BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The Cincinnati Bearcats arrived in town three days before they were scheduled to play a game, and so they prepared for the Great Alaska Shootout the way you might expect: They worked on their shooting.
Who says UC doesn't have a rifle team anymore?
The Bearcats spent their first full day in Alaska learning how to shoot skeet. Their new starting point guard insists he was at least as proficient knocking down clay pigeons as he plans to be knocking down three-pointers in the three basketball games UC will play here.
UC vs. SO. UTAH
When: 10 p.m. today|
Where: Great Alaska Shootout, Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, Aka.
Records: UC 1-0, Southern Utah 2-1
Radio: WLW-AM (700)
BY THE NUMBERS
284: Southern Utah's RPI ranking last season
5.3:1: Assist-turnover ratio for Southern Utah point guard Jeff Monaco
.188: Melvin Levett's shooting percentage after one game
"I don't think I missed anything," said junior Alvin Mitchell.
The point guard job is Mitchell's because starter Michael Horton is home nursing a foot injury that may be a stress fracture.
Horton, a 6-1 senior, recognized he was being pushed for playing time by Mitchell and freshman Steve Logan and tried to practice and play through the pain, but he risked greater injury if he did not rest. The first game he will miss comes today at 10 p.m. against Southern Utah in the Shootout's opening round.
A transfer who played one year at Nebraska and one in junior college, Mitchell started UC's final exhibition and season opener against Rhode Island because of Horton's ailment. Both times, Horton relieved and made a difference with his defense. This time, Mitchell and Logan will operate without that margin for error.
"It's very simple," Logan said. "I've just got to step up and do what I do best at the point guard position: control the team and also the game. I think I've done pretty well, but I think I've got to pick up on defense a little more, plus hit the open shots so that the game will come easier for our team."
As a three-man tag team, UC's point guards scored 13 points, had four assists and no turnovers vs. Rhode Island. None played more than 19 minutes, though, and coach Bob Huggins was able to hide each player's weakness and capitalize on his strengths.
Although the Bearcats' errant shooting makes it tough for point guards to accumulate assists, Logan had zero in an exhibition against Athletes In Action and zero against Rhode Island.
None of the point guards have been effective on the fast break or gotten many steals in pressure defense, which can produce assists that set up easy baskets.
Running the break is important for the Bearcats because their athletic ability will lead many opponents to play zone defense against them, in order to slow down the game. Logan and Mitchell are both dangerous against zones because they shoot well from the outside, but neither showed it vs. Rhode Island.
Mitchell said he must learn how to read a zone. "I have to understand where I need to be when the ball is swinging side-to-side.I'm really just learning how to get myself open from the point guard position."
Mitchell is not physically strong and thus becomes a target for any offense. It doesn't matter that he's an adequate defender; any opponent would choose to attack Mitchell given the choice between him and shooting guard Melvin Levett or small forward Pete Mickeal or center Kenyon Martin.
"The offense isn't really where I have to learn a lot," said Mitchell, who has been bothered by a turf toe he says is nearly healed. "I have to learn how with the guards to keep penetration down."
With Logan, it is more a matter of comfort. He admits to some nervousness in the Rhode Island game. He was 2-of-7 from the field, 0-for-3 from three-point range, not what the Bearcats will demand from one of their few pure shooters.
For all of Mitchell's top-gun talk, reports at rangeside claimed Mickeal was the most proficient Bearcat with a shotgun.
Logan was among the least threatening. "I probably hit like four out of 20," he said. And then he left to shoot basketballs, instead.
UC: Duke can wait
Basketball story list