Friday, March 12, 1999

UC must attack to win

When points flow, so do the Bearcats

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BOSTON — There weren't many words spoken when the Cincinnati Bearcats went through 50 minutes of an open practice Thursday at the FleetCenter. George Mason's coaches were sitting in the second row of the press section. This was not the place to be polishing up the gameplan.

UC (3) vs. GEORGE MASON (14)
  • When: 12:15 p.m. today
  • Where: FleetCenter, Boston
  • Records: Cincinnati 26-5; George Mason 19-10
  • TV: Channel 12
  • Radio: WLW-AM (700)
  0: Games GMU point guard Jason Miskiri played without a turnover
  11: Games in which Miskiri had four or more turnovers
  44: Days since George Mason lost a game.
        When UC worked out privately in preparation for today's 12:15 NCAA Tournament opener, though, there was one word that dominated the conversation and it no great secret: attack. If the Bearcats (26-5) are to advance beyond the Patriots (19-10) and into a position befitting their No. 3 East Region seed, they will need to adopt that mentality for as long as they last.

        “We want to attack at the beginning of the game,” said point guard Steve Logan. “We have to come out and be the aggressor. We have to try to make them do what they're not comfortable doing.”

        “We have to attack a little bit more at this point,” said shooting guard Melvin Levett. “When you let a team take you out of your chemistry, what you want to do — it's very frustrating.”

        Some of the most unnerving moments in UC's recent tournament history have been best illustrated by the Bearcats' low offensive output: 63 points in the 1996 Southeast Regional final loss to Mississippi State, 66 points in the 1997 Midwest second-round loss to Iowa State, 65 in the narrow first-round victory over 15th-seeded Northern Arizona one year ago.

        It's been the same throughout this season, when all five Bearcats defeats occurred in games when they scored 60 or fewer points.

        Huggins continues to maintain the biggest difference between the Bearcats when they score points and when they do not is making shots. “We've got to shoot the ball better than we shot the ball in the last couple weeks of the season,” he said. If only it were that simple.

        The Bearcats made shots, including 7-of-13 from three-point range, in the game at UNC Charlotte that resulted in their first loss. They made shots at Saint Louis in their only double-digit defeat, hitting 23-of-48 from the floor for a .472 percentage that dwarfed the Billikens' .417.

        UC has a 5-3 record when it shoots under .430 from the field, with two of the victories coming by double-digit margins. It is more a matter of pace than simply connecting from the field. When the Bearcats scored 60 or fewer points, they were 4-5 and earned just one double-digit win.

        For a team that is best playing a game that moves quickly but not too fast, the Bearcats allowed nearly a third of their opponents to drag them into slow-paced, low-possession games that limited their athletic advantage and increased the pressure to make perimeter jumpshots.

        This is unlikely to be a problem against George Mason, a team that pressures the ball and works to force turnovers. Although coach Jim Larranaga has no doubt seen tape of the teams that have caused UC to struggle, all of which took a more patient approach, he insists he will not abandon the style that marched the Patriots into the tournament field.

        He talked to Richmond coach John Beilein, who directed a first-round upset of South Carolina last season, “And the biggest thing he explained is to believe in your philosophy, believe in your team and believe if you play your best, you'll come out on top.”

        If the Bearcats believe their offensive problems would be solved simply by charging up a big number against GMU, though, they might be as mistaken as when they followed a 76-point effort against South Florida with just 52 points against UNC Charlotte in last week's Conference USA tournament.

        The second-round game against the winner between Temple and Kent would promise to be one in which the opposition would be intent on playing a sluggish game.

        Huggins knows it is not as basic as “making shots.” How often a team connects on its shots always is connected to the type of shots it is taking and the identity of the player taking them.

        “We probably have to throw it inside a little more,” Huggins said. “I think when we were successful playing halfcourt, we probably threw it inside more than we did later in the year.”

        The Bearcats, in particular Levett, shoot three-pointers much better when they are in a high-energy flow. In 17 games where he made two or more threes, they failed to top 70 points only three times.

        “It's very hard sometimes to play at a slow pace, but all the good teams do,” Levett said. “It's something we haven't been good at this year, but if we're going to win this tournament, if we're going to get down further, there's going to be a couple slowdown games, and we're going to have to weather that storm.”


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