Saturday, January 30, 1999

Bearcats celebrate studiously

Move from Shootout to UAB game

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Cincinnati Bearcats' locker room quickly became a library after Thursday night's stirring victory over Xavier.

        They basked in their Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout conquest, all right — for about as much time as it took to shower and change. Then they spent a half-hour studying scouting reports and watching videotapes of their next opponent, Alabama-Birmingham, which visits the Shoemaker Center at 1 p.m. today.

• When: 1 p.m. today
• Where: Shoemaker Center
• Records: UAB 15-6, 6-2 C-USA; Cincinnati 19-1, 6-1 C-USA
• TV: Channel 64
• Radio: WLW-AM (700)
• 7-1: UAB's record in afternoon games.
• 8-1: UAB's record in weekend games.
• 3: UC's winning streak against UAB, dating to the 1996-97 season.
• 5: Games decided by two or fewer points in the UC-UAB series, dating to 1984-85. UC won the first two and UAB has captured the last three.
        Focusing on the next opponent immediately after a game is standard operating procedure for the Bearcats, who rely on this method when preparation time is short. But this custom takes on added significance in the wake of the Xavier win.

        “It puts you back in reality really quick,” UC forward Pete Mickeal said Friday. “So you don't get to celebrate too much.”

        Intent on NCAA Tournament glory — “We've got a ring to chase,” said guard Mel vin Levett — the Bearcats (19-1) are reluctant to place undue emphasis on a regular-season game. But they do understand the potential impact of this one.

        Defeating the Blazers (15-6) would improve the Bearcats' Conference USA record to 7-1 and give them a definite edge over Louisville (5-2 entering tonight's game at UNC-Charlotte) and UAB (6-2). Thus, UC would creep closer to securing a first-round bye in the C-USA Tournament.

        “Hopefully they understand what they have to do,” UC coach Bob Huggins said of his players. “This is a really, really important game for us. This goes a long way in deciding the league championship.”

        It also could indicate how much the Bearcats have matured in a week. This will be the second Saturday in a row UC has played within 48 hours after an emotional triumph. Room for improvement exists.

        After thumping Louisville 81-55 on Jan.21, UC struggled to outlast Saint Louis 55-44 last Saturday. Now comes UAB, a team laden with eight seniors which has had five full days to prepare for this game.

        “It's kind of the same deal where we spent a lot of enthusiasm in beating Louisville, then were kind of down for Saturday's game,” forward Ryan Fletcher said. “If we play like that, we'll get beat.”

        Was the Saint Louis game a learning experience?

        “No question,” Fletcher said. “We'll mention that again (in Friday's practice) and probably a few times (today) before the game. We can't have a letdown, and I think our guys know that.”

        Which leads back to the reasoning behind the post-Xavier cram session for UAB.

        “It's second nature to us,” Mickeal said. “We're used to doing it, so we pay attention a lot more. And really, you have to pay attention if you want to get over (the previous game) faster. It pays off, too. We already have in our head what they're going to do. When we come in (for Friday's practice), we know what to expect (for game preparation).”

        The Bearcats know that UAB possesses genuine offensive potency. The Blazers have shot .514 from the floor while winning eight of their last 10 games. They set a C-USA record for scoring with a 116-78 victory over Houston on Jan. 9.

        “They do a lot of different things,” Huggins said of UAB. “We'll have to do a good job of adjusting.”

        Four different Blazers are averaging double figures in scoring and two others are scoring 9.5 and 8.6 points per game, respectively. This balance has helped UAB rank second in the conference in scoring (77.3), shooting percentage (.473) and free-throw percentage (.695).

        “Some teams have guys who play well as a unit; they have individuals who can really score. And that's the hardest kind of team to guard,” Mickeal said.

All 1998-99 basketball stories

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