Sunday, February 14, 1999

For starters, UC needs more from Mickeal




BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. LOUIS — There may be changes to the starting lineup for the Cincinnati Bearcats for this afternoon's game against Saint Louis, but coach Bob Huggins has collected just enough defeats in the past week or so to convince him he needs more secrets.

UC at ST. LOUIS
• When: Today, 5:30 p.m.
• Where: Kiel Center, St. Louis
• Records: UC 21-3, 8-3; St. Louis 13-12, 7-5
• TV: ESPN2
• Radio: WLW-AM (700)
BY THE NUMBERS
• 22: UC's national rank in field goal defense (.388).
• 61.5: Average points scored by last two UC opponents, who beat the Bearcats.
• 32: Points under average scored by UC over past two games.
        He won't say who might open on the bench for No. 5 UC (21-3, 8-3) in its 5:30 Conference USA game against the Billikens (13-12, 7-5), although the usual suspects are power forward Jermaine Tate and point guard Michael Horton.

        Huggins won't even explain why, specifically, he would make a change. “So we play better,” he said.

        One who will certainly be in the lineup is junior forward Pete Mickeal, who has done nothing to lose his job in consecutive losses to Marquette and DePaul but little to inspire the kind of reaction in his teammates that once seemed routine.

        In his past four games, Mickeal averaged 15.8 points and 8.8 rebounds and shot .619 from the floor, but somehow these numbers did not add up to what they might have before. Huggins complained about the Bearcats' lackluster efforts each time.

        Mickeal went for a double-double in points and rebounds three times before he did it 10 days ago against Tulane, and those three efforts produced three double-digit victories over Top 80 teams on the RPI scale (Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Louisville).

        “I don't think he's played

        nearly as well lately,” Huggins said. “I don't think he's been aggressive.”

        He was an inspirational player for the first half of the season, someone whose attacking style forced opponents to implode and teammates to ignite. The Bearcats are 9-0 when Mickeal gets double figures in shots and and 6-0 when he shoots eight or more free throws.

        Lately, though, his production has had no residual effect.

        “I think it starts with me personally,” Mickeal said. “That's the way every player should think. I haven't been doing the things ... I've been putting up 14 points, five or six rebounds. That's just average. That's not great. It's really below average.”

        Mickeal could be wearing down. He is averaging 33 minutes and has gotten only seven minutes of rest in the past four games combined.

        UC does not have an adequate replacement at small forward, and it was even more difficult to get him a break as opponents such as Marquette and DePaul took advantage of UC's refusal to enforce its inside power by employing smaller lineups that mandated Huggins keep Mickeal on the floor for defense.

        So Mickeal may have enough energy to take care of the basics, but not enough to play the sort of quick-strike defense that led to a string of five consecutive games in which he picked up two steals or to attack defenses with drives down the lane.

        “Physically, he's fine,” Huggins said.

        Mickeal been able to score because Huggins has called plays for him, and he feels his game is “the best it's been all year. My shot is feeling so good right now, I feel like everything I shoot is going to go in.”

        He hasn't shot often enough, in that case. And UC is better still when he's catching the ball at the foul line and disarming the defense with a spin move and dash toward the goal, something that has been missing of late.

        “I haven't been doing the high-energy thing like I used to,” Mickeal said. “It's just the way we've been playing. I'm usually the guy who gets steals, turns up the tempo. It hasn't happened lately.

        “It's something I'm not used to — mediocre play and leaving the floor feeling empty. I said to myself, "This is the way other people feel ... when they feel they they're good enough to win and they don't.' I can't get used to this.”



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