BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The Bearcats did the usual leaping around, high-fiving and sticking their index fingers toward the sky. This is what college basketball players do when they defeat the team regarded by poll voters as the best in the nation. In the case of UC, the players also shed a tear or two.
Center Kenyon Martin allowed the emotion of beating No. 1 Duke 77-75 Saturday in the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout to overwhelm him.
Martin wept from the moment the game ended all the way through the awards ceremony, wiping tears from his eyes as he walked out to accept an all-tournament trophy.
"With all the stuff we've been through," Martin said, "this was like a pressure release for us. People label us. We picked up the paper up here one day this week, and all they're talking about is how bad we were."
Martin was the conduit to the play that may become the defining moment of the 1998-99 season, catching Ryan Fletcher's 70-foot pass and immediately dumping the ball to a streaking Melvin Levett for a dunk with one second left that put UC in front for good.
It was a startling moment, and somehow the Bearcats managed to compose themselves on the court and along the bench as they became aware their job was not completed. The clock had quickly stopped after Levett slammed the ball through the goal.
When Duke's William Avery fired a shot after the buzzer that was waved off by official Bob Hunt, then the Bearcats celebrated. Coach Bob Huggins was told by Shootout officials this was the best final in the event's 21-year history.
UC would like to become the seventh Shootout champion to end the year in the Final Four. At the least, the win will encourage those who dismissed the Bearcats - Sports Illustrated, for instance, which assigned them a No. 33 preseason ranking - to take them seriously. The Bearcats jumped to No. 7 in the USA Today poll this week and should make a similiar rise in the AP poll today.
"This is for the school and our coach, and all the things they had to go through," Levett said. "I can't really explain it, how this feels. It's a dream."
In Levett's case, it also was a mission. He taped a photo of Duke All-American shooting guard Trajan Langdon inside his locker back in late September, when the Bearcats started preseason conditioning. "It wasn't because I liked the guy," Levett said.
Langdon is an Anchorage native and was responsible for the crowd of 8,700 at Sullivan Arena being largely pro-Duke.
"To win here in Trajan Langdon's house . . . he's a great, great competitor, and Duke's a great team," Levett said. "I pulled the picture right out of the magazine and said, 'This is who we've got to shut down to be able to win.' "
Levett, who entered the game shooting .286 from the field, was 11-of-14 and outscored Langdon 25-13.
"He's a very athletic player, very strong, very talented," Langdon said. "On the one play, he would not be denied, and that's how he is throughout the whole ballgame. He's playing every play hard."
It is fortunate for the Bearcats they do not have another game scheduled until Saturday, when first-year Division I member Oakland (Mich.) visits the Shoemaker Center for UC's home opener. They will not have to put this game from their mind too quickly. They will be permitted to savor it at least until they are greeted by Huggins for this afternoon's practice.
"He's going to still say we're bad, but OK," Levett said. "We're going to accept that, because we still have a lot of work to do. We'll not even talk back to him about it.
"We go up from here, man. No more of the days coming into practice and goofing around or not paying attention. Today, we showed the world, not only ourselves, that we are a contender, and we are for real."
A victory to cry for
Infographic: How UC set up 'Home Run'
Fiery timeout stoked Bearcats
Polls all shook up
Saturday's game coverage
More photos and coverage at the Shootout Web site
Basketball story list