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Published: Friday, 3/9/2007

Rockets trying to get well

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

CLEVELAND - Illness and injury gave three-fifths of the University of Toledo's starting lineup some trouble yesterday.

Kashif Payne and Florentino Valencia came in with lingering effects of possible food poisoning, and Keonta Howell left with an injured foot after taking a charge early in the second half of UT's victory over Eastern Michigan.

He came out with 15:19 remaining in the game after standing strong against Craig Cashen's wild drive down the lane. His status for tonight's Mid-American Conference semifinal game against Miami is unknown, although UT officials said that he would try to play.

"We're just going to have to pull together," Valencia said. "He's a big part of the team. If he's down, that's a really big blow for us. Somebody's going to have to step up."

Payne and Valencia were able to play, but neither was at full strength. A trip to a local Mexican restaurant for Payne made him ill, while Valencia thinks it was an order of chicken wings that he ate on Tuesday night.

Valencia missed Wednesday's practice and was sluggish. He had 10 points and five rebounds in 26 minutes. Payne, who was able to practice a little Wednesday, shot 3-for-10 and finished with six points in 27 minutes.

"They weren't themselves," UT coach Stan Joplin said. "I tried to move them in and out. Hopefully they get a little bit stronger. Really, they don't have any choice because they have to play [tonight]."

Payne still felt ill after the game yesterday, but Valencia said he felt better.

"I'm going to rest up because we have a lot of time until tomorrow's game, and drink a lot of fluids," Valencia said. "My conditioning will be fine."

FIRST TIME: In their only meeting this season, the Rockets beat the RedHawks 61-56 at Savage Hall.

UT couldn't stop forward Tim Pollitz inside, as the junior from Ottawa-Glandorf had a career-high 25 points.

But the Rockets forced 16 turnovers and held the lead for most of the second half.

Pollitz scored 25 again yesterday in Miami's 70-51 win over Ohio. He said the key to tonight's game is how the RedHawks handle Toledo's pressure defense.

"We've got to be very careful with the ball and just stay solid," Pollitz said.

QUOTE-UNQUOTE: Ohio long-range bomber Bubba Walther, who hit five 3-pointers against Bowling Green on Wednesday, made just 1-of-5 yesterday in the Bobcats' loss. Miami coach Charlie Coles on defending Walther: "When you keep an eye on him, you need binoculars."



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