Sunday, March 14, 1999

UC seeks its swagger

Bearcats need to jump on Temple early

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pete Mickeal is shown on a monitor while participating in a press conference in the background.
(Ernest Coleman photo)

| ZOOM |
        BOSTON — If the shutout the Cincinnati Bearcats pitched against George Mason star George Evans in the NCAA Tournament's opening round did not tell forward Pete Mickeal everything necessary about his team's reputation for intimidation, the stares he caught Saturday from the Miami Hurricanes surely did.

        Mickeal and teammates Kenyon Martin and Melvin Levett were returning to their locker room after a short news conference when they encountered the second-seeded Hurricanes in the hallway at the FleetCenter. “I saw how they were looking at us,” Mickeal said. “I don't think they were intimidated, but they wanted to see for themselves.”

UC (5) vs. TEMPLE (12)
  • When: 2:20 p.m. today
  • Where: FleetCenter, Boston
  • Records: Cincinnati 27-5;
  Temple 22-10
  • TV: Channel 12
  • Radio: WLW-AM (700)
  • .208: Pepe Sanchez' three-point percentage after hitting 3-of-6 against Kent.
  • 9-7: Temple's record against teams from outside the Atlantic 10.
  • 1993: Last season Temple advanced to NCAA Sweet 16.
  • 1996: Last season UC advanced to NCAA Sweet 16.
        At various times since defeat became almost as routine as victory for this UC basketball team, the Bearcats have lacked precision, intensity, accurate jumpshooting and a full-time, full-bore Martin at center.

        Missing throughout this stretch in which they've won six games and lost four, though, has been the swagger you would expect from any highly-ranked team, let alone one with “Cincinnati” on its uniforms.

        “If we don't come out and jump on them hard,” Mickeal said, “then they think, "Oh, it's no big deal.' And they get confidence.”

        As No. 3-seeded UC (27-5) tries to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996, its opponent in today's 2:20 East Regional second-round — No. 6 seed Temple (22-10) — is familiar enough with the Bearcats to suggest with some degree of certainty it will not back down.

  • Give Temple dose of its own medicine: Use defense and rebounding to make the Owls more miserable playing this game than the Bearcats are.
  • Don't be afraid to shoot the three: Be judicious, but not tentative, about launching three-point shots over the Owls' matchup zone.
  • Belly up to big men: Don't let Temple big men Kevin Lyde and Lamont Barnes have their way inside.
        This is the fourth meeting between the Owls and Bearcats in the past four seasons, and Temple is one of the few teams in the nation that owns a front line bigger than UC's, with 6-10 junior Lamont Barnes and 6-9 freshman Kevin Lyde inside.

        Temple plays a matchup zone defense designed to produce just the sort of Blue-Danube tempo and lane-clogging jams these Bearcats have found most bothersome. Each of their defeats ended with them scoring 60 or fewer points.

        “If we can speed them up, cause turnovers, we can make them get into a transition game at certain points,” Mickeal said. “We can play any style of basketball. It's a matter of us going out and working at it, saying we'll take the responsibility and stepping up to play.

        “It's all about confidence. I know my confidence has skyrocketed. I know Mel's really has. He knows he has to score for us to win. I think we've finally gotten our roles with this team.”

        In examining the Bearcats' approach to the Temple zone, it is tempting to suggest they must make perimeter jumpsh ots or perish — which, given UC's recent history, suggests the latter. No team that beat the Owls made fewer than six three-pointers. UC has made that many long-range shots only twice in its past 16 games.

        However, Indiana was only 9-of-27 against the Owls and earned its most significant advantage in rebounding. Xavier was 8-of-31 but got the ball to the baseline and earned 31 free throws, making 24. Massachusetts was 6-of-16 but held Temple to .281 shooting.

        When UC was in its three-game February losing streak, these were the sorts of details that were allowed to fester.

        “We're trying to make sure those same things don't hap pen,” Levett said, “like boxing out on the free throw line, giving the other team second and third shots, turning the ball over when it's not needed.

        “The things that we didn't do when games were slowed down are things we've worked on, that we've gotten better at as of late.”

        Whether the Bearcats drop some three-pointers or not, their avenue to the Sweet 16 is at least as much about inflicting their style on Temple.

        They cannot afford to be frustrated as they were in losses to DePaul, Marquette, Saint Louis and UNC Charlotte — each of which they led at some point in the second half.

        They allowed their difficulty running offense to affect their defense and were outscored by a composite 25 points in the second halves of those defeats. If they have to win this game 52-40, they should be prepared to play that way.

        It's unlikely UC will force a fastbreak game. Temple opponents have topped 65 points only five times. The Bearcats can manufacture baskets, though, by working their way inside the defense and using the post skills of Martin and Mickeal.

        “I have to be more selfish sometimes,” said Martin, whose last game with more than 11 points was Jan. 30. “In order for us to be successful, I have to put some points on the board.”

        The Bearcats are more effective when Levett and Mickeal are driving the ball into the seams of a defense for pull-up jumpers, in part because those advances break down a defense and lead to put-back baskets. Levett has scored just nine of his past 43 points from three-point range. For the year, nearly half his points have come on threes.

        Coach Bob Huggins points out the Bearcats were confident in close wins against Minnesota, Dayton and Southern Mississippi, but all those were before the February funk.

        “This is not a great offensive team,” Huggins said. “It's a great defensive team, and it's become a real good rebounding team. We're going to do what we do best.”        

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