Tuesday, February 16, 1999

Bearcats regain their focus

UC shows intensity at hard practice

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Knocked from the ranks of college basketball's heavyweights with three straight losses, the University of Cincinnati retreated to the gym Monday seeking an edge.

        Coach Bob Huggins found it in a grueling session resembling track more than basketball less than 24 hours after Sunday's turnover-strewn 69-57 loss in St. Louis.

        Junior forward Ryan Fletcher, sporting a cut above his right eye, pronounced the workout a success. He knocked heads chasing a loose ball in one of Monday's skirmishes, an intense play he admitted wouldn't have been made last week.

        “We needed a basketball to decide how much we were going to run, that's the only thing we needed it for,” Fletcher said.

        “We needed to see how many turnovers we'd have and how many sprints we'd run. If we had a turnover, or didn't play hard enough on defense to cause a turnover, we'd run. We needed it. He got our attention. We've got to be focused. And if we're not, he's going to penalize us.”

        Huggins cut short the practice by about an hour, for a variety of reasons, he said.

        Maybe for health.

        Asked what would have happened if the workout went three hours, Fletcher said, “a lot of guys would have been puking.”

        But Huggins got what he wanted in preparation for Wednesday's home game against the North Carolina-Charlotte team that gave the Bearcats their first loss.

        Intensity. Focus. Competition.

        “Now we've got to do it tomorrow,” Fletcher said. “It can't be just a one-day thing.”

        Fletcher said there were 11 turnovers in the first scrimmage, seven in the second, three in the third. Senior guard Melvin Levett, who says the team's main problem is turnovers down the stretch, noticed.

        “In four years, I've about seen every side of (Huggins),” Levett said. “I've seen him at the peak of his madness. Today was kind of subtle. He was laid back. There was nothing new. If he didn't like what we did, he was going to penalize us.

        “We need to buy into it. He's been saying the stuff for three, four weeks,” Levett said. “Now maybe we'll start listening. When you look at it, it really is the players. The players are the ones running up and down the floor shooting the ball. We just didn't want to believe it, I guess ... It's nobody else. Not the coaches or the referee. It's just the players.”

        If Monday's practice was a physical turning point, Sunday's postgame soul-searching might be a psychological one. Players and coaches hashed things over for 45 minutes. Fletcher said teammates were concerned about guys not playing hard enough or playing to potential.

        “It was a time to get it off your chest,” Levett said. “We've got to start taking care of the ball down the stretch. Nobody's pointing fingers at anyone. That's not what you do when you play for a team. We've just got to get the chemistry back and get ready for Charlotte.”

        The Bearcats refused to talk to the media after Sunday's game, but Fletcher said it wasn't an organized or ordered boycott.

        “I think guys were just disgusted about how we played and we were sick of saying why and what we were going to do to stop it,” Fletcher said. “My family called, kids on campus, even my roommate was asking what happened. I just said, "We lost. I don't want to talk about it.'”

        Huggins said before practice his technical foul Sunday didn't hurt the team. He also said center Kenyon Martin isn't getting foul calls.

        “How much am I supposed to sit there and take?” Huggins said. “Really, I thought I was pretty good (until then). At a certain point in time, you've got to fight for your team.

        “All this stuff about mellowing out and (being) nicer and all that stuff — I don't know. But I don't think that hurt the team. Throwing the ball away hurt the team.”

        Huggins also defended point guard Michael Horton after Sunday's seven-turnover effort.

        “I think our big guys are playing dreadful right now,” Huggins said. “We're not rebounding and not scoring inside. Everybody wants to point at Mike, and it's not all Mike's fault.”


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