8:00 PM ET, February 27, 2003
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- No. 10 Marquette (No. 11 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) took a huge step toward its first Conference USA title on Thursday night.Meanwhile, Louisville (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) can't seem to stop its late-season slide. Dwyane Wade scored 28 points and Scott Merritt added 18 as the Golden Eagles came from 19 points down to beat the Cardinals 78-73. Travis Diener added 16 points and four assists for Marquette (21-4, 12-2 Conference USA), which won for the 14th time in 15 games. The Golden Eagles have a game-and-a-half lead over Memphis in the overall league standings with two home games left. "We played with great heart, great resiliency," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "This is a complete team effort." Wade hit a free throw with 23.4 seconds left and Louisville's Reece Gaines, after faking a defender to get himself open, missed a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining that could have tied the game. Diener hit two free throws with 6 seconds left to clinch the win. "We never gave up. We always felt like we were going to win," Diener said. Wade also led the Golden Eagles with seven assists and had eight rebounds, outduelling Gaines, his main competition in the race for the league's player of the year. Gaines, the hero of Louisville's 73-70 win at Marquette on Feb. 15, scored only 12 on 4-of-11 shooting for the Cardinals (19-5, 9-4 Conference USA), who lost for the fourth time in five games after a 17-game winning streak. "If Dwyane Wade didn't put an exclamation point on what type of player he is, I don't know what will," Crean said. "He defended, rebounded and scored. He really got a lot of things done." Freshman Francisco Garcia scored 24 for Louisville and Ellis Myles had 12 points and 11 rebounds before he left the game with a knee injury with 1:15 left. Louisville coach Rick Pitino did not immediately know Myles' status, but feared he was gone for the season. Myles is Louisville's leading rebounder, with 7.7 per game. "It was a big blow for the team to see him go down," Gaines said. The Cardinals led 42-23 in the first half and by 11 at halftime before the Eagles came roaring back. Louisville led 57-45 after a fast-paced first three minutes of the second half. But the Eagles went on an 18-4 run over the next four minutes, holding the Cardinals to a single field goal. Merritt gave Marquette its first lead with a basket in the lane with 10 minutes left. "We threw away the stat sheet at halftime," Crean said. "We wanted to start all over again." Myles kept the Cardinals close with three rebound putbacks. But Wade had eight points in a five-minute span to put the Eagles up 74-70. "It was a big-time game. I tried to step up to the challenge," Wade said. Garcia scored on a drive -- just his third basket of the second half -- to keep Louisville within two. Merritt sank a free throw with 2:29 left, and the teams each failed to score before Myles' injury. He screamed in pain and pounded the floor after falling awkwardly. He left the game on a stretcher. Luke Whitehead hit a free throw and Steve Novak missed a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left, but Louisville freshman Taquan Dean missed one 15 seconds later. Early on, the Cardinals' defense smothered Marquette, forcing six turnovers in the first eight minutes. The Golden Eagles stayed within seven until Gaines' two free throws with 8:17 left made it 23-14 and started a 7-0 Louisville run. The lead reached 42-23 as the Cardinals' swarming pressure continued to generate Marquette miscues and easy baskets. Louisville scored 16 points off 14 Marquette turnovers in the first half. "We got a little impatient, a little erratic in the first half," Wade said. The Eagles turned up their defense to finish the half with a 12-2 burst. The Cardinals missed five of their last six first-half shots and led only 46-35 at the break. Marquette had only four turnovers in the second half and only one in the final 11 minutes. "We played a lot of great basketball tonight," Crean said.
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