Saturday, March 18, 2000

Mickeal's defense wakes up Bearcats

Senior shows emotion, grit in opening win

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kenyon Martin was gone, there was a Blizzard approaching, and this grand University of Cincinnati season felt like it was slipping into obscurity during the first seven minutes of Friday's first-round NCAA South Regional game.

        But senior forward Pete Mickeal restored order by doing what he always does: He worked inside to get to the foul line; he rebounded, and most of all, he played defense as if this were a video on man-to-man principles.

        After Mickeal steered UC to a 64-47 victory over North Carolina Wilmington, he said: “It's the NCAA Tournament. You have to play on emotion. Last year we didn't play with too much emotion. This year we've got something to prove, and that's great. Everybody is saying we can't do it. Well, we're going to start to do it.”

        If there is anybody who has taken personally UC's national kiss-off because of Martin's injury, it's Mickeal.

        After banging chests with teammates before the game and reminding them this could be the last game this team ever plays, Mickeal kept UC afloat during a brutal opening 13 minutes in which the Bearcats scored just 14 points. Mickeal had six of them, three on free throws, as he drew contact to bail out a stagnant offense.

        “I'm always cool and calm,” Mickeal said, smiling.

        It was his defense that won this one. Mickeal held the nation's 10th-best 3-point shooter to 1-for-4 from behind the arc as UNC Wilmington freshman guard Brett Blizzard shot 2-for-8 overall with five points, 11 below his average.

        “I told (Blizzard) at the beginning of the game, "Not today,'” Mickeal said. “I told him 10 times, and sooner or later he started to get the picture. ... Every time he tried to shoot, I either kind of tipped it away from him or met him at the spot. ... When we weren't scoring, it was OK, because we were playing great defense.”

        Coach Bob Huggins praised Mickeal's ability to fight through Wilmington's picks (“That's something we didn't do well at the end of the year”) and liked the way the Bearcats didn't always try to jam the ball into Mickeal on offense as they did in last week's loss to Saint Louis in the Conference USA tournament.

        “I learned from my mistakes,” Mickeal said. “My type of game is in transition, plus hit a few (outside) shots. As long as I keep doing that, everybody stays happy.”

        Huggins and Mickeal seem a lot happier than two weeks ago, when Mickeal was benched for a victory at DePaul. Mickeal shrugged it off Friday as “like something in your family. Sometimes you argue.”

        Senior forward Ryan Fletcher thinks it may end up helping.

        “It made us tougher losing one of our best scorers and rebounders going into DePaul,” Fletcher said. “Who knows? It could have been a blessing preparing us for what happened to Ken, and we were successful, giving us confidence ...”

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