Friday, January 05, 2001

Bearcats bad boys no longer

        Nobody fears the UC Bearcats. The black uniforms, the banging, the biceps, the whole Oakland Raiders catalog that used to define Bearcats basketball is as quaint as a chest pass. It was pretty simple: If you drove the foul lane against UC, you got pureed. Now, teams like Toledo run through there like the Bearcats are hosting a barbecue.

        I'm sorry, but ... Toledo?

        Toledo is a nice little team. Also the sort of team Kenyon Martin would palm in his oversized hand and crush like a grape. If not Martin, then Jermaine Tate, or Danny Fortson. Or Bobby Brannen or Art Long or Rod Monroe. Take your wide-bodied pick. The line of enforcers looked like a Muscle Beach party.

        We'd grown accustomed to their in-your-face. UC's national Men in Black reputation was something the Bearcats occasionally resented but always used to their advantage.

        You don't want to play us. You really don't.

It ended with Kenyon

        Martin was the logical evolution of UC Swagger, an intimidating presence created over the years that gave the Bearcats an edge even before tipoff. Who knew it would stop with him?

        “Nobody's scared of us,” Steve Logan said. “We don't have tough guys like that anymore. There's not that killer instinct.”

        You could look for logic to explain it. Bob Huggins said things would be better if Donald Little could stay in games. When Little plays, the Bearcats are at least adequate on defense. When Little has more fouls than rebounds, UC's inside defense is the Welcome Wagon.

        Huggins also suggested that “We have knuckleheads who don't do what they're supposed to do.” But he says this every year. It doesn't explain the missing attitude, the muscle-flex presence that got into opponents' heads. Huggins recalled two games UC won practically by showing up and posing.

        “We're playing Southwest Louisiana,” Huggins recalled. “Guy shoots it, Kenyon catches the shot off the backboard and outlets it. You could see it in their faces. Game's over. Nobody wanted any part of Kenyon.

        “Another time, we're playing South Florida. Their whole deal was to stop Fortson. He got the first 15 points of the game. It was over.”

        Those Bearcats were a balled fist. They'd walk in as if they owned the gym. Now, they look like they're renting by the week.

        Said Logan: “When I first got here, we had this rule: No layups. You foul your man hard if he's going for a layup. You come in the lane, somebody's going to touch you. That's just how it was.”

Who are these Bearcats?

        And now? What's UC's identity now?

        “I don't really know the identity of this team,” Logan said.

        “We don't have anybody who knows what (intimidation) is,” Huggins said. “There's no frame of reference for most of these guys. How many times are you going to have Martin, Tate, (Ryan) Fletcher and Pete Mickeal on the same team? Probably never.

        “You give us another year in the weight room, another year's experience, and those kids you see out there are going to be men. They'll be in people's behinds like we've always been.”

        For now, Charlotte comes in Saturday for the first C-USA game of the season. It's time for the Bearcats to roll up their sleeves and revive some tough-guy memories.

        Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at (513) 768-8454.


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- DAUGHERTY: Bearcats bad boys no longer
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• 1:00 p.m. Sat. Nov. 20
• Nippert Stadium
• Radio: WLW-AM 700


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