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Busted UB out to regain its focus

The University at Buffalo was back at practice Monday, back into their routine, after a "South Dakota Vacation" that should have starred Chevy Chase. The Bulls arrived in the Mount Rushmore State around 11 p.m. Thursday and, thanks to flight snags, didn't back it back to Buffalo until 9 Sunday night. All that for a 21-point loss in a BracketBuster game that has absolutely nothing to do with the NCAA bracket but nonetheless was jammed into the stretch run of the Mid-American Conference schedule.

"It was a disaster all the way around, from the bus getting here late the day we were leaving to the game to the whole experience yesterday," said senior guard Zach Filzen. "It was a disaster but we'll rebound and get back from it and get back on track."

The Bulls were at the airport by 5 a.m. Sunday for their 6 a.m. flight only to learn that maintenance issues had grounded their plane. The team split up on different flight, reuniting in Chicago. All for ?

It's time for conference commissioners to rethink BracketBuster participation given the overall disruption and financial burden it causes many a road team (Akron played Oral Roberts in Tulsa, Okla.) in exchange for the possibility of a television game or two on the secondary tier of the ESPN family. It's become clear over the years that the matchups carry no weight with the NCAA Selection Committee, save maybe one or two games involving premier teams. No. 16 Murray State probably did nothing to improve its seeding with its win over No. 21 Saint Mary's. If anything, the result only served to lessen the general regard for Saint Mary's.

"It's a really hard game," Filzen said. "You go from games being so important and so intense to a game that in the whole grand scheme of things for us probably doesn't matter that much, or for anyone else in our conference, because we're only getting one bid from the conference. It's hard to get up for something like that but at the same time you want to play well, you want to have a good showing. We didn't play that great but we also I think learned a couple lessons that we'd much rather learn in a game that doesn't matter than Wednesday night against Ohio."

The Bulls return to MAC play Wednesday against the Bobcats having lost two straight for the first time in a month. They've come to realize they're only as good as their offensive commitment.

"We took quick shots," coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "We took quick shots that weren't in rhythm at all against a team that wants to go up and down. So they want you to take quick shots so they can get the ball and go. And we've got to learn to trust each other and take good shots that are in rhythm so we can be equipped to defend and rebound like we were doing.

"We learned the value of it and we had been slipping in that area a little bit. And sometimes you got to get smacked to say, 'OK, this is something we better do.' So that's what's been the discussion since then, you know, you're sitting in an airport for 12 hours and we just talked it through and talked about how important it is. It can affect not just your offense but your defense."

UB (16-8, 9-3) is tied with Kent State for second in the overall MAC standing, two games behind Akron. Ohio (21-6, 8-4) is fourth and Bowling Green (14-12, 7-5) fifth. A win Wednesday would virtually assure the Bulls of finishing among the conference's top four and avoiding the impossible five-game journey to the MAC Tournament title.

Ohio scored a 60-52 victory in Athens in the first meeting on Jan. 11. They'll come in fairly well rested, having played seven of their last 10 at home. This will be the Bobcats' first road contest in 11 days but three of their last four are away from Athens.


The A-10 tangle

If the Atlantic 10 Tournament began tonight St. Bonaventure would be hosting Charlotte in a first-round game. But there's still a lot of basketball remaining in a race where the eight- and ninth-place teams (Dayton and Duquesne) are just two games out of third. Bona's challenge? Score a couple victories away from the Reilly Center during a closing run in which it plays three of its final four on the road.

The standings suggest it's a challenge they can handle. Bona's two road games this week are against two of the A-10's bottom four: Fordham (9-16, 2-10) and Charlotte (12-13, 4-8). They'll finish up with a home game against Saint Joseph's (18-10, 8-5) and regular-season finale at La Salle (18-9, 7-5). The Bonnies (14-10, 7-5) bombed Fordham, 95-51, Jan. 21, but the Rams played that game without star forward Chris Gaston, who was serving a one-game suspension.


Niagara-Canisius III?

The next installment of the Battle of the Bridge could take place in Springfield, Mass., pending the final week of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference results. At the moment, the Purple Eagles and the Golden Griffins are on a collision course to meet in one of two first-round games. Niagara lost its tiebreaker advantage for sixth place over Siena when Marist upset Loyola (Md.) on the road last week.

Iona has taken sole possession of first place and, with home games against Fairfield and Saint Peter's, should lock up the top spot. Niagara remains tied for sixth with Siena, and the Saints close the season at Marist and home against Canisius while the Purple Eagles finish at Saint Peter's and at Marist. It appears Niagara would have to sweep both road games and the Saints go 1-1 to finish ahead outright, a necessity since Siena holds the tiebreaker advantage.

The Griffs broke their 10-game skid with a BracketBuster win over Maryland-Baltimore County on Saturday and close at Manhattan on Friday and Siena on Sunday. At 1-15 in the MAAC, they're already guaranteed the 10th and final seed.


In your face

Dayton is 0-27 at Xavier since Jan. 10, 1981 and Muskie fans aren't letting them forget it. When it was clear Xavier would triumph in OT Saturday, students held up posters showing the six U.S. presidents who have been in office since the last time Dayton triumphed in the series.