Saturday, January 16, 1999

UC needs to get the ball inside

Offense should center around Martin, Mickeal

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Bearcats forward Pete Mickeal took the beginning of his one-game personal losing streak personally.

        “A lot of effort wasn't there on my part,” Mickeal said. “I've never let guys take the fight to me like I did. I'm not used to playing like that. I guess when you go so many games without losing, you think you know what it takes. But you really don't.”

• When: noon
• Where: Shoemaker Center
• Records: Cincinnati 15-1; Oklahoma 13-3
• TV: Channels 12, 7.
• Radio:
WLW-AM (700).
• 25: UC's winning streak at the Shoe, now the sixth-longest in Division I. Another win would make this the longest streak in the Bearcats' 10 seasons on this court.
• 0: Points scored by Sooners sophomore forward Ryan Humphrey at Oklahoma State, even though OU won, 54-43.
.283: Oklahoma State's field goal percentage in that game.
• 3-0: Sooners' road record this season.
        Mickeal was not singularly responsible for the conclusion of his 87-game winning streak and No.3 UC's first defeat of the season, a 62-60 shocker Thursday night at UNC Charlotte. None of the Bearcats escaped blame, though.

        They had little time to wallow in disappointment or even to correct their mistakes. Oklahoma (13-3) visits the Shoemaker Center today at noon for a nationally televised non-conference game. The Bearcats (15-1) have much to address about the way they played in the weeks after Christmas, regardless of the fact they remained unbeaten until this week.

        For the Bearcats, perhaps the best thing about the UNCC defeat is that none of the typical excuses presented themselves, with the exception of the official's error that defused their fastbreak after Diego Guevara missed the front end of a one-and-one with 17.3 seconds left.

        In a tight game against a more gifted opponent, there might have been more outrage regarding that call. Coach Bob Huggins is restricted by league rules as to what he can say about officiating, but he recognized the Bearcats should not have placed themselves in such a tenuous position against a team that entered three games over .500.

        Otherwise, the easy answers eluded UC:

        • “We didn't make shots”: A common refrain when the Bearcats struggle on offense, this was certainly not the case against UNCC. The Bearcats were 7-of-13 from three-point range, making them 25-of-58 in their past four games.

        • “We missed our free throws”: Kenyon Martin missed the one that mattered most, with three seconds left and the Bearcats down by two, but the Bearcats scored six more points from the line than UNCC and finished with a respectable .688 percentage that far exceeded their .633 season mark.

        • “People did things they don't normally do”: There was that one 15-foot jumper by UNCC reserve big man Jonathan Neely in the first half, but ultimately the player who defeated the Bearcats was Guevara — the league's best shooter doing what he does best.

        No, the Bearcats will have to confront their shortcomings now, too many of which are self-imposed.

        It is a great thing to have an abundance of players who can produce under pressure, as UC has proven it does with five players scoring better than 20 and 11 of 12 scholarship players reaching double figures at least once. But a great offense relies on primary and secondary options, then turns in other directions when a defense makes those unavailable.

        The Bearcats' lack of focus makes them easier for opponents to defend. There is no need to worry for 40 minutes about whether the ball will be thrown inside to Martin or driven to the goal by Mickeal if those are to be just occasional events.

        The two of them shoot a combined .572 from the field. In UC's rotation, the only other player shooting above .500 is freshman forward Eugene Land. It would seem logical to work toward more shots for Mickeal and Martin.

        The Bearcats' point guards are not feeding Mickeal and Martin the ball quickly enough when they establish post position, however, and they are too quick to abandon many plays that have promise.

        Mickeal rescued the Bearcats from a 14-point deficit with an overwhelming sequence in the final eight minutes of the first half, driving the ball into the defense and winding up with two baskets and two free throws for himself and two tip-slams for Martin. Then, in the second half, Mickeal shot just twice.

        “Every game, the ball is supposed to go inside,” Mickeal said. “That's our first option, so we can establish inside position and rebound.” Huggins suggests both players need to be more aggressive about pursuing scoring opportunities.

        Huggins could not fully explain why UC's post players so regularly abandoned plays that might have led to something, or why senior guard Melvin Levett was burned for big three-pointers by Southern Mississippi guard Neil Reed and UNCC's Diego Guevara when he was chosen to guard them on the basis of his defensive skill.

        “Maybe he's playing too many minutes,” Huggins said. The UNCC game was Levett's third consecutive stint of greater than 30 minutes.

        “I'd like to tell you answers. I don't have any answers,” Huggins said. Which is not to say he does not have confidence. “We'll be all right. We'll be fine.”

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- UC needs to get the ball inside
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