9-0 Bearcats see no limits
Levett: 'We can be as good as we want to be'

BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Only 90 minutes after ringing up a victory against UNLV, there was no sign of the Cincinnati Bearcats. None could be spotted strolling through the casino or loitering in the corridors of the MGM Grand. Their hotel room doors were closed. On the eighth day, they rested.

No.4 UC went through a stretch of four games in eight days and emerged having won nine games in nine tries this season. The Bearcats were tested twice on the road by major-conference teams. They won at far less than their best (at Minnesota, 62-61 in overtime) and at fairly close to their best (at Nevada-Las Vegas, 86-73 early Sunday morning).UNLV GAME STORY

When it was over, they were offered Sunday off and instead asked for a chance to take shooting practice.

“We can be as good as we want to be,” said senior guard Melvin Levett. “It's all in how we prepare. Our preparation for teams has been good so far. If we take care of ourselves, we can go a long way.”

There was no consistent pattern to UC's accomplishments during its busy week, with the possible exception of its sudden success executing a 1-2-2 zone press that stars center Kenyon Martin.

Instead, there were major contributions from new power forward Jermaine Tate, small forward Pete Mickeal, point guard Michael Horton, reserve guard Alvin Mitchell and Martin.

Martin scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked six shots against UNLV, and Mickeal came out on the better end of his personal duel with Rebels forward Shawn Marion, outscoring him 23-20 and outshooting him 8-of-12 to 7-of-15.

This is the type of team the Bearcats have proven to be: If it's not one thing, it's another. If it's not Levett hitting his outside shot, it might well be Mitchell. If Martin is not controlling the boards, then it could be Tate.

“We've made a lot of changes. We've jelled as a team from the game against Southern Utah to now,” Martin said. “We can tell the difference. Our team defense is better, and we're playing a lot harder for a longer period of time.”

Against UNLV (4-5) at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Bearcats recovered from an eight-point first-half deficit to grab a 36-33 halftime lead. Their strength came from the nine turnovers forced by the press and Horton's precise execution of the UC zone offense and acceleration of the fast break.

“Mike can really push the ball,” coach Bob Huggins said. “We had transition baskets when he was in. If he doesn't do the stupid stuff, he really sees the floor and really gets it where it needs to go.”

After committing just two turnovers in the first 30 minutes, UC momentarily wilted against the pressure defense the Rebels employed in a comeback attempt. The Bearcats turned over the ball on six of seven trips and allowed UNLV to close to a three-point deficit with 5:55 left on a layup by forward Kevin Simmons.

But they struck back with their own aggressive defense and picked up a Martin block, two steals and a turnover that they answered with an 8-0 run to regain a double-digit lead.

They learned a lesson that will most likely follow them through the remainder of the season. “I try to tell my guys, we're going to take the best shot of everybody we play,” Huggins said. “People are going to be more ready to play against us, more excited to play.

“We have to come to grips with that. I think sometimes it's an advantage, because if you can come out and meet their emotion in the first five or 10 minutes — we're kind of used to it, and they're not maybe as used to it.”

Where UC stands this week: • AP PollUSAT/ESPN PollRPI
1998 basketball stories