Wednesday, January 06, 1999

UC wary of young, talented DePaul

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        On the day he signed a letter of intent to attend DePaul, Quentin Richardson proclaimed he and his teammates would reach the Final Four as freshmen. Some 14 months later, he figures the Blue Demons can scratch into the NCAA Tournament and then, “Anything can happen.”

        Reality has struck the DePaul freshmen. They've made a more profound impact on college basketball than it has made on them, but they've been hit hard enough to notice.

• When: 8 p.m. tonight.
• Where: Shoemaker Center (13,176)
• Records: UC 13-0, 2-0 C-USA; DePaul 7-5 (1-1)
• TV: Channel 19 (WXIX)
• Radio: WLW-AM (700)
3: Division I teams that are unbeaten (UC, Connecticut, Auburn).
15: Consecutive games UC has won against DePaul.
4: Blocks UC junior center Kenyon Martin needs to establish a school career record.
12.1: UC's turnover average through 13 games.
5: UC's highest end-of-season ranking under Bob Huggins, in the final 1991-92 USA Today/CNN poll.
        They traveled to Kansas and lost by eight. They moved on from there to Louisville and dropped their Conference USA opener by 27. They have played a dozen games and lost nearly half.

        “I think we just hit a tough stretch,” said Richardson, a 6-6 shooting guard who leads the league in rebounding. “When we played Kansas, it kind of took some of the confidence away from the team. We've got to try to get the wheels back rolling, get it going again.”

        DePaul (7-5, 1-1) will start three freshmen in visiting C-USA's reigning power, the No. 3-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats (13-0, 2-0), at 8 p.m. today at the Shoemaker Center. Those rookies entered the year lacking a catchy nickname, but not a whole lot else, least of all confidence.

        The collective self-confidence evinced by Richardson, forward Bobby Simmons and Lance Williams enabled them to visit New Mexico's brutal arena, The Pit, and lead almost the entire way until losing by a point. They defeated George Washington and California before sliding into the three-game losing streak that began with that trip to Kansas.

        UC is catching DePaul's rookies at their most vulnerable stage. “We have to come out early and let them know we're still the team to beat in the conference,” said UC center Kenyon Martin. “Just come out early and jump on them.”

        For a team that is undefeated and frequently unchallenged, this is a common theme: convince the other guys they really don't want to play against UC. It carries a deeper meaning against DePaul. This is not a team that needs to get miraculously hot to challenge the Bearcats. Richardson, Simmons and Williams are talented enough for the Demons to have a chance.

        Richardson presents about as many defensive concerns to the Bearcats as any player they've met.

        Richardson averages 19.4 points, shoots .506 from the field and can create a shot off the dribble. He is, as well, the best rebounder his size in major-conference basketball in more than a decade, working the offensive glass for an NCAA-best 6.3 per game.

        “It's been real easy for me to get in there,” Richardson said. “If you can get underneath the basket, it can come off in either direction and you can still get your hands on it. A lot of times, I won't even know how many points I scored, because I get them so fast with the tips, I forget I scored them.”

        Although Richardson is the most spectacular and reliable of the three starting freshmen, Williams has a huge frame and a soft touch up to 14 feet, and Simmons is a versatile playmaker who excels at driving and scores more than a quarter of his points on free throws.

        Before senior guard Willie Coleman injured his wrist, DePaul lost just twice. His status for the UC game is uncertain.

        With Coleman, coach Pat Kennedy can surround Williams with four capable perimeter shooters. Without him, junior forward Ayinde Avery entered the lineup and scored just four points the past two games.

        “I think right now, we're just at respectability,” Richardson said. “That's not what we want. We want to be known as one of the teams that, year-in, year-out gets recruits and makes the tournament every year.”

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