes him that much more of an elite player, is how hard he plays at both ends of the floor," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "He takes pride in playing on both ends of the floor."
He takes pride in his life away from the court, too. Wade was married in June to his high school sweetheart and they have a year-old son, Zaire.
"I love the challenge that every day brings," Wade said. "I like to spend time with my wife and son. I want to get better at basketball and school work. It doesn't give me time to be lazy and sit around."
Wade frequently is asked about when he'll leave school for the NBA, and he consistently declines to discuss it. But one NBA scout said this week that Wade was the best off-guard in the country and would be foolish not to come out after this season.
For now, Wade is concentrating on ending UC's seven-year reign as C-USA regular-season champion. The Bearcats have won 10 straight league games at Shoemaker since they lost to the Golden Eagles in overtime Feb. 18, 2001.
"We look forward to playing Cincinnati every year," Wade said. "It's a great rivalry with two great programs. They're like a tough, hard-nosed team."
Cincinnati vs. No. 18 Marquette
Tipoff: 4 p.m., Shoemaker Center (13,176).
Records: Marquette 14-3 (6-1 Conference USA), UC 13-4 (6-1).
Radio: WLW-AM (700)
Series: UC leads 21-13.
Line: UC by 3 ‡
Coach: Tom Crean (70-38, fourth season; same overall.).
Coach: Bob Huggins (345-104, 14th season; 513-176 overall).
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