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GRIFFS ONE WIN AWAY FROM TAKING A TRIP TO A GARDEN SPOT

Two wins down, one to go to reach Madison Square Garden.

And a whole lot of work to get ready for that one -- both on and off the court.

That was the scenario Tuesday at Canisius College as preparations began for Thursday night's National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal against Washington State at Memorial Auditorium.

The winner of the 7:30 p.m. game advances to Monday's Final Four at the Garden, which will be televised on ESPN. The opponent will be determined in tonight's quarterfinal between New Mexico State and Virginia Tech (7:30, ESPN).

After the Griffs beat Bradley at the buzzer, 55-53, Monday night in Peoria, Ill., the team quickly turned its sights on its second postseason home game in eight days.

So did its fans. Phones were ringing at the Koessler Center as early at 7:30 a.m. and in just six hours, more than 2,600 tickets were sold for the game. Tickets are $10 for the public and $4 for Canisius students, prices that are set by the NIT. They are on sale at Prime Seats outlets, including the Aud, and at the Koessler Center today beginning at 10 a.m.

The demand has been so steady that Canisius officials rechecked the Aud's capacity in its curtained-off configuration for basketball. They found there are actually only 9,458 seats rather than the 11,500 they thought they had the last two years.

The number of seats hasn't been an issue because no crowd has exceeded 5,700 since the curtain was put in before last season. Last Wednesday's first-round game against Seton Hall, played while students were on spring break, drew just 3,777.

All the fuss about Thursday started when Craig Wise's put-back at the buzzer put away Bradley and gave Canisius its 11th road win of the year. The Griffs then waited until early Tuesday to find out they would host the game.

"This year has been big-time ball," said forward Darrell Barley, who tipped the rebound of Micheal Meeks' shot to Wise for the game-winning shot. "We've been traveling all around, winning in so many conferences and it's been great."

The Griffs took Tuesday off and will work out this afternoon at the Koessler Center. Coach John Beilein headed to an undisclosed location on a recruiting trip and did not accompany the team back to Buffalo.

Washington State practiced in Normal, Ill., where it posted an 83-80 win over Illinois State on Monday. The Cougars then flew into Buffalo late Tuesday night.

In addition to the ticket rush, media requests also began steadily coming in Tuesday to the Canisius sports information office. A typical Griffs game has 15-18 credentialed media members; last Wednesday's win drew 45 to 50, and a similar number is likely to show up for this game.

They will see a Washington State team that is 18-11 overall and finished tied for fifth in the Pac 10 at 10-8. The top five Pac 10 teams -- UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Stanford -- all made the NCAA Tournament.

The Cougars, whose campus is located at the Idaho border in Pullman, are coached by Kevin Eastman. He's in his first season after coming from North Carolina-Wilmington to replace Kelvin Sampson, who left for Oklahoma.

Washington State leads the nation in field-goal percentage at 52 percent and averages 83.7 points.

The Cougars have a 7-7 record against teams that made the postseason, including two wins over Oregon, one over Stanford and an 84-71 triumph over Sweet 16 team Arizona State. They also lost an overtime thriller at Arizona, 114-111.

The Griffs haven't played a team currently in the Pac 10 since a 67-63 loss to Arizona State in the Queen City Invitational on Dec. 29, 1962. That was the last season Canisius won a postseason game until this year; the Griffs lost the NIT final to Providence. Their last win over a current Pac 10 team was at the Aud over Arizona, 89-78, on Dec. 29, 1951.

Coincidentally, the Griffs and Cougars are to meet in December in the Carrier Classic in Syracuse. That pairing was put together last summer. The other teams playing are Columbia and Syracuse.

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