BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The score had been Duke 61, Cincinnati 57 for better than two minutes when Bearcats coach Bob Huggins determined he might have something to say to his players in a timeout huddle. An innocent clipboard became a casualty of that lecture. Eventually, Duke's No. 1 ranking would be another.
Huggins had seen his team decline from aggression to submission, from a 19-point lead to a four-point deficit, from the brink of a significant early season upset to the possibility of a moral victory and "quality loss."
Huggins raged through that timeout, obliterating a clipboard used to sketch plays - "My guys know to always bring two" - and challenging the Bearcats to attack as they had in the first 15 minutes of the Great Alaska Shootout championship game.
As spectacular as Melvin's Levett's last-second, game-winning dunk was, there was no more important moment in their 77-75 victory Saturday night against top-ranked Duke.
"I was a little bit upset because I thought we kind of had our heads down," Huggins said. "Things weren't really going our way, and I wanted to get our heads up."
The last time the nation's No. 1 team lost this early in the season, it was the Bearcats falling to Xavier in November of 1996. Huggins remembered the feeling.
"When you're ranked No. 1, there's a lot of pressure to win. I said that we're going to probably walk out of here and people are going to say, 'What a great effort,' whether we win or lose. That was just to maybe get our guys to calm down and relax and go do what we do."
There are a number of reasons the Bearcats were able to defeat the Blue Devils, who entered the game with more talent, experience and support from the 8,700 fans in Sullivan Arena:
The defense held Duke to .419 shooting in the first half, limited All-Americans Elton Brand and Trajan Langdon to a combined 25 points - 13 below their combined average - and shut out forward Chris Burgess. The defense faltered only against the penetrating ability of point guard William Avery, which forced a successful switch to zone. Valuing the ball, as coaches say. UC committed 13 turnovers and fired only seven three-point attempts, making five.
Clutch shooting and playmaking by guard Alvin Mitchell, who nailed a 25-foot three-pointer to put UC ahead by one with the shot-clock running out and 2:07 left. One minute later, he streaked down the left side for a layup and another lead.
A gutty effort by freshman forward Eugene Land, who scored six points and out-produced more heralded rookie Corey Magette of Duke in seven fewer minutes.
Levett's stylish escape from a slump, which included a three-pointer to tie it with 4 minutes left, as well as his three-point play on a left baseline drive inside the final minute to give the Bearcats a four-point edge.
Nothing was more important, though, than regaining the attacking mentality the Bearcats carried into the game. UC played the first 16 minutes with the determination to drive the ball to the goal and cause Duke to pay for extending its defense.
"I guess we relaxed. We came out and started to be conservative," center Kenyon Martin said. "We got together and said, it's not the time for this. You've got to give it your all."
Forward Pete Mickeal scored the first basket out of the key timeout by driving down the right side and banking in a hanging shot. Martin then fired from the post and followed his miss for a 61-all tie.
UC scored 18 points in the final seven minutes, a dozen of those on drives.
Mickeal said there was something else driving him, though, along with Huggins' encouragement. He remembered his personal 75-game winning streak, carried over from his two years at Indian Hills Community College, and did not want to let that go.
"I never thought for a second we were going to lose," Mickeal said.
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Saturday's game coverage
More photos and coverage at the Shootout Web site
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