Providence (9-3) at Marquette (10-1)

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  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Thu Jan 3, 2008
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Marquette was in the Top 25 and confident entering Big East play last season after a win over Savannah State, only to go into a minor tailspin after being upset by Providence.

Facing similar circumstances, the 10th-ranked Golden Eagles look to avoid a second straight letdown against the Friars when they meet at the Bradley Center on Thursday night in the conference opener for both teams.

Marquette (10-1) won its final tune-up before Big East play, beating Savannah State 77-37 on Saturday.

“I definitely feel good about going into the Big East and the rest of the guys do too,” said Golden Eagles forward Lazar Hayward, who is averaging 13.0 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game. “I think everybody is playing really well.”

Next up for Marquette is Providence (9-3). This scenario did not work out well for the Eagles in 2006-07.

Marquette was ranked 15th when it was upset 74-59 at Providence last Jan. 4 in its first Big East game of the season, four days after beating Savannah State 69-51. Marquette went on to lose to Syracuse in its next game and fell out of the poll the following week.

The Eagles are also facing a Friars team that has shown improvement after going 18-13 last season. Providence has won four straight - averaging 87.0 points per game in that span - and already has a win over a ranked team, beating then-No. 18 Arkansas 67-51 on Nov. 16.

Marquette, meanwhile, has won six straight since a four-point loss to then-No. 13 Duke on Nov. 21. The Golden Eagles have been dominant during their winning streak, but have been facing subpar teams.

Still, Marquette feels prepared as it plays its third season as a member of the Big East.

“(Assistant coach) Tim Buckley said it best, in the four-and-a-half-day (Christmas) break we took, it wasn’t to get ready for Savannah State, it was to get ready for February and March,” Marquette coach Tom Crean said. “The Big East is a whole new deal. The players understand it and they don’t need us to put a lot of exclamation points on that. They know that.”

Led by three players averaging at least 13.0 points per game, the Golden Eagles have won their last four games by an average of 35.5 points. Dominic James, who leads Marquette with 14.8 points per game, is averaging just 9.0 while shooting 28.1 percent (9-for-32) from the field in three career games versus the Friars.

Providence may be short-handed with starting point guard Dwain Williams’ status for this contest uncertain. Williams missed the Friars’ 83-78 win over St. Peter’s on Monday due to a leg injury.

Williams, averaging 9.1 points per game, has helped Providence win 11 of the 15 games he has started over the past two seasons. Weyinmi Efejuku, who leads the Friars with 13.2 points per game despite being used in a reserve role, will get his second straight start if Williams can’t play.

Efejuku is averaging 20.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in his last three games, going 6-for-11 from 3-point range in that span. He had 18 points and 10 rebounds in Providence’s win over Marquette last season.

The Golden Eagles and the Friars split their season series in 2006-07, with Marquette winning at home 69-62 on Feb. 3. Both teams have four wins in the all-time series.

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