Thrusday, January 14, 1999

UC's Mickeal can tie UCLA mark

Transfer closes in on 88th straight win

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pete Mickeal
        Legendary coach John Wooden knows as well as anyone the significance of the number 88 in quantifying college basketball winning streaks.

        It's a lot.

        “Any streak of that sort is remarkable in any sport at any level,” Wooden says. “A lot of things have to fall into place. You have to have a little luck.”

        It would be incorrect to claim what Cincinnati Bearcats forward Pete Mickeal can accomplish tonight would be equivalent to the 88-game winning streak established by Wooden's UCLA teams from 1971-74.

        Mickeal has played in 87 consecutive games without a loss, from his two seasons at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa (where he led his team back-to-back NJCAA titles), to his first half-season with UC (15-0, 4-0), which he has helped to a No. 3 national ranking.

        Mickeal and the Bearcats play at 9:30 p.m. today at UNC Charlotte (9-6, 1-2).

• When: 9:30 p.m., tonight
• Where: Charlotte, N.C.
• Records: Cincinnati 15-0, 4-0 CUSA; UNCC 9-6, 1-2 CUSA
• Radio: WLW-AM (700); WBOB-AM (1160)
• 1: UNCC starter (Guevara) questionable because of an ankle injury.
• 4-1: UC's series lead over the 49ers.
• 63: Points 49ers allowed to Memphis in second half of Sunday's game, an all-time high for UNCC opponents.
        UCLA set the NCAA record with 88 straight wins, claiming three national titles in the process and earning All-American honors for four different players. None of the Bruins participated through the entire streak, because freshman eligibility rules prevented anyone from playing that many seasons. Larry Farmer, current Loyola coach, and Larry Hollyfield were around for 75 of those victories.

        UCLA's 88, though, is a magical number in the college game that is as entrenched in its lore as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak is to baseball. That Mickeal could play in the same number of games without defeat as the greatest dynasty in the sport's history is impossible not to notice.

        “It means a lot to me,” Mickeal said. “That number has been sticking out in my head. Actually, 89 sticks out even more.

        “I don't think about it much, but lately it's something I've had on my mind.”

        It is partly there because Mickeal's former Indian Hills mates made it to 89 just last week with a victory over Northeast Oklahoma, then dropped an 11-point decision to Southwest Missouri the following night to end the school's streak. He had participated in 72 of the victories in that run, but was not around to rescue the Warriors this time.

        “My guys don't want to talk to me,” Mickeal said. He called guard Baron Thelman early this week, but couldn't get the subject turned around to the end of the streak. “He talked about everything but that. I think he thought I was going to be mad at him. I think I finally said that it was going to be all right.

        “They feel it.”

        To reach 89 or 90 or 100 consecutive victories is something Mickeal values because he values winning above all. In his past five seasons, the record of his teams — Rock Island (Ill.) High, Indian Hills and UC — is 147-5. He used to cry over losses when he was a kid, but doesn't know how he would react now. It's been too long.

        Even as Mickeal averages 14.0 points and 6.5 rebounds and shoots better than 50 percent, he still is learning how the Division I game is played. He is only now beginning to fully accept leadership responsibility. “Every game for Pete is new,” said Bearcats coach Bob Huggins. “He grows every game.”

        Perhaps the best evidence of Mickeal's dedication developed during his freshman year at Indian Hills. After a long illness, his niece died a week before the national tournament.

        Mickeal did not practice with the Warriors from that moment until the NJCAA championship began. He then scored 31 in the first of their four victories, against Odessa (Texas). A 62 percent foul shooter, he hit 33-of-37 during the tournament.

        “It's just not a coincidence that every team he plays on wins,” said Iowa State assistant Terry Carroll, Mickeal's head coach at Indian Hills. “When we needed something to happen, he would make it happen: an offensive rebound, a big defensive stand. Whatever it took, he always came up with it.”

        There have been times throughout the streak when Mickeal and his teammates were moments from defeat, only to escape with a brilliant or fortunate play.

        Current UC guard Alvin Mitchell nailed a three-pointer from three feet beyond the arc with less than a second on the clock to tie the score between Indian Hills and Southwest Missouri State last Februrary and give the Warriors a chance to win in overtime, one of two such situations last season.

        This year, UC won four times by two points or less, including the Bearcats' comeback from three points down with 39 seconds left to reach overtime and defeat Minnesota.

        A winning streak such as UCLA's or Mickeal's does not grow without knowledge of its existence. Each successful outcome brings the desire for one more. And one more after that. It also brings the end nearer, which sometimes isn't a bad thing.

        Wooden is not certain how many games the Bruins won in a row before the word “streak” deserved to be mentioned, but once it did, “You start to feed off that, and your youngsters feed of that. They might be playing a little harder. That shouldn't be the case, because they should play that way all the time.

        “One of my players once said during the streak, "Maybe if we lose, Coach will get off our backs. You don't want them to get overconfident.

        “When it finally ended, you're very disappointed, but also relieved. I think that was true of the coaches and the players. The only persons who were't relieved were the alumni.”

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