To go dancing, Asheville will have to take a down a pretty formidable opponent.
The Bulldogs (18-13) will play for the 2011 Big South Conference Championship Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. when they face top-seed Coastal Carolina (28-4) on the Chanticleers home floor, Kimbel Arena. The game will be nationally televised by ESPN2 and broadcast locally on ESPN Radio (1310-AM) with the pre-game show beginning at 3:30 p.m. Saturday's game will also be available on your computer at ESPN3.
Asheville, the third seed in the tournament, advanced to the title game for the first time since the 2008 season, with a 62-45 victory over seventh-seeded High Point Thursday night in Conway. Coastal Carolina took out fourth-seeded VMI in the other semifinal game on Thursday with a hard-fought 89-81 victory.
The Bulldogs are making their seventh appearance in the Big South title game and are looking to go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2003 season.
"We played excellent defense Thursday night against High Point and have been doing that the past few weeks," stated Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach. "Our guys have really responded and are staying focused for 40 minutes.
"What I also really like is we're getting help from everybody," added Biedenbach. "Everyone is doing the little things in game and in practice that are helping us win ballgames. It takes everyone contributing to win a championship and now we're 40 minutes away from accomplishing that goal."
Biedenbach and the Bulldogs know they're facing a tremendous opponent in Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers won 22 games in a row before having their streak snapped a few weeks ago. Coastal Carolina then lost its starting backcourt in Desmond Holloway and Kierre Greenwood. Holloway was suspended over an eligibility issue, while Greenwood suffered a knee injury that will cause him to miss the rest of the season. The Bulldogs stunned Coastal Carolina just last week on Feb. 22 in Kimbel on Matt Dickey's last second steal and three-pointer at the buzzer as Asheville won 61-58. However, the Chanticleers have rebounded and won their last three games, including an impressive 81-77 road win at Charleston Southern last Saturday and then two games in the Big South Conference Tournament. The Chanticleers are down to eight players but eight has been enough for them lately. Throw in a very pro-Coastal Carolina crowd as the Chanticleers will play the final game ever on Saturday at Kimbel Arena.
"We've got a tremendous challenge facing Coastal Carolina on its home-court," admitted Biedenbach. "They may be down to eight players but those players are pretty darn good. To win at Charleston Southern like they did and then beat a red-hot VMI team last night is very impressive.
"Coastal Carolina's inside game of Chad Gray and Sam McLaurin is really good and tough to stop," added Biedenbach. "They really have a top-flight inside game that would be tough for a lot of teams to slow down.
"We're going to have to play as well as we can on Saturday," Biedenbach also said. "We know this will be a tough challenge but winning championship shouldn't be easy and it won't. Our guys are excited and will be ready to play at 4 p.m. on Saturday."
BULLDOG TOURNAMENT NOTES
This will be UNC Asheville's seventh trip to the Big South Conference Championship game, the second most in league history. Asheville is 2-4 in league title games. This will be the second time the Bulldogs have faced Coastal Carolina in the title game with the first being way back in 1990 as the top-seeded Chanticleers edged the third-seeded Bulldogs 76-73 at the Winthrop Coliseum.
Asheville has won five straight games and a big reason is its defense. The Bulldogs are allowing just 57.2 points per game in those games. Asheville has allowed an average of just 54 points in its two tournament contests.
This will be the Bulldogs final game ever in Kimbel Arena. Asheville does not have a lot of good memories here. The Bulldogs are just 9-20 against the Chanticleers here, despite Asheville's last-second win here last week. This will be the fourth time the teams have played here in Big South Tournament play with CCU holding a 2-1 advantage. The Chants won a 78-62 quarterfinal game here in 2006 with the Bulldogs winning in 2007 in the quarterfinals, 77-62. Coastal Carolina routed the Dogs last year here in the semifinals, 92-73 in a game that was never really close.
Matt Dickey is having a great tournament so far with a career-high 29 points against Charleston Southern and then 18 vs. High Point on Thursday. Dickey is shooting 54% (14-of-26) from the field, 93% (13-of-14) from the free throw line and 46% (6-of-13) from beyond the arc.