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Published: Wednesday, 12/3/2008

Rockets hope for opening night win

Coach Gene Cross gives guard Jonathan Amos a tap on the head during a game against Xavier. The Rockets are 1-5. Coach Gene Cross gives guard Jonathan Amos a tap on the head during a game against Xavier. The Rockets are 1-5.

In between trips to Cincinnati, Florida and the East Coast, University of Toledo men's basketball coach Gene Cross has used his spare time to review Savage Arena history.

When the building where the Rockets play basketball opened for the first time in 1976 as Centennial Hall, UT beat defending national champion Indiana. Cross hopes the "new" Savage Arena, with additions including a dozen suites, court-side seating and a million-dollar scoreboard, gets some measure of the same treatment when it re-opens tonight.

"It'd be great to win the first game here, just like we won that first game against Indiana so many years ago," Cross said. "To be able to carry on that tradition of winning your first home game in the new arena, it'd be great."

UT hosts Massachusetts at 7 p.m. in the Rockets' home opener. The athletic department said as of yesterday afternoon about 600 tickets were still available for the game. There will be plenty of fanfare for the first event since $30 million in renovations were completed.

A pre-game ceremony will be held to dedicate "Bob Nichols Court" in honor of Nichols, the winningest men's basketball coach in UT and Mid-American Conference history with 376 victories. At halftime the university will officially recognize the change of the building's name from Savage Hall to Savage Arena. A commemorative gift for fans is also part of the night.

"It's the culmination of the dreams of so many different people," Cross said. "I couldn't be more excited to be the head coach and the leader of this program ushering in a new era of men's basketball at the University of Toledo."

The Rockets are hoping finally having a game at home gives their team a boost. UT is 1-5, with its only victory coming over Division II West Georgia. UT is shooting just 42 percent from the field and turning the ball over nearly 20 times per game.

"It's been really tough," Cross said. "Anytime you have a new situation it's like you're playing all freshmen. With new coaches, new demands. You put them in the situation of being on the road which is even tougher. But I think we've learned a lot."

The team has been practicing in the arena for about a month and has been anticipating tonight since last season ended.

"I'm very excited," senior Ridley Johnson said. "I had a dream last night about it, just what the intensity will be like. We all feel comfortable playing at home, we've got extra energy."

Cross doesn't want to put any extra pressure on his team to repeat history. He's hopeful the Rockets will pull it off, though, and have a good time in the process.

The Rockets have played six games on the road and finally get to open the  new  Savage Arena tonight against UMass.
The Rockets have played six games on the road and finally get to open the new Savage Arena tonight against UMass.
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"I'm most excited for our fans and our players," Cross said. "It's beyond a sense of relief to be playing in the arena."

INJURY UPDATE: Cross updated the status of several UT players. On freshman Terrance Tubbs, who missed last week with a chronic shoulder injury: "I worry more and more every day about him and how much he's going to be able to help us this year. It's an injury that you just can't fix in a couple weeks." On freshman Zac Taylor from Clay, who has played sparingly since a preseason procedure on his knee: "He's still not in as good of shape as I'd like him to be in. We've got to work on his conditioning. He's still behind." On freshman Stephen Albrecht, who had back surgery in the summer: "We had a setback with him in his injury. We're still in the process of deciding how to proceed. He won't play at least until January or February."

Contact Maureen Fulton at: mfulton@theblade.com or 419-724-6160.

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