Tuesday, December 29, 1998

Mickeal puts Bearcats in high gear




BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[mickeal]
Pete Mickeal drives against Houston last week.
(AP photo)

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        You could see it in the way he ran, the way he jumped, the way he shot — or, more accurately, in the way he did not perform these elementary basketball tasks. Dayton was not going to be Pete Mickeal's game.

        You also could see it in the rest of the UC Bearcats, the same as when Minnesota was not his game or when Southern Utah was not. When Mickeal does not bring his customary aggression to the floor, neither do his teammates bring theirs.

        “I like to think that, me going out and setting a tone can help open up the other guys,” Mickeal said. “I like to look at it as a team thing, not an individu al thing.”

        UC now has proven it can play poorly even when center Kenyon Martin is at his absolute best. In a 53-51 comeback victory over Dayton Sunday at Cleveland's Gund Arena, he was nearly maniacal at both ends, attempting just under a third of the Bearcats' shots, grabbing nearly a third of their rebounds and scoring exactly a third of their points. He also accounted for half of the team's six blocks.

        Although he made plays that secured a victory — including his difficult fallaway jumper to give UC its final lead and the single-handed defensive stand that prevented a game-tying basket — Martin's performance did not inspire the other Bearcats to elevate their efforts.

        There has yet to come a game, though, in which Mickeal operated aggressively and the Bearcats were not outstanding.

        It is not about whether he scores or how many rebounds he grabs, although his efficiency as a player generally means he's going to produce statistics when he's expending energy.

        Setting aside his numbers in the most glamorous categories, consider Mickeal has played five games in which he attempted double-figure shots. Included among those were UC's three most prominent wins: at Rhode Island, against Duke in the Great Alaska Shootout, at UNLV. The other two were victories over Oakland and Houston by an average margin of 33 points.

        Because Mickeal almost never forces a shot, his field goal attempts are an accurate indicator of how fervently he is attacking a defense.

        Against Dayton, he missed a layup on UC's opening possession and appeared to retreat afterward, until he scored nine of his 13 points in the final 7:33 to spark the Bearcats' rally.

        “I blame it on myself,” Mickeal said. “It started with me missing the first basket. I really wasn't too aggressive, like I usually am.”

        Mickeal still is new to Division I basketball. A junior transfer from Indian Hills Community College, he has played only 11 games with the No.3-ranked Bearcats, all of them victories.

        This has lifted his personal winning streak to 83 games, and it seems fair to wonder whether that is not becoming a burden.

        “It's a funny thing,” coach Bob Huggins said. “When you miss shots, you get tight. I think after we missed our opening layup, we got tight.”

        By the second half, Mickeal was not aggressive on the boards. He was not working to get open on offense. And as one of UC's most solid defenders — he has handled Rhode Island's Lamar Odom and UNLV's Shawn Marion — Mickeal was having a surprisingly difficult time fulfilling his assignments.

        When he was beaten on a backdoor cut by Dayton's Andy Metzler, a reserve who is not as tall nor as athletic as Mickeal, he was nearly benched.

        Huggins did not bench him, however, having lost a day's worth of confidence in reserves such as freshman Eugene Land and sophomore Aaron McGhee. It was a wise deci sion, as Mickeal at last escaped his malaise just past the 8-minute mark. With Mickeal playing more like himself in the stretch, UC outscored the Flyers, 13-7.

        “We played bad as a team,” said Martin, declining to assign blame for the Bearcats' substandard performance. “It wasn't just me going out and playing and the other four players doing nothing.

        “It's just about playing hard.”

        When the Bearcats get as much from Mickeal, it does, indeed, appear to be that simple.

       



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