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Watt's big game rights UB's ship

Typically the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year comes from the team that wins the conference. That would, as of now, push someone from Akron to front of the line if only the Zips had a player with numbers that made him a worthy choice. But they don't.

Akron's strength is in its extraordinary balance. Doubtless the Zips' Keith Dambrot is frontrunner for Coach of the Year. But Player of the Year? That will have to come from elsewhere. And, if there's truth in statistics, UB senior center Mitchell Watt warrants serious consideration.

Watt, a 6-foot-10 senior from Goodyear, Ariz., went off for a career-high 28 points in Saturday's 84-74 conquest of Miami (Ohio) at Alumni Arena. He made 11 of 16 shots from the field. He grabbed five rebounds, handed out four assists and blocked three shots. Over the last eight games he's averaging 17.2 points, eight rebounds and shooting 56.5 percent from the field.

"Watt was outstanding," said Jermaine Henderson, Miami's acting coach while Charlie Coles recovers from a virus. "He was all over the place. He blocked shots, he got rebounds and he had a great day. I thought Watt certainly put his name in the ring for player of the year."

UB (17-9, 10-4) was back playing to its strengths in halting a three-game skid and retaining a share of second place in the overall MAC standing. The Bulls won the boards, 36-28, and held Miami to just six offensive rebounds -- 15 fewer than Ohio had in Wednesday's victory over the Bulls at Alumni Arena.

"That was disheartening. You feel violated when a team comes in and gets 21 offensive rebounds and you're one of the better rebounding teams in the country," said UB coach Reggie Witherspoon.

"This game had a lot of meaning to the guys because of our last performance," Watt said. "We feel like we didn't give the fans who came out here and paid hard-earned money to watch us, we don't think we did them justice with our performance and our effort. I think that was first and foremost what we wanted to prove was to play hard and with enthusiasm but also for the four guys who only have one home game left, it was a special one for us."

Watt and his fellow front-liners took it at Miami's 6-foot-8, 240-pound senior, Julian Muvunga (20 points), particularly in the second half. UB didn't get a second-half point from a guard until a Zach Filzen three with 10:48 left.

"We knew that they had a post player that came in averaging about 38 minutes a game and we have a group of post players that are pretty good," Witherspoon said. "You going to play 38 minutes, we're coming at you. We said, 'Let's go after him.' If he's going to play 38 minutes we know he's not going to sacrifice his offense. So let's see what he's going to do defensively."

With the inside game established, Filzen (14 points) regained his stroke. He came off a 1-for-7 first half to hit a trio of threes in a span of 5:04.

"It can get frustrating because I haven't shot as well as I'm capable the last few games," Filzen said. "For me it's the mentality that you got to stay confident. If I'm open I'm still going to shoot it, I don't care if I miss 30 in a row. I feel like I earned that with all the time I've put in You always got to just think the next one's going in."

The last of his threes made it 66-60 with 5:42 left. It came after Dave Barnett snared the rebound of Watt's missed three-point shot and got the ball to Filzen.

"I took a three where I probably could have moved it a little more, taken some clock off," Watt said. "And then Dave came up with a great offensive rebound and passed it to the guy who should be shooting threes."

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com