BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - It is one of the traditions of Bob Huggins - Cincinnati Bearcats basketball, along with three-hour workouts, bench-presses and conference tournament championships. Thanksgiving Day practice is always one of the season's worst.
This year, that tradition was broken. Although some Bearcats did not see it that way.
It depends on one's definition of "worst." For the UC coaches, that involves player disinterest, lack of intensity and attention to some other matter than basketball. Say, a nice turkey dinner at Huggins' house. This was not a problem following Wednesday's unimpressive victory against Southern Utah in the opening round of the Great Alaska Shootout.
"I think we got something done," Huggins said after the Bearcats worked 3 1/2 hours Thursday.
Senior shooting guard Melvin Levett said the session turned out to be more practice than punishment, although there was the sense the Bearcats needed to take a greater interest in today's 9:15 semifinal against Iowa State (2-0) to have any chance of reaching the championship game.
UC vs IOWA STATE
When: 9:15 p.m. today.|
Where: Sullivan Arena, Anchorage.
Records: UC 2-0; Iowa State 2-0.
Radio: WLW-AM (700).
BY THE NUMBERS
17: Games that passed between double-figure scoring efforts by UC guard Shawn Myrick.
37: Points scored by Bearcats starters - who combined for 48 in their opener - against Southern Utah.
621: Number of days that have passed since Iowa State eliminated UC by a single point in the second round of the 1997 NCAA Tournament.
"We basically got some things straight we needed to get straight," Levett said, "just about being out to the ball on defense, knowing where your man is, not giving up too much penetration. Things like that."
All of those were issues in the 76-63 win Wednesday, but nothing was as problematic as the Bearcats' approach to the game.
They came an awful long way to play a team like Southern Utah. They can shell out $35,000 and play such an opponent at the Shoemaker Center most anytime they want. UC acted as though it wanted to be playing at home - or not playing at all.
Huggins said pregame practice had been excellent, but the Bearcats put themselves too much at ease by breaking to an 8-0 lead. "We thought we were going to steal it and dunk every time," Huggins said.
Instead, Southern Utah scored 12 of the next 14 points, then stripped the ball from UC handlers four times in six possessions. Huggins resorted to sending the five guys closest to the end of his bench - freshman forward Eugene Land, freshman center Donald Little, junior guard Alvin Mitchell, senior guard Shawn Myrick and walk-on senior guard Alex Meacham - into the game with eight minutes left in the first half and the score tied at 16.
UC 73, So. Utah 63
Iowa St. 74, St. Mary's 72 (OT)
Fresno St.82, Alaska Anchorage 79
Duke 111, Notre Dame 82
UC vs. Iowa St., 9:15 p.m.
Fresno St. vs. Duke, midnight
Seventh Place, 4 p.m.
Fifth Place, 6 p.m.
Third Place, 9 p.m.
Shootout Web site
In four minutes, they built an 11-point lead, with Myrick scoring eight points and Meacham dropping the third three-pointer of his career. "The five from Southern Utah took us lightly," Meacham said.
If this seemed at first to be a motivational ploy by Huggins, it turned out to be the tactic that won the game. Myrick led UC with 16 points, and Land got his first double-figure game with 11. And good thing, because it did not propel the UC regulars to play any better. They outscored SU by one point in the second half.
"You don't come as ill-prepared to play as we did and then change it at halftime," Huggins said. "Your mentality is already set."
What the Bearcats saw of Iowa State's 6-8, 240-pound Marcus Fizer and what they drew from paint-peeling halftime and postgame harangues and Thursday's polar bear of a practice should put them in a more determined frame of mind tonight.
In its first season under coach Larry Eustachy, Iowa State is not yet a pretty basketball team.
"On a scale of one to 10, we're probably a three," Eusctachy said. "The first year is always the toughest. This is my third time doing it, and it's always tough. And it's tough for the players, getting used to a new way of doing things."
However, Fizer is a beastly inside scorer, capable of producing a basket or drawing a foul whenever he touches the ball in the post. Defending him could be an excellent means of preparing to face Duke All-American center Elton Brand in the Shootout championship, or it could be the Bearcats' ticket to the consolation bracket.
In addition to saying UC stunk, in so many words, and to saying the players involved were not worthy of affiliation with UC basketball, forward Pete Mickeal said something nearly as interesting: "I take this as a loss."
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