Sweet Home Chicago

It sure seemed that way this afternoon at the Gentile Center on the campus of Loyola University Chicago. Your Milwaukee Panthers emerged victorious for the third game in a row as they defeated the Loyola Ramblers 80-66 in their own gym- or was it the Panthers gym for a day?

There must have been at least 200 UWM fans in attendance- all consolidated into one half of the visitors side of the arena. But that was 200 of the 1,200 or so total fans- to be polite, UWM's contingent was loud. Us fans cheered the team on as best we could, and made the best pseudo-home court environment we could, but whether it mattered or not is debatable- the team is getting hot (and today it sure as heck showed).

28 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and a block. That was tonight's stat line for a certain Avery Smith. Impressive is an understatement. But while Avo was far and away the Player of the Game against the Ramblers, the entire UWM squad deserves huge props. They have begun what seems like a legitimate transformation into an extremely confident team that now exhibits threat rather than fear.

Milwaukee got off to an early ten point lead on the shoulders of Tone Boyle and Avery Smith. The tenacious tandem continue to attack whenever they touch the ball and shoot the bottom of the net out; and this afternoon, in kind, they hit shot after shot to keep the Ramblers licking their wounds and unable to go on the offensive. Loyola made several mini-runs with Milwaukee native JR Blount and Justin Cerasoli (did you know Justin used to play for Seton Hall?), but they didn't amount to much.

So a see-saw battle resulted only in denting into Milwaukee's lead, only to have it build back up to the 8-10 point range, eventually leaving the score at 35-27 after 20 minutes. UWM then completely owned the first 6 minutes of the second half as Tony Meier (9pts, 6rbs, 1blk), Big James (5pts, 4rbs, 2stl), Avo (...you know), Ricky (5pts, 5ast, 2rbs), and Tone (19pts, 3rbs, 2ast, 2stl) locked things down and lit things up, more than appropriately.

Ricky Franklin fouled out with over six minutes to play, but, for the third time out, played one helluva basketball game. Rick has the ability to command the offense and defense even when he's not playing the point- truly a leader on this team. Anthony Hill had 2 points, 6 rebounds and a pair of assists in only 18 minutes.

If Ant starts crashing the boards on the offensive end like he does on defense, he'll be averaging close to double digit rebounds (he currently leads the team averaging 5.1rbs/game). Deonte Roberts got some solid minutes, and, after being yanked for a couple of ill-advised passes and failed Texas-crossovers that resulted in turnovers- I thought a second to myself.

As overwhelmingly ecstatic for the Panthers and their potential (now reality) 4-0 conference record as I was, I was also concerned that Deonte, one of our best players last year (and one of our best freshman players in a long time), wasn't playing his normal game- I'm sure he is/was more frustrated about that than me.

But in the final 7 minutes- we got to see the Deonte Roberts we all got to know last year. Tey dashed and slashed, spread his huge wingspan and played great D, and (probably most importantly) he crashed the boards- as hard as another Panther guard who seems to be making that his forte- Ricky Franklin. In the end, in his mere 15 minutes on the floor Roberts scored 7 points and had 5 rebounds, an assist and a steal. I think it's fair to say Deonte is playing as good as ever..

And so the Panthers now see themselves with a respectable 8-5 overall record. But more importantly, we are now 4-0 and still stand alone in first place of the Horizon League. Enjoy it while it lasts because a ranked Butler team is likely not going to stand for another UWM Basketball revolution like the one that began around 1999-2002... That's another story for later in the season.

The season schedule has us, unfortunately for students (who are off until the third week of January), but fortunately for the team (Milwaukee is 4-1 on the new/repainted court), playing the next five straight games at home. It begins with Valpo and ends with Cleveland State. All of the games are winnable- although Cleveland State (having beat Syracuse) could pose a huge threat to the Panthers' streeeeaking confidence. Or could it? Maybe this year's team is built to persevere and overcome even the biggest of obstacles (cough! Butler..).

UWM plays Valparaiso this Monday night at the Cell. Tip time is 7:00pm. Get out and watch if you can- this Milwaukee Panther team is starting to surprise even myself.

POTG: Avery Smith (28pts, 5rbs, 3ast, 1blk, 1stl)