Don't waste your breath. If you happen to bump into Kent State men's basketball coach Gary Waters in the next 24 hours, please don't feel the need to fire him a subtle reminder of just how huge Saturday's backyard battle between his Golden Flashes and the Akron Zips (2 p.m.) really is. How pride, bragging rights and possibly even a share of first place is at stake. And most importantly, for Heaven's sake: don't remind him of "The Streak!" Rest assured, he knows all about it. "How many games is it now? Nineteen. Wow," said Waters, shaking his head. "I've heard so much about that streak from so many people since I've been here, I can't believe it. And I guess it is pretty amazing." The amazing streak that has Waters, among others, completely puzzled is the 19-game winning streak Kent State has compiled at home against the Zips, dating all the way back to the 1962-63 season. "Really it concerns me, because I don't want our players thinking about that streak," said Waters. "You know why? Because streaks are made to be broken. It could happen this year, it could happen next year, but eventually it will happen. "All I want our players thinking about is defending our home court. That's our only responsibility as the Kent State basketball program." And the Flashes have defended their turf extremely well thus far in 1997-98. Kent State (7-11, 4-4 MAC) is undefeated against MAC foes at the MAC Center (4-0) and 7-1 overall, the lone loss courtesy of a last-second 3-pointer against Cleveland State. "This year, we wanted to establish the homecourt advantage, because that's important to a young team," said Waters. "They have to have a place they can go to where they're confident they can play well, and we have played pretty well at home this year." However, they haven't faced a team at home as talented or as red-hot as Akron thus far. The Zips (9-7), in their third-year under Dan Hipsher, have made good on their preseason pledge to compete for a MAC title after taking their lumps the past two seasons. They have won six of their last nine games overall and three of four in the MAC to surge into first in the East Division with a 5-3 mark. Akron has held conference foes to 39 percent shooting from the field and just 63.4 points per game. "Their defense is stronger than people realize," said Waters. "They're just very solid overall. They've developed a nucleus of eight or nine guys, and they're playing very consistently right now." Reigning MAC freshman of the year Jimmal Ball (15.3 points per game) has struggled a bit during his sophomore season, shooting just 40 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3-point range. But he's still, well, Jimmal Ball: a quick, nimble and potentially lethal weapon. And his new backcourt mate, sophomore Jami Bosley, has helped pick up the slack of late. Bosley now leads the team in scoring overall (15.7 ppg) after pacing the Zips the past four games. Meanwhile, junior George Phillips (12.9 ppg, 6.2 rebounds per game) leads a strong, athletic group of post players for Akron. "Their strength is that they have the people to play any style, halfcourt or fullcourt," said Waters. "That makes this a big, big challenge for us." The Flashes, coming off a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Miami of Ohio last Saturday, will certainly be up for it. But they'll need a consistent effort from several sources to meet the challenge. Former Stow High School standout Nate Meers, who rescued Kent State against the RedHawks (18 second-half points), is expected to move into the rotation on a consistent basis. "He gives us a completely different look," said Waters. The Flashes will also need their top two scorers, freshman forward Kyrem Massey (13.7 ppg) and sophomore power forward John Whorton (11 points, 7.1 rebounds), to return to form, as both have had difficulty staying in the flow of the game lately. "We need consistency from Kyrem," said Waters. "And we need John to give us a consistent inside threat, because that gives our offense balance." The series between the Zips and Flashes has been as balanced as humanly possible: both teams have won 50 games. And Waters believes the current squads are pretty evenly matched. "The programs really mirror one another, with the only difference being that they're one year ahead of us," said second-year coach Waters. "Both programs are up-and-coming and both feature area kids, so this could turn into a great rivalry. We expect a great crowd and a great game on Saturday, and we're really excited about it. And we hope our fans are excited as well." Just don't get overly excited ... and mention "The Streak."