Ringing of a Bell

The University of Miami men's basketball team will open the doors to the Miami Arena tonight and host perhaps the best player in the Big East Conference. The Hurricanes only wish is that he doesn't cause too much damage and leave them with their bell ringing.

Junior guard Troy Bell, the leading scorer in the Big East, should provide a formidable challenge for the Hurricanes when he leads the Eagles into South Florida for another all important Big East collision. The Eagles come in at 14-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big East after being bumped out of both major polls this week.

On the other hand, the Hurricanes keep climbing at 18-2 (5-2) and are No. 15 in the Associated Press and No. 16 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. The Hurricanes, on a four-game winning steak, are in search of their 14th straight home-court victory and their best start to a season since 1959-60 (20-2).

Boston College is trying to ride the ship after starting the season 12-1The Eagles, losers of four of their last six games. are coming off an emotional 10-point loss to No. 1 Duke after winning 14 of 18 games to start the season. Ironically, the Eagles are undefeated on the road and have won just one game at home in conference competition.

"The Big East is very tough and a competitive conference top to bottom," said University of Miami head coach Perry Clark, last week. "There is no time to relax playing in this conference and there is no question anybody that comes in here is coming in here to beat us. We can't fall flat a second."

Especially against Bell.

Everything for the Eagles usually stops and goes with the pre-season All-American from Minnesota. Bell, averaging 22.3 points per game to lead the Big East and 10th in the nation, posses the ability of getting all of his teammates involved in the offense as well as creating his own opportunities. Bell can slice through an opponent's defense with relative ease or set up to nail open shots. Although his shooting percentage may not indicate great accuracy (42.6 through Jan. 23), Bell finds other ways to burn the opposition.

Bell is dishing out 4.1 assists a game to rank 13th in the conference, while he also has 40 steals on the season. Despite just 33 made three-pointers so far this year, he can be a threat from long-range. Bell ranked in the top-15 in the Big East in three-point field goal made with over two a game.

Bell spearheaded a miraculous turnaround a year ago in Chestnut Hill as the Eagles went from conference dwellers to Big East champions and a 27-5 overall mark. Bell, who started all 32 games for the Eagles during the 2000-01 season, averaged 19.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 2.7 assists in guiding the team to a 13-3 record in the Big East. Bell shared Big East Player of the Year honors with Troy Murphy as the Eagles reached the final eight in the NCAA Tournament before being eliminated.

"The thing about Troy that amazes me is his awareness on the court,," said Boston College head coach Al Skinner. "He has the ability to see everything around him and communicate with his teammates."

The Hurricanes should know that by now. It was Bell who scored a game-high 19 points, including18 in the first half, that allowed the Eagles to hold off a UM rally for a 73-72 victory at the Miami Arena last year in the first of two meetings between both teams. Less than a week later, Bell torched the Hurricanes again with 27 points, 17 from the free throw line, to lead the Eagles to victory.

As if Bell doesn't provide enough to worry about the Hurricanes will have others to keep close tabs on.

Sophomore guard Ryan Sidney third on the team and 18th in the Big East with a 14.4points per game average. Sidney can drill the long-range shots as well, averaging 48 percent from three-point territory (24-of-56). Sidney has also been effective on the boards with 7.3 rebounds a game, good for ninth in the Big East. 6-5 swingman Kenny Walls, averaging 14.5 points a contest, is solid off the perimeter. Walls, a 40 percent three-point shooter, was 44-of-109 beyond the stripe through Jan. 23.

Boston College has also received a strong contribution from junior center Uka Agbai, who is one of five starters in double-figure points (11.2) and is third on the team in rebounding with 5.2 per game. Agbai ranks atop the Big East in blocked shots with 26 and 1.44 per contest. Miami may be able to take advantage of a Eagles defense that is giving up 70.2 points a game. But the potent Eagles offense is fourth in the conference pouring in 77.2 a game.

And the Eagles usually win they put the through the net.

Since the start of the 2000-01 season, Boston College is 15-0 when they shoot over 50 percent from the floor and have ran off 30 straight victories when they shoot a higher percentage than their opponent.

After running off 11 straight victories to the season, the Eagles have played.500 basketball for the past month and are coming off recent setbacks to Georgetown and St. John's. Before beginning being pounded by the Blue Devils, the Eagles rebounded with a 77-68 victory over Virginia Tech to win at home for the first time in four games. Sidney had 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Walls added 17 points and eight rebounds. Despite scoring 17 points, Bell struggled from the floor making just five of 15 field goal attempts.

Regardless, of what Eagles team shows up in South Florida the Hurricanes will be tough to beat. Miami, coming off a home victories over Villanova and Providence, ran off 11 straight victories at the Miami Arena and has won 1e in a row at home overall. It is the longest streak since the Hurricanes won 15 straight games the 1964-65 and 1965-66 seasons.

The Hurricanes are riding high off two consecutive overtime wins in front of a charged up home crowd that moved them to a game over .500 in the Big East conference. And Darius Rice might be rediscovering his shooting touch. The sophomore forward lit up Providence for 32 points on 13-of-17 shooting in a victory over Providence last week. Rice scored 12 straight points in one stretch of the game.

"I haven't lost confidence, I'm still taking some extra shooting in the gym after practice and staying focused," Rice said. "I know I can score and my teammates believe in me as well. That's all that matters."

Miami continues to get balance scoring from all five starters including Rice, who leads the team with 15.2 points per game. Rice, the reigning Big East Player of the Week, has scored over 30 points in the last two games and has been effective from the perimeter. John Salmons (14.0). James Jones (13.3), Marcus Barnes (12.0) and Elton Tyler (10.9) have also enjoyed plenty of success.

"We know there's a long way to go and in this league nothing is handed to you," said Jones, after the victory over Providence. "We just have to be ready for those who come in our building." The Hurricanes are 141-65 at the Arena the last 13 seasons, including 10-0 this year. UM is 41-14 in its last 55 conference home games.

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