Friday, January 05, 2001

Charlotte brings lots of offense to meet UC

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        During Crosstown Shootout week, some University of Cincinnati fans called into radio shows to say Charlotte had become a bigger rival for the Bearcats than Xavier.

        The 49ers are 3-7 all time against UC, and the two schools have the best two regular-season winning percentages in Conference USA history (Cincinnati 85.5, Charlotte 60.5).

        “I don't think there's any doubt (the rivalry is) good for our program,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. “Our players look forward to it. It's helped us with recruiting; it's helped us with our fans.

        “Let's face it: Cincinnati has owned the regular season in Conference USA. I mean, just owned it.”

        Charlotte, which UC coach Bob Huggins calls “probably the most talented team in the league,” is first up as the 25th-ranked Bearcats begin league play (6:05 p.m. Saturday).

        Lutz's team is 8-4 and coming off an 84-73 victory over George Washington on Wednesday that ended a two-game losing streak.

        The 49ers are leading candidates to end UC's run of five consecutive regular-season titles. They have a nice blend of veterans and high-impact newcomers. Fresh man Rodney White leads the conference in scoring (20.1 ppg). Junior-college transfer Cam Stephens is tied for third in rebounding (9.3). First-year sophomore Demon Brown is fourth in assists per game (4.83).

        The success of the first-year guys has sent senior guard Diego Guevara, third in C-USA history in 3-point field goals, and 6-foot-9 senior KenKay Jones to the bench.

        Charlotte has the league's top offense (84.2 ppg) and leads the country in 3-pointers a game (10.17). It also is No.1 in the conference in rebounding (40.9 per game).

        “I love the way this team goes to work,” Lutz said. “We practice hard.”

        Lutz's team played eight of its first 11 games on the road, including back-to-back losses at the Holiday Classic to Pepperdine and host Arizona State last weekend.

        “In both games, we had some good shots that we didn't make, but (we) didn't step up our defensive effort, which is what good teams do,” Lutz said.

        “I think our team wants to get better, and we're capable of getting better. What people have to realize is, yeah, we had some great wins early and we played awfully well. But we're still a lot of first-year players. I knew there were going to be some ups and downs, but we didn't want them to come this close to conference play, obviously.”

        FOOD DRIVE: The UC athletic department is collecting non-perishable food products at tonight's women's basketball game against Houston (7:30p.m.) and Saturday's men's game against Charlotte, both at Shoemaker Center. The donations will be used to replenish local food pantries and shelters after the holiday season. Fans bringing items to the women's game will get in free.


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