Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Western Kentucky shooting for third straight title
Will play Middle Tennessee in Sun Belt final
The Associated Press
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Tommy Gunn was automatic. The 6-foot-3 junior guard will have to be just as accurate Tuesday night if Middle Tennessee is to have a chance to claim the Sun Belt Conference tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Gunn was 8-for-10 from the floor and 2-for-2 from the line for 19 points as Middle Tennessee (16-13) defeated Denver 83-59 Monday night in the semifinals.
Gunn was not only deadly with the jumpshot but also helped shut down Denver ace B.J. Pratt.
Denver (17-15) could manage only two field goals in the first 8:32 of the game, and Pratt, who averaged almost 30 points in Denver's two tournament wins, didn't score until the last five minutes of the first half. He finished with eight points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor.
"We just wore him out," said Mike Humphrey, who had 15 points for the Blue Raiders.
Zupic Zeljko led the Pioneers with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
"We took them out of their sets, and I think we shut down their key players," Gunn said.
Now Middle Tennessee inherits the thankless task of trying to shut down Western Kentucky guard Patrick Sparks.
Sparks scored a career-high 28 points as Western Kentucky defeated New Mexico State 78-59 Monday night to advance to the final.
Sparks scored Western's first 13 points of the game, hitting three of his four 3-point shots and two free throws.
"We were just clicking on all cylinders tonight," said Sparks, whose previous career high of 27 points came in a 92-82 loss to the Aggies in Las Cruces, N.M., Jan. 25.
Leading by eight at the break, the Hilltoppers (23-8) went on a 14-4 run to take a 62-45 lead with 7:57 left in the game.
David Boyden, who had 11 points for Western, scored six points during the decisive run.
Less than a minute later, two Sparks free throws extended the lead to 19, 64-45, and the Aggies (20-9) never threatened again.
Gunn has had success against the Hilltoppers, scoring 17 points in Middle Tennessee's 69-65 win Jan. 4 in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and scoring 26 in a losing effort on the last regular-season game of the year in Bowling Green.
"We have a chance to go to the Big Dance," Gunn said after defeating Denver. "We have five seniors on this team, so everyone is real excited about that."
Middle Tennessee has been to the NCAA tournament six times and is 2-6 in tournament play, most recently losing to Virginia 104-88 in the second round of the 1989 Southeast Regional.
The Hilltoppers have won the past two conference titles and have 18 NCAA tournament appearances, going 15-19 in 34 tournament games.
Western is looking for its third straight tournament bid and sixth overall since 1990. The Hilltoppers lost in the first round in both the 2001 and 2002 national tournaments.
"It would be an honor to get three (conference titles) in a row," guard Mike Wells said.
BOSTON - Jason Grochowalski scored 22 points as Boston University beat Northeastern 71-61 in the semifinals. BU will host the winner of Hartford and Vermont.
These are teams that have clinched an NCAA Tournament bid by winning their conference tournaments:
Austin Peay, Ohio Valley
East Tennessee State, Southern
Manhattan, Metro Atlantic Athletic
UNC-Wilmington, Colonial Athletic Association
North Carolina-Asheville, Big South
Penn, Ivy League
Troy State, Atlantic Sun
Creighton, Missouri Valley
BENGALS / NFL
Spikes leaves No. 51, Cincinnati in his past
Lewis makes James a Bengals believer
Washington is still busy
REDS / MLB
Moseley, Basham get taste of action
Reds' split squads sweep O's, Red Sox
No surprises as Reds trim roster
Pitch comes to shove in Expos-Marlins brawl
Frank Robinson passes on hard-nosed passion for baseball
Monday's other games
Yanks, Wells agree to a $100,000 fine
$10 million gift will help build UC's Varsity Village
C-USA honors UC's Stokes
Huggins reinstates Flowers
A-10 wants shot of postseason enthusiasm
A-10 tourney: George Washington 85, Massachusetts 74
MAC tourney: Hunter drops in buzzer-beater as Bobcats advance
No. 19 Creighton 80, S. Illinois 56
Sun Belt tourney: Western Kentucky shooting for third straight title
NKU doubles pleasure in Div. II
Bubble teams lobby anyone who will listen
Georgia withdraws from SEC, NCAA play
Scandals, firings overshadow March Madness
Top 25: Kentucky closes gap on No. 1 Arizona
Neltner big for Bluebirds in win
Simon Kenton slips past Dixie
Thomas, Finnell are second-team all-state girls
Beechwood happy to have Yeagle back
Holtz says he returned to coaching to help others
Marshall football players plead innocent to charges
Hoch sees the light, wins at Doral
Jordan loses patience with younger Wizards
Malone scores 29 points as Utah handles Miami
Vanbiesbrouck quits after using racial slur
Flyers get Amonte from Coyotes before trade deadline
Capriati outlasts Dementieva at Indian Wells
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