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WITHERSPOON'S STATUS HASN'T CHANGED

TWO STRAIGHT VICTORIES< including a monumental upset of the first-place team in the Mid-American Conference -- aren't going to automatically change the status of University at Buffalo interim basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon.

UB's official stance remains the same: Witherspoon is the interim head coach, a national search will be conducted for a permanent successor to Tim Cohane and Witherspoon is invited to apply.

"This is one of the most important hires the Division of Athletics will make for the forseeable future," Athletic Director Bob Arkeilpane said this week. "We really feel we can make an impact within the MAC and get our program going in the right direction."

UB (5-14) is 3-11 under Witherspoon, but has won three straight MAC games at home. The Bulls' 84-83 upset of East Division leader Akron Monday night was the MAC's biggest shocker of the season. UB followed that with Wednesday's 63-60 triumph over Western Michigan, the third-place team in the MAC West.

The Bulls are 3-7 in the MAC after going just 1-17 last year, their first in the conference. With eight league games remaining, they are only 1 1/2 games behind Northern Illinois (4-5) for eighth place. The No. 8 team is the last of five hosts for first-round MAC Tournament games.

UB lost its first eight games under Witherspoon but is 3-3 since.

"If they continue to keep this up, those are things that will bode well for Reggie down the stretch," Arkeilpane said.

Arkeilpane admitted the Akron victory was clearly UB's most significant since joining the MAC.

"It was thrilling for all of us," Arkeilpane said. "I was particularly excited for the kids and the coaching staff and our fans, who have been through a lot this year. When you pull out a game against Akron, it's not a fluke. You don't beat Akron by accident."

After the stunning victory, Witherspoon was peppered with questions about whether it would elevate his status.

"I don't know if I'm the right one to answer that," Witherspoon said. "I haven't thought about it. The only time I really think about it is when somebody asks me. . . . It's clearly a situation that I can't control. If they came to me to say, 'We've settled it and you're in or you're out,' I've still got practice from 4-6."

Especially in news conferences on the road, Witherspoon is constantly asked about the challenge he accepted Dec. 4 by moving from Erie Community College after Cohane's forced resignation. Witherspoon is trying to keep the focus on the day-to-day tasks of improving his team.

"(Beating Akron) couldn't have been any sweeter than if they had said to me, 'OK, we're going to give you a 10-year contract making $1 million a year,' " he said. "You still want to win. You still beat the first-place team and you're still really happy."

UB isn't going to be paying $1 million a year or anything close to it. But the school is likely to bump up the salary of its next coach. Cohane made about $90,000 -- below what some assistants make at top programs. Still, salaries of MAC coaches aren't exorbitant and UB doesn't really need to pay much more than $125,000 to $150,000.

Arkeilpane said Bill Maher, the school's compliance director, is heading the search. An ad for the position recently appeared in the NCAA News and Arkeilpane said the school has received about three dozen inquiries and some full applications.

Many MAC and Big 4 observers think UB should forget the search and hire Witherspoon, not just because he seems to be getting results but to save the recruiting season. No high school player will commit to UB without knowing for whom he will play, and rival schools are certainly using that fact against UB.

"Recruiting is the name of the game and it's a major concern," Arkeilpane said. "We're handicapped and we know that. Because we're at that disadvantage, we want to resolve this issue."

Arkeilpane said it's possible UB may hold some interviews during February and that he'd like to have a coach shortly after the Bulls' season is over.

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