Sunday, January 03, 1999

Bearcats turn up pressure

Full-court press to get a workout against Marquette

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After 12 games and 12 victories, after advancing to within two spots of the No.1 position in the college basketball polls, the University of Cincinnati basketball players have left themselves little reason to doubt they are dealing from a position of strength.

        So that is what opponents can expect to see from them the remainder of the season: “We're going to do our thing,” UC coach Bob Huggins said.

• When: 9:30 p.m. today
• Where: Shoemaker Center
• Records: Marquette 8-5, 0-1 CUSA; Cincinnati 12-0, 1-0 CUSA
• Radio: WLW-AM (700); WBOB (1160)
• 11: Games missed by Marquette's top 12 players due to injury.
• 4: Number of Golden Eagles to play in all 13 games.
• 4-6: Marquette's record against UC in past four seasons.
• 0: Other teams that beat UC four times in that period.
        The Bearcats' thing is no one thing, as Marquette may discover at 9:30 p.m. today in a nationally televised Conference USA game from the Shoemaker Center.

        The word “may” is used for two reasons: There is no guarantee the No.3-ranked Bearcats will be at their best, and because there's no guarantee the Golden Eagles will be able to escape the winter weather that stranded them in Milwaukee on Saturday.

        Marquette planned to leave late in the afternoon for Cincinnati but had to make alternate arrangements after snowstorms canceled about everything in the city but coach Mike Deane's practice. They have a charter flight set for this morning but could wind up having to make the trip by bus.

        “I think a lot of people will go away from their ordinary game plan to deal with them,” Deane said of the Bearcats. “I would suspect when Cincinnati gets beat, it will be because they have a letdown as much as the other team plays well. No one in the league compares with them. But you can catch anybody on a down day.”

        This is one reason Huggins is looking more toward perfecting UC's approach to the game in general than approaching each game as a spe cific challenge.

        He strongly believes in having opponents well-scouted, but being prepared for an opponent's strengths and rearranging your team's strengths to deal with them are two different matters.

        “We get in trouble when we try to change things,” Huggins said. “It's almost like the other team is taking us out of things when we try to change.”

        What this means is more opponents should get a dose of UC's pressure defense, including the 1-2-2 full-court zone that stars junior center Kenyon Martin at the front.

        Huggins waited until the Bearcats' uninterest in last Sunday's Dayton game was firmly entrenched before bringing out that scheme. It was too late then. They lumbered through 33 minutes before controlling the last seven and claiming a narrow victory.

        “We're quicker, and we're deeper,” Huggins said. “I think we can sustain the intensity level because we have more people.”

        It is not automatic that UC's emphasis on backcourt pressure would lead to a decline in its ability to defend against a half-court attack. The secret of Kentucky's 1996 national championship was that the Wildcats' press was good, but not impossible to navigate, and their half-court defense was excellent.

        UC, though, has not yet managed to be effective at both concurrently. It played mostly basic defense against Rhode Island, Duke and Minnesota, holding them to a combined .383 percentage.

        When the Bearcats have been effective with their press, as when they forced a combined 59 turnovers against UNLV, Houston and UNC Wilmington, they've been less insistent about defending the goal. All three topped .450 from the field.

        Marquette's accurate shooting is one reason it owns three Conference USA victories over the Bearcats — including one in the 1997 tournament than was their only conference-tournament loss since 1991.

        The Golden Eagles slumped this season as the result of injuries and inexperience. With center Jarrod Lovette out indefinitely to deal with an unspecified medical problem, they start two freshmen and two sophomores.

        “We ended up preparing game-to-game depending on who we had available,” Deane said. “So we're not as far advanced as I thought we'd be at this point.

        “Athletically, we don't compare. Experience-wise, we don't compare. Maturity-wise, we don't compare. They may be the best basketball team in the country. There are other teams that perhaps have more skill level, but no one has their combination of athletic ability, toughness and skill level.”

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- Bearcats turn up pressure
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