Wednesday, February 17, 1999

Martin can't help UC from bench

Center struggles with foul trouble

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kenyon Martin
        When last we saw Kenyon Martin, we didn't see much of him. He played 25 minutes for the Cincinnati Bearcats against Saint Louis, not enough time to block a shot or get his scoring into double figures — but, once again, enough time to wander into serious foul trouble.

        “We've got to let the whistles go the way they're going to go,” said coach Bob Huggins, “but it's hard with Kenyon sitting over there.”

• Where: Shoemaker Center
• Records: UC 21-4 (8-4 C-USA), Charlotte 15-9 (7-5)
• TV: Ch. 19
• Radio: WLW-AM (700)
• 14: Days since UC's last win.
• .403: Opponents' field goal percentage during UC's three-game losing streak.
• 20: Opponents' edge in free-throw points during the losing streak.
Tonight's game has turned into more than a game about revenge. The Bearcats lost their first game of the year at Charlotte Jan. 14 in a controversial ending, but have lost their past three and have several other concerns more pressing than payback.

If the Bearcats win:
• They will avoid their first four-game losing streak since the 1987-88 season, when they fell to Florida State, Saint Louis, Virginia Tech and Louisville in succession.
• They will avoid being swept for the first time as a member of Conference USA.
• They will remain alive for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
• They will pull into a virtual tie with Louisville for the Conference USA American Division lead.

If the Bearcats lose:
• They will match their highest total for league defeats (five) since leaving the Metro Conference in 1991.
• They will lose their 30-game home court winning streak, fourth longest in the NCAA.
• They will be tied with UNCC and DePaul for second place, but UNCC would have a tiebreaker edge that could exclude UC from opening the C-USA tournament with a first-round bye.
• They likely will fall from the Associated Press top 10 and endanger their streak of top 10 poll finishes that stands at three years.

        There are many common threads to the games comprising No. 9 UC's three-game losing streak, which the Bearcats (21-4, 8-4 Conference USA) will try to break with an 8:05 p.m. game today at the Shoemaker Center against UNC Charlotte (15-9, 7-5):

        • The Bearcats' narrow halftime leads, an average four-point margin.

        • Their difficulty stretching second-half leads into double figures, with only DePaul falling behind by as many as 11 points.

        • Their collapses in the final five minutes of regulation, with opponents outscoring them 14-6 on average.

        • Their low scoring, an average of 58.3 points.

        The one factor that best explains these developments is that Martin, a 6-foot-9 junior described by Marquette coach Mike Deane as “the best center in the league,” averaged 22 minutes and 4.7 personal fouls in those games.

        Martin has been frustrated by the calls, almost none of which have resulted from block attempts. The majority have occurred as he chased rebounds or tried to screen for teammates.

        “I think it makes us not as aggressive defensively,” said junior forward Ryan Fletcher. “Having him back there, you tend to gamble a little, make a few more plays. People aren't as eager to attack the goal when he's in there.”

        It's not as though UC cannot lose with Martin in the lineup.

        He went nearly 40 minutes in the first Bearcats' defeat, at UNC Charlotte last month, getting 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocks that helped them recover from an early deficit.

        It is increasingly difficult to win without him, however. During the three-game losing streak, his fourth personal foul has come, on average, with about five minutes remaining in regulation. UC was destroyed in the closing stage of each game.

        The UC staff does not understand why a player who is one of the stars of Conference USA gets so many difficult calls, although they had the same experience with power forward Danny Fortson when he was the league's two-time player of the year.

        “There's things that happen to us that I can't understand,” Huggins said. “I'm not blaming the officials, but there's the cumulative effect of us not being any good and these other things.”

        When the month began, there was discussion about whether Martin might be C-USA's player of the year despite a scoring average (10.1) that does not rank among the top 30.

        He blocked 20 shots in his first six conference games, and that only begins to account for how he altered opponents' approaches to the game and to the goal.

        “I just think he changes the complexion of everything,” said UAB coach Murry Bartow. “You know he's in there, will block three or four shots a game, and he changes the players' mindset.

        “If a guy penetrates to the paint, he might think twice about going in there, maybe lean toward fading away instead of going to the basket. He's a great defensive player.

        “I think you take him into consideration with your offensive game plan. You still want to get to the rim, be aggressive, but in the back of your mind you know he's there.”

        Except when he's not.

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