Wil Jones, the University of the District of Columbia's loquacious basketball coach, insists his team is as good as any in the NCAA's Division I. He might be right.
UDC, the defending Division II national champion and No. 1-ranked this year, brushed aside second-ranked Cheyney State last night, 100-82, for its 20th straight victory, before a standing-room-only crowd of 3,000 at the Van Ness Physical Activities Center.
In finishing its regular season with a 25-2 record, UDC served notice it will be tough to beat when the NCAA playoffs begin in two weeks. The Firebirds will host the South Atlantic Regional playoffs March 11-12.
Cheyney State (22-4), which will probably receive an at-large bid to the East Regional, could meet UDC again. But it's unlikely the Wolves will be in any hurry.
UDC blitzed a good Cheyney State defense with 65 percent shooting in the game's first 14 minutes in taking a 40-24 lead with 5:16 to play in the first half.
Michael Britt scored only 14 points but turned in an exceptional floor game, with 18 rebounds, nine assists and four blocks and a steal. The 6-foot-6 senior, who started 99 games at UDC and scored more than 2,200 points, led 10 fast breaks in the first half; UDC scored on eight of them. Britt's jersey was retired following the game.
UDC guards Hawkeye Daniels (18 points) and Kenny Payne (14) were on the receiving end of most of Britt's passes. In an 11-minute period, Daniels made five of five jump shots and Payne scored six points when the Firebirds broke the game open midway in the second half.
"Because of all the hype about the game, I felt we were a little lackadaisical," said Jones, splendidly attired in a tuxedo.
"I started the seniors (plus junior Earl Jones) and I thought they were a little tight. But I looked up and we were up by 19 points."
Cheyney State got caught up in the tempo but couldn't hit its open shots. The Wolves made only 14 of 41 attempts from the floor in the first half, but got six straight points from Len Goggins (24) near the end to cut the hosts' advantage to 48-35 at the half.
The hustling Firebirds, trying to give Cheyney something to think about in case of a future meeting, came out running in the second half. Johnny Jones (13), Earl Jones (11) and Britt led a 23-6 run at one point and UDC had its 29th straight home victory in hand, 72-47, with just over 11 minutes to play in the game.
"Cheyney State is a good team and we played very well against them," said Wil Jones. "When you beat the No. 2 team in the country, you have done something. We have five more games (presuming the Firebirds go all the way to the NCAA final) and we might see them again."
The Firebirds experienced only one anxious moment in the game. Earl Jones fell to the floor and landed hard on his back after being fouled early in the second half. The 7-foot center lay there for several minutes before leaving the game. UDC officials said Jones suffered a back bruise and should be available for the playoffs.