People come up with all kinds of excuses to get out of having dental work done. Few of those excuses have been as creative as the one Catholic starting shooting guard Craig Avallone used last month.

Avallone was scheduled to have his wisdom teeth pulled Jan. 23. As he sat in the dentist's chair, however, he realized he would be missing his team's game against Goucher two days later. The problem was starting guard Kevin Wise also would be out of the lineup because of an ankle injury.

So Avallone got out of the chair, walked to the receptionist and rescheduled the appointment for a couple weeks later, when Wise would be healthy.

"One of my teeth was infected, it had to come out," Avallone said. "But when Kevin got hurt, I didn't want us both to miss Goucher. When I made the appointment, obviously I had no idea Kevin would be injured. So I pretty much walked in and walked out."

Such commitment -- and quick thinking -- are a couple of the reasons Catholic (22-2, 13-0 Capital Athletic Conference) is off to another strong start. The Cardinals have won at least 20 games for six straight seasons.

Avallone (11.3 points per game), Wise (10.3), center Matt Hilleary (17.1) and forward Will Morley (16.8) have been around for much of that success. Each played a vital role in the team's run to the NCAA Division III title in 2001. Morley and Hilleary were starters; Avallone and Wise made game-deciding shots in the NCAA tournament.

All but Morley are seniors this season.

And another run in the NCAA tournament could be in the cards for them. Catholic has won 11 in a row entering its regular season finale tonight at Goucher at 7:30. That includes an 83-67 victory in their first game with the Gophers on Jan. 25. Avallone, who was supposed to have missed the game because of his dental work, instead scored 18 points.

He wound up missing a victory over Gallaudet on Feb. 1.

"This season is going about as we expected, so far," Avallone said. "Everyone wants to get back to Salem [site of the Division III semifinals and final]. We have a really deep team, we're talented enough."

Hopefully, Avallone is healthy enough to help the team. He also missed some time this season after breaking his nose in a game.

"When Craig went to get his wisdom teeth pulled, it was pretty funny because I thought he'd be out a while, and there he was at practice that afternoon," Catholic Coach Mike Lonergan said. "And we really needed him against Goucher. . . . A prominent AAU coach told me Craig wasn't good enough to play here. But he's probably the most underappreciated player we have. We're going to lose a lot next season, but we may miss him most of all."

-- Christian Swezey

Catholic guard Craig Avallone, seen here driving to the basket past two Goucher defenders, delayed dental work to play in Cardinals' 83-67 win.