Saturday, January 23, 1999

Wanted: More UC blowouts

Bearcats hope to keep up intensity vs. Saint Louis

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The next step is dominance. The Cincinnati Bearcats have been successful throughout this college basketball season, even imposing, but “dominant” has been an adjective of occasion, not routine.

        “If we can go down to Louisville and do what we did to them,” said UC guard Melvin Levett, “why can't we beat a Saint Louis or UAB or South Florida by 50?”

• When: 6 p.m. today
• Where: Shoemaker Center
• Records: Saint Louis 9-9, 4-2 C-USA; Cincinnati 17-1, 5-1 C-USA
• TV: Channel 19
• Radio: WLW-AM (700)
• 27-1: UC's record against Conference USA opponents in four seasons at the Shoe.
• 9: Consecutive games UC has won against Saint Louis.
• 12.3, 4.3: Freshman Steve Logan's scoring and assist averages in three games since senior point guard Michael Horton was injured.
• 4: Games in which Saint Louis shot above .500 from the field.
        This is a worthwhile question only the No.5-ranked Bearcats (17-1, 5-1) can answer, but haven't to date. They destroyed No.24 Louisville in a visit Thursday to Freedom Hall 81-55, but with today's 6 p.m. Conference USA game against Saint Louis (9-9, 4-2) at the Shoemaker Center slung between that huge test and next Thursday's Skyline Chili Crosstown Shoot out against Xavier, UC is in position to experience a tremendous letdown.

        We have seen what the Bearcats are capable of accomplishing when they are properly focused and motivated. But what's to keep them properly focused and motivated in games such as this?

        The Billikens have proven to be equally capable of defeating Kansas and losing to Southern Illinois. They are not the Saint Louis of Larry Hughes. They are not, as the Bearcats view them, Duke or UNLV or Louisville.

        What they are is a league opponent. Every game for the remainder of the regular season, with the exception of the Shootout, is a C-USA game.

        “All they have to do is look at the league standings,” UC coach Bob Huggins said. “We're not running away with the league race. One of the goals is always to win the league and get a ring. We talked about that before Louisville, that it was an important game if we wanted to win the league.”

        UC is tied with the Cardinals for the overall league lead but still has four road games remaining. Louisville only has three, although one of those is at the Shoe.

        Between opening with a 115-78 thrashing of Houston in a December C-USA opener and the win over U of L, the Bearcats were not as proficient in league games. In games against Marquette, DePaul, Southern Mississippi and UNC Charlotte, the Bearcats averaged 69 points and their opponents 59.

        One of college basketball's universal truths is the familiarity afforded by conference affiliation makes all games within a league different than those played against outside opposition. That familiarity can narrow the gap between the favorite and the underdog, particularly if the favorite comes to view victory as automatic.

        “I think we had the understanding of what it takes, but we did more talking about it than anything,” Levett said. “Now, we went out and played like we know how to play, and now is the time of year that we usually get better, get tougher.”

        Any game against Saint Louis is unlikely to be as picturesque as the Louisville game. The Cardinals mistakenly believed they could cajole UC into playing a full-time, fullcourt game, but that approach merely permitted the Bearcats to run when they were able to and slow the game to a halfcourt pace when they wished.

        Saint Louis will constrict the heart of its defense near the lane but will also apply the sort of ball pressure between the midcourt line and the top of the key that bothered the Bearcats in their narrow win against Dayton.

        “They can play really well, like the Kansas game,” Huggins said. “And they've had games where they haven't made shots, but they always guard you and try to make you do things you don't want to do.”

        One of those things, ostensibly, the Bearcats needed to do was to pay attention throughout pregame preparation and the one full practice session available between the Louisville and Saint Louis games. UC center Kenyon Martin believes many of the team's problems against Dayton, Southern Miss and UNCC began with a lack of intensity and attention in practice.

        “I think if we practice well, we play well,” Martin said. “We have to come in with the mindset we're going to work, not just get out of here at the end of the day.”

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