Working overtime should pay off for UC

Friday, December 18, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

LAS VEGAS — Cincinnati Bearcats guard Melvin Levett was walking through the casino at the MGM Grand — emphasize walking through — when he was approached by a fellow who spoke above the constantly clinking of slot machines.

“He said, "Man, what happened to you guys last night?' ” Levett said. “He was expecting a 10- or 15-point win. But when it came down to it, we got the job done. It shows we have the character in the close situations.”

What No. 4 UC (8-0) accomplished in its 62-61 win Wednesday night at Minnesota should not be dismissed. Basically, the Bearcats performed below their peak as players and coaches and still beat a very capable team at an impossibly difficult venue. It was their second win this season by three or fewer points.

Guard Alvin Mitchell made huge shots in the stretch against Duke, and he had eight overtime points including two three-pointers against Minnesota. “I'm a better player under pressure,” Mitchell said.

Winning in close company is an extremely valuable skill in the NCAA Tournament, but widely underappreciated outside the coaching community. The past 20 teams to reach the NCAA Final Four claimed a combined 14 victories in the tournament's first four rounds in which the margin was three points or less at the end of regulation.

UC may again need this sort of composure when it visits UNLV (4-4) at midnight Saturday (ESPN).

When he deems it necessary — like, always — coach Bob Huggins reminds his public the Bearcats have seven new players and are prone to mental errors and inexact or indifferent execution.

However, some veterans also were guilty in the Minnesota game. Levett threw away a pass late in overtime that led to a layup for the Gophers. Kenyon Martin committed two foolish fouls and eventually was disqualified.

UC's power players shot 9-of-26 from the floor. The long-range shooters were 2-of-20 in regulation. The point guard trio of Mitchell, Michael Horton and Steve Logan combined for two assists.

Huggins made a couple of questionable decisions, most notably sending Horton onto the floor to face Minnesota's zone defense with 1:11 left and the Bearcats trailing by three. UC wound up with a shot-clock violation, its second in a row with Horton running the point.

The coaching staff also bore some responsibility for the foul that disqualified Martin. With UC in a 1-2-1-1 zone press, he was placed at the back as a last line of defense instead of up front, where he would have been in less jeopardy of fouling out.

Minnesota broke through and got the ball to Quincy Lewis, who drove directly at Martin. He never considered surrendering the goal. “It's not in my nature,” Martin said. His decision at least saved the Bearcats a point — decisive, as it turned out — with Lewis making one of two free throws.

Huggins also was responsible, though, for sticking Horton on Clark as Minnesota tried for a game-winning shot in the final nine seconds. Clark drove the left side of the lane and worked two nifty moves, but could not shake Horton and drew the attention of two other Bearcats. Clark's forced shot fell short.

This is what elite teams do. Their errors are glaring because they seem incongruous, but they recover.

“We've just got a lot of guys that know their roles, know what it takes to win. No one tries to do anything out of context,” Levett said. “A year ago, we probably would have folded in both games.”

1998 basketball stories