Saturday, January 20, 2001

Big C-USA challenge comes early for UC


Billikens may set tone for Bearcats

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This seems a bit unusual for the University of Cincinnati. Just five games into its sixth Conference USA season, coach Bob Huggins is calling today's showdown at Saint Louis “big.”

        “This kind of puts us back in contention, or makes it a whole lot harder for us,” he said.

UC at SAINT LOUIS
  • When: 1 p.m. today.
  • Where: Savvis Center (20,000), St. Louis.
  • Records: UC 12-4 (3-1 C-USA), Saint Louis 10-7 (2-2).
  • TV: Channel 19.
  • Radio: WLW-AM (700).
  CINCINNATI
  Player-Ht-Yr-Avg
  Immanuel McElroy-6-4-Jr.-5.6
  Jamaal Davis -6-9-Jr.-8.8
  B.J. Grove-6-11-So.-3.0
  Steve Logan-6-0-Jr.-14.1
  Kenny Satterfield-6-2-So.-16.1
  Coach: Bob Huggins (288-90, 12th season, 456-162 overall)
  SAINT LOUIS
  Player-Ht-Yr-Avg
  Justin Tatum -6-7-Sr.-9.4
  Chris Sloan-6-7-Fr.-1.6
  Chris Heinrich -6-11-Sr.-5.9
  Maurice Jeffers -6-4-Sr.-15.8
  Marque Perry -6-1-So.-10.9
  Coach: Lorenzo Romar (29-21, second season, 71-65 overall)
  BY THE NUMBERS
  • 62.5: Steve Logan's 3-point percentage over the last four games.
  • 11-2: UC's series lead over Saint Louis in C-USA play.
        The Bearcats (12-4, 3-1), who have won five straight regular-season league titles, trail Marquette by a half-game in the American Division. The Golden Eagles (8-6, 3-0), who play host to Charlotte today, are the only unbeaten team in conference play.

        The Billikens (10-7, 2-2) had only Friday to prepare for UC. They lost in overtime Thursday at Memphis in a nationally televised game that did not end until after 11:15 p.m. Saint Louis blew a seven-point lead in the last 4:20 of regulation.

        “It's not always the most ideal situation, but everyone in the conference has to do it sooner or later,” Saint Louis coach Lorenzo Romar said of the quick turnaround.

        The last time these teams met was in the 2000 conference tournament. That was the game during which Kenyon Martin broke his leg, and UC lost 68-58. The Billikens went on to win the tournament and gain a berth in the NCAA Tournament; they lost to Utah in the first round.

        This year's Saint Louis team poses problems for UC. The Billikens lead the conference in field goal percentage defense (.382) and are tied for third in average points allowed (65.1 a game).

        “They really guard,” Huggins said. “They don't give you any easy shots, and they're very patient on offense. They're very similar (to Marquette), but they're more athletic.”

        Saint Louis' top frontline players (6-foot-11 Chris Heinrich, 6-10 Chris Braun, 6-9 Matt Baniak and 6-7 Justin Tatum) combine to average 29.3 points and 18 rebounds a game.

        “To us, the game's going to be won in the paint,” UC assistant coach Mick Cronin said. “Because they're big and strong and experienced.”

        The Billikens also have a go-to guy in 6-4 senior Maurice Jeffers, who leads the team in scoring (15.8) and rebounding (6.1). He has averaged more than 20 points and eight rebounds over his past eight games.

        “He is a leader that is not a rah-rah type leader,” Romar said. “He leads by example. Every game he goes out and guards the opponent's best scorer on the perimeter, and even sometimes some of their frontline scorers.”

        Romar calls Jeffers one of the most under-rated players in the league.

        “He was a slasher last year,” Romar said. “Now he's become more powerful and more of a confident slasher. He would go to the basket and he was 75 percent sure that he was going to score. Now he's about 95 percent sure he's going to score when he gets the shot that he wants.”

        Jeffers averaged 19.3 points and 9.1 rebounds at Westark Community College in 1998-99. Last season, he was Saint Louis' No.3 scor er (6.6 ppg) and its co-defensive player of the year.

        “He's playing with confidence,” Huggins said. “He was athletic and all that last year, he just didn't have any confidence.”

        Said Cronin: “He's not a great 3-point shooter, but he's a guy who can grab the ball and take it on his own and jump over you and score.”

        One thing Saint Louis does not do much is shoot 3s — it is last in C-USA in average 3-pointers per game (2.94). The Billikens have attempted just 158 in 17 games; UC has attempted 274 in 16 games.

        In four league games, the Bearcats are 30-of-60 on 3-point attempts.
       



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