March 11, 2003
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Sports Writer
MILWAUKEE - After waiting 107 years, the Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers wasted no time in qualifying for their first NCAA tournament.
The Panthers raced to a 21-4 lead and cruised past Butler 69-52 Tuesday night in the Horizon League tournament championship at U.S. Cellular Arena, a 10-minute drive from the urban commuter school.
This was top-seeded Butler's sixth league title game in seven years and second-seeded Milwaukee's first in school history. But neither team played like it.
The Bulldogs fell behind 14-0 and never got closer than 12 points thereafter.
Clay Tucker scored 18 of his 23 points in the first half, leading the Panthers to a 38-20 halftime advantage in front of a raucous crowd of 10,115 - the largest in UWM history - that harkened to the Al McGuire days when Marquette's glory teams played in the venerable, cozy arena.
With its automatic bid, Milwaukee (24-7) will be the third school from the state headed to the NCAA tournament, joining eighth-ranked Marquette and No. 18 Wisconsin, both of which won their respective regular-season conference championships.
The Bulldogs (25-5), who won the Horizon League's regular-season crown 76-74 over Milwaukee on freshman Avery Sheets' 3-point buzzer-beater earlier this month, will have to wait until Sunday to see if they get an at-large bid.
They expected one last year, but had to settle for the NIT instead.
Ronnie Jones added 16 points for the Panthers, who equaled their school record for victories set in 1988-89, before the school joined the Division 1 ranks.
Darnell Archey led Butler with 14 points.
Everything pointed to a tight game between the schools.
The previous five games had been decided by five points or fewer, including one in overtime and three at the buzzer. Each team won on its home court this season.
Joel Cornette slipped while driving the lane in the opening seconds and Tucker swished a jumper at the other end. Then, Archey slipped near the bench and Dylan Page scored on a hook.
By the time the Bulldogs recovered, they were down 14-0.
The Panthers, who trail the series 20-4, led by as many as 22 in the first half, when Tucker tipped away the ball as Bruce Horan was setting up for a 3-pointer, then raced downcourt for the fastbreak basket that made it 38-16 with 1:52 left in the first half.
The Bulldogs got within 40-28 with an 8-0 run early in the second half, but Justin Lettenberger hit a 3-pointer for Milwaukee.