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Volume 69, Issue 94, Thursday, February 19, 2004


Friday may hold key to C-USA

By Christian Schmidt
The Daily Cougar

Joe Curl often says that every conference game is the most important game of the season, but even he had to admit that Friday will be special.

The UH women's basketball head coach knows that if his team beats No. 12 DePaul (22-1 overall, 10-1 in Conference USA) on Friday in Hofheinz Pavilion, UH (21-3, 10-1) will all but assure itself of the C-USA regular season championship and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, perhaps as high as No. 5.

Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar 
Junior forward Sancho Lyttle will have to step up inside for the Cougars against DePaul on Friday if the Cougars are to take control of Conference USA.

"There's no question it is the biggest game of the year, and we make no bones about that," Curl said. "But we feel that way every time we play, because the reality of the game is it's one-fourteenth of the conference goal, and that's to get a conference championship."

Houston has only three of those 14 conference games remaining. They might be the three toughest games of the year, as the Lady Cougars face first-place DePaul on Friday, fourth-place Marquette on Sunday and third-place Texas Christian on Feb. 27.

The Lady Cougars need big games from senior guard Chandi Jones and junior forward Sancho Lyttle to win. Jones leads the team and ranks No. 4 in the nation with 21.9 points per game. Lyttle is second in scoring with 15.6 points per game and leads Houston with 9.3 rebounds per game.

DePaul is tied with Houston for first place in C-USA with only one loss in conference play, and has the school's highest-ever national ranking at No. 12.

Sophomore forward Khara Smith leads the Lady Blue Demons in scoring with 21.3 points per game, rebounds (11.8) and blocks (1.0). Smith is making a serious bid this season to become the first player not named Chandi Jones to be honored as C-USA Player of the Year since 2001.

"There's no question, you have to try to do something and take something away," Curl said. "You just make (Smith) earn everything. I don't know if you ever really stop the Chandi Jones and Khara Smiths, but you try to limit their touches, and when they do touch it ... try to take them out of their rhythm."

As good as Smith is, the strength of DePaul lies in its three-point shooting, where three Lady Blue Demons average 39.6 percent or better shooting from behind the arc.

Curl said he thinks DePaul is similar to Houston in some ways. 

"We're both up-tempo (teams), but we don't take as many threes and don't look to shoot them in transition like they do," Curl said. "There's a lot of similarities in how we play defensively."

On 2 p.m. Sunday, the Lady Cougars have to regroup and face Marquette. The Lady Golden Eagles (18-6, 8-3) have been a surprise team in C-USA this year. With six players averaging 7.9 points per game, Marquette has a team-oriented approach that has put them near the top of the conference.

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