Panthers Dropped by Crusaders, Secure Home Game After Dominating Loyola

Well despite this team only boasting a 14-14 record, it could not have gone any better for UWM's season thus far. Considering all of the unforeseen turmoil that has transpired since early October. In case you need a re-cap, or are new to the adversity this program has faced this season:
  • Walk-on Zach Holt suffers season-ending ACL tear

  • Joe Allen's season ended before it began with an quad injury suffered warming up before Panther Madness (first practice). Luckily Joe (PF, 6'7", 230lbs) is slated to be a Panther for the next two seasons.

  • Last season's leading scorer Avery Smith dismissed from team for conduct detrimental to the team

  • Torre Johnson, Oklahoma State transfer and (at the time he was dismissed) UWM's leading scorer and rebounder dismissed from team after being charged with substantial battery for punching a female friend of his girlfriend

  • Tim Flowers and Kevin Johnson, two Chicago Simeon recruits who played with Derrick Rose but never began to achieve their potential in their brief stay at UWM, were first suspended from the team for missing practice and traveling back to Chicago for several days without notifying the team (and allegedly walking out of a practice after being called out for lack of loyalty/effort by senior teammates). Johnson, and then Flowers were dismissed respectively from the team, and apparently decided to transfer to a junior college in Missouri.

  • Roman Gentry, highly touted recruit from Iowa, decides to voluntarily leave the program to be closer to his young daughter.

  • Marcus Skinner who has stepped up and become one of the Panthers' main go-to guys and a powerhouse in the paint, suffers a high ankle sprain against Valparaiso in Milwaukee which may have ended his season

So...... after all that, 14-14 isn't so bad taking all of this into consideration (heck we only had 3 players to come off the bench last night!). In fact, in the time between Marcus Skinner getting injured early in the game vs. Loyola, a lesser known Sophomore named Jason Averkamp, has seen his minutes increase exponentially, and he has earned every one of them (21pts, 9rbs vs. Valpo; 9pts, 9rbs vs. Loyola).

Additionally, Paige Paulsen seems to have finally found his shot last night (16pts, 4-9 3pt); for a while, a nagging thumb injury, and an eye injury (Paige also went to the floor against Valpo- luckily his injury was a mild one) had Paige throwing up bricks almost consistently as he had been sinking shots earlier in the season. It was a bad stretch of a slump, but I think Paige has broken out of it (he says both injuries are either 100% healed (thumb) or a non-factor (his eye injury is remedied by prescription eye drops). His return to great shooting could not have come at a better time.

So while UWM lost to Valparaiso, 66-57 in what was at times a fairly close contest, and within the Panthers reach, they completely shut down a Loyola team (68-53) that had crushed the Panthers early season dreams with a overtime win in Chicago. The Loyola victory secured a first-round home game for the Panthers- who need desperately to play least one their Horizon League tournament games here downtown at the Arena to vault them further toward the lofty but yet attainable goal of a championship, and in turn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

A win against UIC would not only completely erase the memory of last year's 9-22 campaign (well, tallying 5 more wins has already done that I would guess), but it would do wonders for the confidence of a UWM team that has struggled all season with these issues cropping unexpectedly up like the snow has in Wisconsin this winter.

Come out, come out wherever you are Panther fans... The weather is just starting to warm up, and the forecast is more than hot and sunny; it's (UIC) flamin' hot, but we've got a lot of bottled up pressure to hose 'em down with. It will be one helluva firefight you won't want to miss.