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State Basketball Roundup: Marquette prepares for Davidson

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LEXINGTON, Ken. - Marquette University head coach Buzz Williams says people forget how hard it is to make the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

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The 15th-ranked Golden Eagles will have a public practice this afternoon, before playing Davidson tomorrow in a second-round matchup in Rupp Arena. Williams said yesterday that he's thankful to have coached so many games at the Big Dance. Tomorrow will be his 10th. A pre-season poll last fall had Marquette placing seventh in the Big East Conference. Instead, the Eagles won a three-way share of the regular season title with a 23-8 overall record. Davidson comes in at 26-and-7 after winning the Southern Conference crown. One big reason for Marquette's success is senior center Chris Otule. He stayed healthy all season - and that only happened one other time in his five years at Marquette. Otule has started all 31 games, averaging five points and three rebounds. And he gives Williams the luxury playing big man Davante Gardner off the bench.

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The Milwaukee Bucks will try to gain some ground in the NBA playoff race tonight, when they face the Hawks in Atlanta. The Bucks are trying to escape a first-round playoff series against the sizzling Miami Heat. But to do that, the Bucks need to move up from their current No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference. They're currently two games behind Boston and Chicago, and two-and-a-half behind Atlanta with a chance to reduce that margin by a full game with a win over the Hawks this evening. Atlanta won three straight before losing to Dallas 127-113 on Monday night. The Hawks gave up their highest point total of the season, while letting the Mavericks shoot 57-percent. The Bucks are coming off a seven-point home win over Portland last night in which they led by 27 at the half. Milwaukee shot 48-percent, and they're 33-17 when they shoot 40-percent or better. Bucks' guard Monta Ellis says he'll be ready to play against the Hawks, after he hurt a wrist last night while going for a steal. X-rays turned up negative.

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The Milwaukee Bucks led by 27 points at the half last night, and they hung on to beat Portland at home 102-to-95. The Trail Blazers only scored eight points in a second quarter that included a 16-0 Milwaukee run. But Portland battled back in the second half with the help of former Marquette guard Wesley Matthews. He scored 20 of his game-high 28 points after the break - and he hit 7-of-11 from three-point range. The Blazers made 10-of-17 three pointers in the second half, and they out-scored Milwaukee 38-25 in the final period. But the Bucks hung on to extend their winning streak over the Trail Blazers to four games, while Portland lost its 14th road contest in its last 16. Monta Ellis hurt his left wrist while making a steal in the fourth quarter. But X-rays were negative, and Ellis said he'd be ready for a critical game tonight at Atlanta. Brandon Jennings had 24 points and seven assists for the Bucks - while Ellis had 21 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. Milwaukee pulled to within two games of Chicago and Boston in the playoff race - and the Bucks could reduce their deficit to Atlanta to a game-and-a-half with a win this evening at Philips Arena.

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Wisconsin college basketball fans will cheer for lots of players in the NCAA Tournament who are not with the Badgers or Marquette. At least nine players from the state helped other schools make it to the Big Dance - including three with Saint Louis who were recruited by the late former Marquette coach Rick Majerus. Senior guard Kwamain Mitchell from Whitefish Bay Dominican averaged 10 points a game for the Billikens, after he missed 11 contests with a broken foot. Junior forward Jake Barnett from Wauwatosa East made 24 three-pointers in 33 games. And point guard Joey LePak from Cedarburg made the Saint Louis roster as a walk-on. Other Wisconsin players on NCAA rosters include South Milwaukee guard Trey McKinney Jones of Miami - Menomonee Falls forward J.P. Tokoto of North Carolina - Minnesota guard Wally Ellenson from Rice Lake - Iowa State guard Korie Lucious from Milwaukee Pius XI - Northwestern State forward DeQuan Hicks from Racine Park - and Colorado center Ben Mills from Hartland Arrowhead. The tournament began last night with two opening round contests. March Madness begins in earnest tomorrow with 16 second-round games, including Marquette against Davidson.

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