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Tough games for UB, Bona Bulls host Toledo; Xavier visits RC

The University at Buffalo and St. Bonaventure enjoy the comforts of home tonight and they'll need every edge against their toughest conference opposition of the season.

UB hosts Toledo, the lone remaining unbeaten team in the Mid-American Conference, at 7 p.m. in Alumni Arena (Radio 1520 AM). Meanwhile, Bona hosts Atlantic 10 favorite and defending champion Xavier at 7 p.m. in the Reilly Center (Radio 1300 AM and 95.7 FM).

UB (9-9, 1-4) has dropped seven of its last 10 games and continues to have brutal turnover troubles. The Bulls are 320th in the nation -- fifth from the bottom -- with 19.9 turnovers per game.

The Bulls made 20 in Sunday's 66-59 loss at Akron and the Zips' 27-10 bulge in points off the miscues proved decisive. As a team, the Bulls have 115 more turnovers than assists.

"We've been too tentative and our guys are just hesitant," said UB coach Reggie Witherspoon. "They're trying to be exact and avoid mistakes but that's causing the mistakes."

The turnover issue figures to get magnified even more against Toledo (9-8, 5-0) because the Rockets forced 33 in Sunday's 76-60 win over Northern Illinois.

Toledo opened MAC play 1-5 last year but roared back to finish 10-8 and lost to Kent State in the championship game of the MAC Tournament. The Rockets have won 12 straight MAC regular-season games.

Toledo was 4-8 after a rugged nonconference schedule this year but has improved its defensive intensity and is off to its best MAC start since 1979. In their five games, the Rockets are forcing 20 turnovers and allowing just 60.8 points.

"Players get caught up in what fans and media say about scoring points and that's the wrong message to get," said Toledo coach Stan Joplin. "We told them if we're going to win, we have to play better defense and take care of the ball. That's what we've been doing."

The Rockets' three senior starters (6-foot-6 Florentino Valencia, 6-5 Keonta Howell and 6-3 Justin Ingram) all average in double figures. Howell leads at 16.6 points while Valencia (12.9 ppg) is fourth in the nation in field-goal percentage at 66.7. Guard Kashif Payne, a 5-foot-9 junior, is a pest at the point.

"They have great senior leadership and they're well coached," Witherspoon said. "This is pretty much what we anticipated from them. It was just a matter of time before they got it rolling."

In Olean, St. Bonaventure (5-13, 2-3) will be shooting for back-to-back league wins for the first time since 2004. The Bonnies played a sensational second half in Sunday's 87-73 win over La Salle, scoring 52 points to wipe out an 11-point deficit. It was the sixth time in their last eight games they've scored at least 70.

Bona put five players in double figures and frontcourt stalwarts Paul Williams and Michael Lee combined for 39 points and 15 rebounds.

"We've had good balance when we've been efficient offensively," said coach Anthony Solomon. "It comes down to decision-making. Different teams play Paul and Mike differently. When that happens, they have to make good decisions and our guards have to take the right shots or make the right pass."

Meanwhile, Xavier (13-6, 3-2) is struggling with its defense as its last three opponents averaged 78.3 points.

The Musketeers start five upperclassmen, with junior guard Stanley Burrell leading the way at 12.6 points. The point guard is 5-7 Oklahoma transfer Drew Lavender, who gave Niagara guard Alvin Cruz fits during the Sooners' 2005 NCAA Tournament win over the Purple Eagles.

Xavier was a first-round loser to Gonzaga in last year's NCAAs.


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