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Wednesday, January 26, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 81

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Men's basketball hits the road to face South Florida 

By Jason Caesar Consolacion
Daily Cougar Staff

The UH men's basketball team is riding high hopes as it head into it's upcoming Conference USA game against South Florida tonight.

Not only did the Cougars manhandle Memphis on Saturday, defeating the Tigers 98-89 (a score a bit misleading considering Houston unloaded its bench with three minutes left in the game), but every face is smiling due to the return of injury-plagued forward Early Smith.

Smith returned to the lineup on Saturday after missing all but the season opener against Texas (Nov. 17, 1999) last season. Smith's knee has handicapped the graduate student throughout his collegiate career. Since he first donned a Cougar uniform, Smith has had four knee surgeries -- three since that dreadful night on Nov. 17.

"Early is so important to this team," junior point guard Calvin Murphy Jr. said. "He's such a talent and his body is so massive, it controls the paint. It's really important to this team for him to be back."

Against Memphis, Smith only scored three points and grabbed one rebound in eight minutes, but it was a missed lay-up by point guard Roy Spears that gave Smith his moment. The 6-9 forward came out of nowhere to grab the rebound and slam the ball in the hole, all in one motion.

"I have not been as excited on a basketball court as I was when Early was playing against Memphis," UH assistant coach Reid Gettys said. "He's had four knee surgeries -- three since the injury (against Texas). The guy just didn't quit."

The win at Memphis was big for the Cougars. Not only was it the first conference road win of the season, but it gave the team confidence heading into the upcoming stretch that features four out of the next five games on the road.

"The win at Memphis was big," freshman forward George Williams said. "It gets us off to a good start on this road trip."

"The good thing about the Memphis game is that we came in there and we whacked somebody," Gettys added. "It was the first time in awhile that this team has come into a game and whacked somebody. Had we left the starters in the game, it would have been a 25 to 30-point blowout. That's an enormous step of progress for our team."

South Florida presents quite a challenge for these confident Cougars. The Bulls (11-7, 2-3 C-USA) are not only undefeated at home, but three players are averaging double figures in scoring and the team is shooting 47 percent from the field. USF averages nearly 82 points per game while allowing only 72.

"They're really good," Gettys said. "They haven't been playing as well as their talent level. They have the number one scorer in the conference in B.B. Waldon and they're very athletic. I imagine (Waldon) and George (Williams) will have a great matchup."

Waldon, an overall player at 6-8, 210 pounds, is averaging 19.2 points per game. The sophomore also leads the team with 8.1 rebounds per game and is shooting 45 percent from behind the three-point line.

Waldon is getting help from fellow sophomore Altron Jackson (18.6 points per game) and junior Cedric Smith (10.6). Smith is also among the leaders on the team in assists, dishing out 3.6 a game.

Nevertheless, the Cougars (8-10, 2-3 C-USA) are on such an emotional high right now, they are the perfect candidates to break the Bulls' undefeated home record.

"Every conference game is winnable," Murphy Jr. said. "We have to go in there and just play like it's a normal game. The win in Memphis was big for us. Not only is it a conference game, but we were able to win on the road. We've got some big games coming up, so this game (at South Florida) is no exception."

With the return of Smith, Houston only hopes he will add much needed beef in the middle for the Cougars. In their 10 losses this so far this year, the Cougars have been out-rebounded and out-scored in the paint. Smith offers a big boost in the middle.

"I don't want to put any pressure on (Smith) and say that he's going to be the answer (for this team to succeed)," Gettys said, "but we definitely need a player of his size and capability on the floor."
 

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