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Saturday, February 19, 2005; Page D05


Charlotte. Just south of Tobacco Road, the 49ers are playing pretty good basketball, too. Charlotte (18-4, 9-2 Conference USA) trails Louisville (22-4, 10-2) by a half-game in the conference standings, after the 49ers won four in a row, including 91-90 over Cincinnati and 66-62 over DePaul. The 49ers have good size in 7-foot center Martin Iti, a native of Sydney, and junior forward Curtis Withers, who is averaging 16.5 points and 8.2 rebounds. Former Eleanor Roosevelt player Eddie Basden is averaging 15 points and leads the team with 8.3 rebounds per game. Vanderbilt transfer Brendan Plavich entered the week leading Division I with four three-pointers per game. Charlotte, which ranks 22nd in the RPI, should finish strong with remaining games against Tulane, Memphis, Southern Mississippi and South Florida. The Conference USA regular season title could be decided when the 49ers play at Louisville on March 3. Charlotte Coach Bobby Lutz, who has led his alma mater to the NCAA tournament four times in his previous six seasons, should be a hot commodity when the season ends.


Texas. The Longhorns got back on track with a 75-40 victory over struggling Texas A&M on Wednesday night. But the Longhorns still have a lot of work to do to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, and their road won't be easy. Texas will probably be favored in only two of its final five games -- against Baylor and Missouri. The other three games are difficult: at surging Texas Tech on Tuesday, at home against No. 21 Oklahoma on Feb. 28 and a March 5 finale at No. 8 Oklahoma State. The Longhorns (17-7, 6-5 Big 12) have fallen into a fifth-place tie with Iowa State in the conference, and they've lost four of seven since leading scorer and rebounder P.J. Tucker was declared academically ineligible Jan. 20. They needed overtime to beat Kansas State, 75-72, in Austin last Saturday. The Longhorns, who have an RPI rating of No. 33, are 2-5 on the road and have beaten two teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI (No. 3 Oklahoma State and No. 29 Texas Tech).

Martin Iti, middle, a 7-footer from Australia, is one reason why Charlotte is NCAA bound. (James A. Finley -- AP)


Former Montrose Christian guard Rob Monroe is a very good player on a team that's not very good. Monroe, a senior at Quinnipiac (10-13, 6-8 Northeast Conference) in Connecticut, entered the week ranked fifth in scoring in Division I, averaging 22.6 points. Monroe, who also played at St. John's/Prospect Hall and Berkshire Prep in Massachusetts, has scored 30 points or more in six games this season, including two games with 40 points or more. His 41 points and 14 assists in a 102-93, double-overtime win over Longwood on Jan. 2 were the fourth-highest totals by a Division I player this season. An all-NEC choice as a junior last season, Monroe seems to be a nearly unanimous choice for conference player of the year this season. He is averaging 39.1 minutes; his 6.6 assists per game are 15th most in the country; and he's shooting 87.5 percent from the free throw line, 17th in Division I.


Pacific 64, Utah State 63

Pacific is ranked in the Associated Press top 25 for the first time, has all but secured an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and might be playing for a Nos. 5-7 seed. So when they trailed Utah State, 61-53, with 37 seconds left, the Tigers had more than a 15-game winning streak at stake. But the Aggies fouled Marko Mihailovic on a three-point attempt, and he calmly made all three foul shots to make it 61-56. Pacific quickly fouled Nate Harris, who made both free throws, but then junior Mike Webb made three-pointers on consecutive possessions to pull the Tigers within 63-62. Utah State's David Pak missed two free throws with 11 seconds left, and Pacific junior Christian Maraker, a native of Sweden, made the game-winning jumper from the foul line with two seconds to play. The Tigers clinched the Big West championship by beating California Santa Barbara on Wednesday.

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