Racers, Govs battle again for OVC lead

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The rivals will meet in a televised game on Thursday.

Some people might argue, but Murray State vs. Austin Peay is generally regarded as the Ohio Valley Conference's most heated men's basketball rivalry.

According to a column in Monday's edition of the Leaf-Chronicle newspaper in Clarksville, Tenn., the rivalry features "two teams that don't care much for each other, not to mention the fans."

The rivaly will be renewed at 6 p.m. Thursday in Murray, Ky. The first of two regular-season meetings between the squads will be televised nationally on ESPNU and regionally on WQWQ.

"It is one of the big rivalries in the conference I think," Austin Peay coach Dave Loos said during Tuesday's OVC coaches teleconference. "There's been a lot of great games, some real competitive situations."

The collective success of the two programs over the years -- particularly recently -- has no doubt helped fuel the rivalry.

Over the past 19 years, either Murray State or Austin Peay has played in the OVC tournament championship game. Five times during that span the squads squared off in the final, with the Racers winning four of the meetings, most recently in 2003-2004.

Murray State has won a league-best 12 OVC tournament titles, and is tied with former member Western Kentucky for the most OVC regular-season titles (19). The Racers have made a conference-record 18 postseason appearances, with seven of those trips (six NCAA, one NIT) coming in the last 11 years.

Austin Peay is third among the league's current 11 members with three OVC tournament titles. The Govs have played in the last three OVC tournament championship games -- winning in 2002-2003 -- and they captured consecutive OVC regular-season titles in 2002-2003 and 2003-2004.

And both teams are once again in the thick of the race through the early part of the conference schedule.

The Racers (9-4, 6-1), the OVC's overwhelming preseason favorites, are in first place by one-half game over Samford. The Govs (9-5, 4-2) are tied for third place.

"It's obviously a very important game for us," said Loos. "It's a TV game that adds some significance to it."

Loos said he has been trying to get his players to remember that the season doesn't begin or end with Murray State, and regardless of what happens Thursday, the Govs have to prepare for two more games over the following few days as they visit Southeast Missouri State Saturday and host Tennessee Tech Monday.

But Loos admitted that the intensity of the rivalry makes this week different than most others.

"It is. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't," Loos said. "Everybody else is talking about this game, I'm talking about the next three games. ... There is an excitement there that often isn't there."

On the other hand, Murray State coach Mick Cronin -- while acknowledging the respect he has for Loos and Austin Peay's program -- wonders if his players even know what lies on the horizon.

"I wonder some times with my team if they even know it's a big game. My guys don't even know what day it is sometimes," Cronin said. "I don't know if they know who we play next. That's just today's kids. They live day to day."

Added Cronin: "I'm sure our fans know who we play Thursday."

Southeast players honored

Southeast Missouri State's Tatiana Conceicao and Roy Booker both received OVC honors Monday.

Conceicao, a senior center, was named the league's women's player of the week. She recorded three straight double-doubles last week while averaging 22.7 points and 13.3 rebounds as the Redhawks went 2-1.

Conceicao scored a career-high 30 points in a win over Eastern Kentucky and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds during a loss at Eastern Illinois. She is the OVC's No. 2 scorer at 20.6 points per game.

Booker, a senior guard, was named the league's men's newcomer of the week for the second straight time. He averaged 21.3 points last week as the Redhawks went 2-1.

Booker has scored in double figures in all 14 games for the Redhawks. He leads the OVC with a 20.7 average.

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