Thursday, November 30, 2000
These aren't Kenyon's Bearcats
DAYTON, Ohio Instead of an elbow in your face, this year's University of Cincinnati Bearcats are a hand in your pocket. College basketball's ranking bullies have been replaced by a squad of preeminent pests.
The Bearcats beat the Dayton Flyers 82-75 Wednesday, and they did it with irritation, not intimidation. Drubbed on the backboards, halting in the half-court, the Bearcats nonetheless prevailed with suffocating full-court pressure. This is a less predictable brand of basketball than the kind practiced by Kenyon Martin & Associates, but it is equally intriguing.
That's what people don't understand, UC guard Steve Logan said. We've got different players. We're going to have to
do different things.
For once, Bob Huggins' outfit is not physical and dominant, but resourceful and relentless. These Bearcats don't demoralize you in the layup line, but they can wear you down with their quickness and numbers if you're not careful.
Dayton was not nearly careful enough Wednesday night. The Flyers made 19 turnovers that produced 23 UC points, and watched a 13-point second-half lead evaporate in a startling span of 4 minutes, 26 seconds.
This was when the Bearcats turned up their defensive heat from simmer to scald, when Logan and Kenny Satterfield and Immanuel McElroy (among others) neutralized Dayton's inside advantages with efficient backcourt traps.
Those guys kind of panicked, UC forward Leonard Stokes said of the Flyers, when we went to the press.
The press is like an energy factor, said Logan. That's how we get going. We got some turnovers and turned them into easy layups. You could see there was a lot of confusion.
For nearly 30 minutes, the Bearcats seemed the side confused. Bludgeoned on the backboards Saturday by Notre Dame, they were again overmatched underneath by the Flyers. Dayton's 46-26 rebounding advantage suggested a massive difference in muscle, but the Flyers handled the ball down the stretch as if they were doing their dribbling in boxing gloves.
We rebounded the ball well, Dayton coach Oliver Purnell said. But when you rebound and then turn the ball over, it's like you never had it to begin with.
Rebounding, or rebuilding?
Until the Bearcats start crashing the boards with authority, their success may depend on full-court pressure. If they cannot prolong their own possessions with second and third chances, they must find a way to limit their opponents' opportunities.
It can be done. Full-court defense enabled Huggins' 1992 UC team to advance to the Final Four without superior shooting or size. That doesn't mean this year's team is equipped for such a run better UC teams have been eliminated in the second round but it is certainly too soon to declare this a rebuilding season.
Huggins is often at his best when he must improvise with lesser parts. Without Martin in the middle, the Bearcats have no choice but to tinker with different tactics. In some places, they must substitute effort for talent. If they quit Saturday, as Huggins alleges, they can count on being pushed that much harder from here on.
We've just got to play hard, Leonard Stokes said. We haven't been playing hard. Tonight we came out and said, "It's our time.' We've got to keep doing that with consistency.
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