Thursday, February 04, 1999

UC 82, TULANE 63

Fletcher is highlight for lackluster Bearcats

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As power forward Ryan Fletcher stood waiting to conduct an interview to fill the moments of Channel 19's telecast that were not consumed by a terribly routine 82-63 Cincinnati Bearcats victory over Tulane, he heard from a few of the spectators departing Shoemaker Center.

        “Sixth man of the year!” shouted one.

        “Sixth man of the year!” shouted a second, apparently concerned the message had not been delivered.

        Each time, it was a fresh idea. One problem. Conference USA rules indicate he started too many games to win the award.

        Still a starter for No.3 UC (21-1, 8-1) when the conference season began, Fletcher came off the bench for the sixth consecutive game and scored in double figures for a fifth time in that stretch, his 14 points helping to propel the Bearcats.

        The win extended UC's homecourt winning streak to 30 games and its lead in C-USA to a full two games over Saint Louis, UNC Charlotte and UAB.

        Fletcher scored eight straight points in an 18-5 second-half surge that extended the Bearcats' edge in this game from barely passable to fairly comfortable, from 40-33 with 17:52 to 58-38 with 11:13 to play.

        “I was basically trying to give a spark to the team,” Fletcher said. “I think it shows what can come by playing hard.”

        There weren't many more examples. UC got 22 points each from guard Melvin Levett and forward Pete Mickeal, and Mickeal also grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds, but for a change their energetic play provided no inspiration to their teammates.

        It was another game the Bearcats treated as a bore, rather than an opportunity to go full-bore and collect statistics and highlights and the sort of one-sided victory that might have energized the 13,176 at the Shoe.

        “We've won enough that I think you have a tendency to overlook some things,” coach Bob Huggins said. “I don't think they take as many things to heart.

        “It's hard. It's a long year. What I keep trying to explain

        to them is, if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. We've deteriorated a little bit — no, we've deteriorated a lot. We've got to get back to doing a better job.”

        The problem against Tulane was the surrender of numerous baskets to forward Ledaryl Billingsley, who scored most of his 14 points by catching passes that were thrown over fronting UC defenders and encountering no defensive help from the back side.

        UC also had trouble containing the penetration of freshman guard Waitari Marsh. That breakdown caused Huggins to run through four different players at the point. Junior Alvin Mitchell lasted 22 minutes, his most in seven games, and scored seven points and passed for four assists without committing a turnover.

        But Huggins held freshman Steve Logan to just five minutes. “Steve needs to learn,” Huggins said. “I think maybe he got the message.”

        That Mickeal was able to remove Tulane star sophomore Byron Mouton from the Green Wave's operation seemed to be lost on the Bearcats and their coach, but Mouton did not score until 3:37 remained and only finished with seven because he spent the remainder of the game chasing his 12.2 scoring average.

        Although many of the UC regulars appeared to lack interest, Levett clearly had the right idea. He had every intention of exploiting the mismatch Tulane coach Perry Clark provided by assigning 6-4 junior Dylan Osean to guard him.

        Levett scored eight of UC's first 14 points, shooting as quickly as he could get his hands on the ball but without necessarily rushing his shots. He made two three-pointers and a tough pull-up jumper to help the Bearcats advance to a 20-11 lead with 11:25 left. The margin was the same at the half, which meant they'd pretty much wasted more than half a half.

        “Really, we wanted to blow them out so all the other guys could get a chance to play,” Mickeal said. “But we didn't, so we owe them one. We stopped competing like we used to. You can make every excuse up, but we're just not playing as well.”

        Huggins did not tear into the Bearcats at the break, instead allowing them to sit alone for all but the final five minutes of the 15-minute halftime break.

        “We didn't think he was going to come in,” Fletcher said. “He wasn't screaming and hollering. He just told us everything, that we weren't playing hard, and I think he was tired of preaching and preaching. We just had to figure it out for ourselves.”

        The second half was a clear improvement, at least at the start, as Mitchell rediscovered his shooting touch with a three-pointer and 18-foot jumper and then Fletcher took over with his one-man show.

        “It was a little better. At times, we played harder,” Fletcher said. “But we had a couple letdowns: tip-dunks, easy layups, things that don't normally happen against us.

        “We can get away with it now, but down the road, it's going to get us.”

Last-place defense is football Bearcats' first priority

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Mouton          26  3-12   0-0   2-3  1  5    7
Davis           30   3-9   0-1   5-8  2  2    7
Jordan          21   1-4   0-0   0-0  0  2    2
Marsh           33  6-13   3-4   3-9  2  2   15
Osean           14   1-4   0-0   1-2  0  0    2
Mason           29   2-6   0-0   1-1  6  2    5
Billingsley     23  5-11   4-8   3-5  0  4   14
Johnson         13   3-5   1-1   0-0  0  0    7
Kritza          11   2-6   0-0   3-5  0  3    4
TOTALS         200 26-70  8-14 18-33 11 20   63

Percentages: FG-.371, FT-.571. 3-Point Goals:
3-12, .250 (Mouton 1-4, Davis 1-4, Mason 1-4).
Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 2 (Davis,
Kritza). Turnovers: 17 (Johnson 4, Mouton 3,
Billingsley 2, Jordan 2, Marsh 2, Davis, Kritza,
Mason, Osean). Steals: 8 (Mouton 3, Marsh 2,
Billingsley, Johnson, Mason).

                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Tate            15   2-5   0-0   0-1  0  2    4
Mickeal         38  9-15   4-6  6-12  1  0   22
Martin          35   2-6   1-2   3-9  1  1    5
Horton          14   1-2   1-1   0-0  3  1    3
Levett          30  8-15   4-5   1-2  2  1   22
Logan            5   0-1   2-2   0-0  1  0    2
Fletcher        20  7-10   0-0   4-8  3  2   14
Mitchell        22   2-3   2-2   0-2  4  2    7
Land             8   1-4   0-0   1-3  0  2    2
Myrick           9   0-2   0-0   1-1  2  1    0
Mcghee           3   0-0   0-0   0-1  0  0    0
Meacham          1   0-2   1-2   0-0  0  0    1
TOTALS         200 32-65 15-20 16-39 17 12   82

Percentages: FG-.492, FT-.750. 3-Point Goals:
3-13, .231 (Levett 2-7, Logan 0-1, Mitchell 1-2,
Myrick 0-2, Meacham 0-1). Team rebounds: 6.
Blocked shots: 4 (Martin 4). Turnovers: 18
(Martin 4, Mickeal 4, Horton 3, Fletcher 2,
Levett 2, Land, Logan, Mcghee). Steals: 10
(Myrick 3, Horton 2, Mickeal 2, Fletcher, Land,
Tulane             29   34  -   63
Cincinnati         38   44  -   82
Technical fouls: None.  A: 13,176. Officials:
Larry Ware, Sam Croft, Wally Tanner.

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