Levett can't find three-point range on road
Opponents' zone defenses could cause trouble

BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

He scored 19 points, grabbed seven rebounds, had four assists, made one of the game's biggest three-point shots and committed one turnover in 34 minutes of a tough victory at UNLV. Cincinnati Bearcats guard Melvin Levett had every reason to be pleased — every reason but one.

This was still another day on the road when he couldn't shoot straight.

In games played at the Shoemaker Center — where today at 8 p.m. No.4 UC (9-0) will open the Conference USA season against Houston (4-4) — Levett is 16-of-24 from long range (.667). In games played anywhere else, either on the road or neutral courts, he is 8-of-37 (.216).

HOUSTON at UC
• When: 8 p.m. today
• Where: Shoemaker Center
• Records: Houston 4-4; Cincinnati 9-0.
• TV: Channel 19
• Radio: WLW-AM (700)
BY THE NUMBERS
• 5: Number of C-USA wins in Houston's two seasons as a league member.
• 5: Number of Conference USA titles — regular season and tournament — won by UC in three seasons as a member.
• 21: UC's homecourt winning streak, eighth-longest in NCAA Division I.
• 2.0: UC center Kenyon Martin's team-leading steals average.
“Are you serious?” Levett said when informed of the difference between his home three-point shooting percentage and his numbers in road games. And what else could he say?

Opponents such as Minnesota and UNLV have noticed his struggles and taken to defending UC more commonly with zones. That tactic hasn't defeated the Bearcats yet, but has led to conjecture about whether that's the way to get it done.

“I think we straightened things out in the Vegas game,” said UC coach Bob Huggins. “We should be able to handle zones with the team we have, and if we ever make some perimeter shots ... ”

Overall, UC has not been a poor three-point shooting team. The Bearcats are hitting .354, which would have ranked third in Conference USA in 1997-98. They hit .347 last season.

And they demonstrated in Saturday's win against UNLV they can dismantle a zone even they are not sharp from three-point range.

With the Rebels aligned in a 2-3 zone, Levett was 2-of-10, and the Bearcats as a whole 2-of-14. But the Bearcats consistently got the ball to center Kenyon Martin in the gap at the foul line, and he made all but one of a dozen shots. They also were more insistent about pushing the ball for fast break points.

“I've got to start getting some easy baskets,” Levett said, pondering his three-point troubles. “I've been saying that, and now I mean it.”

In fact, he produced those sorts of scores against UNLV, which accounted for 10 of his points. He has scored in double figures in seven consecutive games.

Junior guard Alvin Mitchell, still the Bearcats' most proficient deep shooter, is at his best when opponents guard man-to-man.

“More teams are starting to recognize I'm a shooter, so they're getting out on me,” Mitchell said. “Instead of drifting away from the weak side, they'll keep a guy on me. I feel confident every time I step on the floor, whether it's a man or against a zone.”

What a zone defense does to UC is either force the Bearcats to play more patiently or convince them to play more passively. The first is to their benefit, the second is crippling.

The Minnesota zone squeezed most of the aggression from Martin and small forward Pete Mickeal, who attempted only 15 shots combined against the Gophers. With every reason to believe UNLV would try something similar, they attacked the zone.

Mikeal and Martin shot a combined 24 times and scored 46 points. “You still have to score in transition. We got no transition at Minnesota,” Huggins said. “Whether it's man or zone, you still need easy baskets.”

The Bearcats face Houston and new coach Clyde Drexler tonight.

How's the future Hall of Famer doing? The Cougars have wins over Texas and LSU but a loss to Sam Houston State. Drexler does not have great talent, so Houston is last in Conference USA in field goal percentage (.390). But he has the Cougars holding opponents to .392 shooting.

Bearcats show they can get along well
All 1998 basketball stories