Sunday, January 28, 2001
UC's long road not without hope
Does Wake win signal change in direction?
The goal, Jamaal Davis said, was to get Cincinnati basketball back on the map. To return the Bearcats to their accustomed place in the hierarchy of hoops. To restore the feasibility of March Madness.
We wanted to open people's eyes, Davis said Saturday afternoon, and let them know we're still around.
Consider that statement made. Saturday's 78-72 overtime victory over ninth-ranked Wake Forest put Cincinnati back on the map, at least temporarily. It reminded college basketball's cartographers that the Bearcats may yet require a road to this year's NCAA Tournament.
If this was not UC's best game of the season, it was probably its most passionate, its most resilient, its most encouraging.
A pressure situation
Beating the Demon Deacons does not guarantee the Bearcats a berth in the NCAA's field of 64 even though the witnesses included Dick Vitale but losing this game probably would have hastened their elimination.
Bob Huggins appeared to get his message through.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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You only get so many lives, UC coach Bob Huggins said, and we're running out of lives.
With six losses already on their ledger, and no more ranked teams remaining on their schedule, the Bearcats showed up Saturday in need of a showcase victory and imbued with an uncommon sense of urgency.
Everything was riding on this game, UC guard Steve Logan said. It was a big lift for us. Everybody knows what happens if we didn't win today. We'd be 12-7 and it would be tough getting into the NCAA Tour nament.
Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, who has problems of his own, recognized it as a watershed game for UC. For the always-nurturing
Huggins, it was more of a woodshed game.
Huggins responded to Wednesday's dispiriting loss against Louisville with two days of workouts straight out of the Marines' Parris Island playbook. The Bearcats were barred from their plush dressing room at Shoemaker Center, issued generic practice togs instead of their usual designer duds and generally treated as if they were undeserving stewards of UC's tradition.
Another coach might have taken subtler steps, but say this for Bob Huggins: there's no mistaking his message. His players always know where they stand and why they sit.
The difference Huggins observed Saturday was that when his players were sitting on the bench, they were paying closer attention to the proceedings instead of their individual statistics. When he sent guys into the game, consequently, they actually knew who they were supposed to guard.
Whether this represents lasting change or a fleeting tease is yet to be determined. Though Davis' eight rebounds were a career high, the Bearcats are still too soft up front for sustained success. More troubling, perhaps, they have been unable to rely on consistent play from their most gifted player, point guard Kenny Satterfield.
These problems would not portend a long run in the NCAA Tournament. They suggest the need for a strong recruiting class and the advisability of Satterfield resisting NBA overtures for at least another year.
Satterfield failed to score in Saturday's first half and committed an ugly turnover in driving to the basket at the end of regulation.
Yet it was his tough, turnaround jumper that put UC ahead in overtime, and it was his last-minute free throws that ultimately finished Wake Forest. Satterfield declined to speak to reporters Saturday, but his erratic performance provided eloquent testimony on the nature of young teams alternately exasperating and exhilarating.
Such a team inevitably plots an uneven path. Mapmakers, take note.