Friday, February 05, 1999

UC lacks home-crowd advantage

Craziness, excitement missing at Shoemaker

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Ryan Fletcher's reverse layup dropped through the goal Wednesday night, the Cincinnati Bearcats had stretched a nine-point lead to 16 in less than two minutes. Tulane guard Waitari Marsh knew precisely what to expect.

        He is only a freshman, but the Green Wave has crashed under enough of these onslaughts while playing on the road. He fully expected the crowd in Shoemaker Center to respond with the kind of thunderous noise that can finish an unstable visitor.

        Marsh slowly walked the ball up the court. This is what a point guard does in this circumstance, but there was something wrong.

        The gym was like a library.

        The Bearcats fans gave Tulane no cause for concern during UC's 82-63 victory Wednesday.

        “We always talk about it,” said UC junior center Kenyon Martin. “It seems like sometimes they'll be in it. I wish they could be like they were against Xavier. They should be like that all the time.”

        The fans could say the same, of course, that the Bearcats players would do well to exhibit the same degree of emotion and intensity against Tulane as in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout. But which comes first?

        UC would like to receive the kind of support that can create and sustain intensity, as Duke gets in Cameron Indoor Stadium or Kansas does at Allen Field House.

        “We come out down sometimes, or you have down moments in a game, and we need fan support,” Martin said. “It doesn't always work that way. If we're on a run, it seems like if we score it'll get loud, and then it goes down.”

        The fans, with the exception of the Xavier game, generally have taken the “Here we are now, entertain us” approach.

        In a sense, it should be beneficial for the No.3 Bearcats (21-1, 8-1) to go on the road for the next three games, starting with Saturday's 3p.m. Conference USA game at DePaul (11-9, 5-5). They need the challenge, and they should understand the difficulty of playing any team away from home after losing at UNC Charlotte in hostile surroundings.

        The Bearcats are firmly in first place in C-USA, and none of their opponents has been successful enough elsewhere to capture their attention. When one of the lesser teams visits the Shoe, defeat seems inconceivable and brilliance seems unnecessary.

        But the 62-60 loss at UNCC, along with narrow escapes against Southern Mississippi and Dayton, ought to have convinced the Bearcats they need to play with conviction when they leave home.

        “Road crowds, they're into it because we're coming to town,” Martin said. “They mark this date on their calendarwhen we come to town. We get up from their crowds. It boosts us.

        “We've just got to win out, take care of business from here on out. There's no doubt in our minds if we come out very intense, our emotions just high, I don't feel anybody can beat us.”

        UC's schedule this season placed the majority of its most appealing games in venues other than the Shoe. The Bearcats have played 11 teams in the Ratings Percentage Index top 100, including then-No.1 Duke, but the highest-rated team at home was No.44 UAB.

        Even the first meeting with Louisville, when the Cardinals were ranked in the Associated Press top 25, came at Freedom Hall. They have since lost four in a row and much of their luster. As a result, Bearcats fans can arrive for games expecting victory, not hoping, and thus believing their role in the process is diminished.

        That UC has won 30 consecutive games in the Shoe is not sufficient evidence of an overwhelming homecourt advantage. Sometimes it's the team, sometimes it's the building and most often it's a combination. In this case, there is no question which factor dominates. UC plays with extraordinary confidence at home.

        The atmosphere should be more intense when the Bearcats return to the Shoe Feb.17. That is the night UNCC will visit and UC will be playing for revenge. They follow that with a home game against Louisville Feb.21 that is nationally televised and then a two-game, season-ending road trip to South Florida and Memphis.

        No more Tulane home games to bore the Shoe or the Bearcats.

        “From here on out, the games will be a challenge,” Martin said. “We can't go in with the idea it's going to be easy.”


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