Wednesday, January 13, 1999

Huggins: We can be better

UC wants more easy baskets

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It may be a promise, or a warning, but Cincinnati Bearcats coach Bob Huggins is certain of one thing about his basketball team: “We can be a lot better. Lots better.”

        No. 3 UC showed that when it went to Southern Mississippi for a Conference USA contest and was lulled into a slowdown game that favored the Golden Eagles, who have only one legitimate scoring threat in their lineup.

        The performance was enough to have Huggins talking afterward about “making changes,” although he wants to see how the Bearcats (15-0, 4-0) practice for Thursday's game at UNC Charlotte (9-6, 1-2) before committing to any moves.

        “I think about it every day,” Huggins said. “We've got some deficiencies we need to address. We're not doing a good job on the ball defensively, not rebounding the ball, the ball isn't getting where it needs to be and we're not making jump shots.”

        Two of those, possibly three, can be directed at starting point guard Michael Horton, limited to a combined 28 minutes in the past two games because of subpar play. However, Huggins said Horton practiced well Monday.

        So the changes to UC may eventually be in terms of tactics rather than personnel.

        In a sense, the Bearcats can play into an opponent's slowdown strategy with their own defensive excellence. They are willing and able to defend hard through 35 seconds if a team chooses to milk the clock. Opponents are shooting .388 from the field, making UC's defense best in Conference USA and 22nd in Division I by that measure.

        If UC is not effective in its press, which has been the case in three consecutive games, the attention is turned to solid execution in halfcourt man-to-man.

        The Bearcats generally do not gamble to force a steal or turnover.

        Huggins said UC has other strategies it can use to force action, such as halfcourt traps, but said the Bearcats aren't advanced enough for the coaching staff to use them.

        “One of the things that was a concern was whether we'd be able to run offense,” said Southern Miss coach James Green. “When we did slow it down, it took some of their rhythm.

        “I don't know if they necessarily played into it, but our guys were able to handle the ball.”

        That means fewer possessions for UC — fewer scoring opportunities for a team that, especially on the road, can use as many as it can get. The Bearcats had only 55 possessions against Southern Miss, which Huggins said was their fewest of the year.

        “We've got to get more possessions of the basketball,” Huggins said. “We're not getting much out of transition. We've got to work a whole lot harder at getting easy baskets than we have.”

        The Bearcats were only slightly more effective forcing turnovers in the first half against Southern Mississippi than the second. However, because guard Alvin Mitchell chose to advance the ball on the break, they were able to use three fewer possessions to score a dozen more points than they did in the second half.

        Huggins thinks the Bearcats became tentative on offense at Southern Miss once they took an 11-point lead with 9:20 left.

        The Bearcats' insistence on playing sound basketball has them ranked fourth in the nation in the number of turnovers committed, averaging just 12.5 per game. What Huggins needs to see is a better combination of that perfectionism and the aggression that would make them less reliant on hot-and-cold jump shooting.

        “We just kind of stood around, didn't really attack the basket,” Huggins said of the Southern Miss win. “We didn't really throw it inside and try to score. I didn't think our perimeter guys were really looking to shoot the ball. That's something we have to get better at.

        “Our kids have so much confidence they can stop people on defense, and so they value every possession, as they should.”


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