Monday, March 15, 1999

Second-round losses leave UC smarting

Third straight 'one and done' Tournament

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BOSTON — It used to be Syracuse, then Arizona and lately Kansas. These were teams college basketball fans eyed with suspicion when the NCAA Tournament pairings were released and it was time to fill out bracket sheets for office pools. The Cincinnati Bearcats are the ones now.

        “I read all the magazines: one and done,” said UC forward Pete Mickeal. “I guess they knew what they were talking about.”

        For the third year in a row, the Bearcats left the tournament after winning their first game and losing their second to a lower-seeded team: No.6 Iowa State in 1997, No.10 West Virginia in 1998 and No.6 Temple this year.

        No other team in the 1990s has been seeded among the top three in a region and failed to reach the Sweet 16 in three consecutive seasons. Arizona, Kansas and Purdue have done it three times in the decade, but never more than twice in a row.

        “I don't read the papers, so I don't worry about that,” said UC coach Bob Huggins. “We're going to take a week off, have finals, spring break and then we're going to get back to work.

        “We got beat this year by a good team that was well coached. To sit here and tell you I'm not proud of these kids and what they stand for ... Why would I worry about what some guy writes?”

        It is not just about the words that are printed in a paper or spoken on a talk show. The 1992 Final Four trip helped launch the Bearcats toward the college basketball elite, and the NCAA Tournament is the ultimate measure of success.

        It is not the only measure. Huggins proudly points to UC's run of top 10 regular-season finishes in the polls — three in the Associated Press, this year in the USA Today/ESPN.He correctly says, “A lot of schools would like to be in our position.”

        The Bearcats, though, would prefer to be where Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State and Duke are today.

        “It's tough to lose, period,” said Bearcats center Kenyon Martin, “but to got out like this three years in a row, you can't stomach it.”

        When UC was opening its season 15-0 and cruising to victories over Duke, Minnesota, UNLV and Rhode Island, it dis guised its weaknesses and emphasized its strengths.

        As the games became more difficult in February, though, the leadership vacuum that affected the Bearcats became more obvious and damaging.

        Various players pledged to fill that void at various times. Senior guard Melvin Levett left it unsaid, but indicated he would be the person to step up after UC returned from a loss at Marquette. He played well in the next game, at Saint Louis, but the Bearcats lost anyway.

        Mickeal said it would be him as the tournament began, but it was clear he never felt completely comfortable assuming that role with three seniors on the roster.

        “That's what I learned this year — you go as far as your senior leadership takes you,” Mickeal said. He was careful not to criticize Levett or guards Shawn Myrick and Michael Horton, but Mickeal declined to answer a question about whether a leadership void existed.

        “You've got to have everybody on the same page,” Mickeal said. “We don't have that right now. I'm talking about on the court, off the court, in practice.

        “We don't have any jerks, but I'm used to that unity. I'm used to that family.”


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