Sunday, February 18, 2001

UC's Little finding his footing

'The more I play, the more I improve,' center says

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Donald Little is feeling confident today. Which has nothing to with tomorrow. Or last week. Or next week.

  • When: 9 p.m. today.
  • Where: Shoemaker Center (13,176).
  • Records: Marquette 12-10 (7-4 C-USA), UC 17-7 (7-4).
  • TV: ESPN2.
  • Radio: WLW-AM (700).
  • Tickets: $20. Call 556-CATS.
Odartey Blankson-6-6-Fr.-6.0
  Oluoma Nnamaka-6-7-Jr.-9.9
John Mueller-6-10-Sr.-2.0
  Brian Wardle -6-5-Sr.-18.6
  Cordell Henry-5-9-Jr.-12.6
  Coach: Tom Crean (27-24, second season; same overall)
Immanuel McElroy-6-4-Jr.-5.9
Jamaal Davis -6-9-Jr.-7.5
  B.J. Grove-6-11-So.-3.7
  or Donald Little-6-11-So.-6.8
  Steve Logan-6-0-Jr.-17.0
  Kenny Satterfield-6-2-So.-13.9
  Coach: Bob Huggins (293-93, 12th season; 461-165 overall)
  • 5: Consecutive UC victories over Marquette at Shoemaker.
  • 2: Marquette's scoring defense ranking in C-USA (63.8 ppg).
  • 3: UC's scoring defense ranking in C-USA (65.9 ppg).
        The University of Cincinnati sophomore center is admittedly a work in progress. Little, who has come off the bench nine of the past 10 games, is averaging 22.8 minutes a game, the most he said he has ever averaged.

        “I never averaged 10 minutes a game,” he said. “(Not in) middle school. (Not in) high school. My recognition came from AAU.”

        Because of his limited experience, Little doesn't have great instincts on the court.

        When he catches the ball with his back to the basket, he is not always sure how far away the goal is, though he says the protective goggles he wears, because of a blind spot in his left eye, don't affect him anymore.

        “I'm still trying to get a feel for the game,” Little said. “I'm getting a better idea of where the basket is. It's part of learning and being comfortable. The more I play, the more I improve.

        “I've got to learn fast. There's a lot of pressure. But it doesn't bother me at all.”

        No matter who starts tonight, Little and fellow center B.J. Grove — both listed at 6-foot-11 — should be keys in the Bearcats' game against Marquette with first place in Conference USA's American Division and a share of the overall league lead on the line.

        The Golden Eagles defeated UC last month 47-44. That game's most notable statistic: a 36-24 rebounding advantage for Marquette.

        Little was a major factor in the Bearcats' 66-65 victory over Memphis on Thursday night, finishing with 11 points — his fifth game scoring in double figures — and five rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench.

        Most important were his three consecutive baskets, starting with 4:28 remaining, the last of which — a short, left-handed hook — put Cincinnati ahead 61-59. For almost four minutes, he was UC's offense.

        “I felt real good after that,” Little said. “My confidence level went back up. Right now, I want the ball. Early in the season, I wanted the ball. But in the middle of the season, I didn't. Now I want it again.”

        Over his first three games, Little averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds, scored in double figures each time and had UC fans believing he might somewhat fill the void left by departed national player of the year Kenyon Martin.

        But in the past 21 games, he has averaged 5.7 points and 5.0 rebounds and has scored in double figures just twice. Grove took over as the starting center Jan.13.

        “Me and Coach (Bob Huggins), we had a couple falling-outs early in the season,” Little said. “I just started shutting my mouth and listening more. In my early childhood, I didn't have a coach that got on me. He was on me, and I wasn't used to it. My first reaction was to say something back.

        “If I do what he says, I'll be fine.”

        Said Huggins: “I think the biggest thing Donald's improved on lately is he's starting to listen a little bit better. It's hard to get better when you don't listen.”

        Huggins had hoped Little would be more of an offensive threat, that when UC badly needed a basket it would be able to throw the ball into the paint and get two points from its big man.

        Little and Grove have had their moments. Together they average 10.5 points and 8.9 rebounds. Little tries hard to stay out of foul trouble, and here's why: In the 14 games in which he has played at least 20 minutes, Little has averaged 8.2 points and 7.3 rebounds; in the other 10 games, he has averaged 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds.

        His most recent woes have come at the foul line, where he's just 2-of-8 in the past three games. Little missed the front end of three one-and-ones in the final 2:39 at Memphis.

        “I think he can be a lot better than what he is,” Huggins said. “Donald plays hard, he just doesn't play smart sometimes.

        “Donald's got to make better judgments on when to go for a block and when to stay and rebound. That's what Kenyon got so good at. Kenyon very rarely went after shots he didn't get and take himself out of rebounding position. Donald does it all the time.”


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• 1:00 p.m. Sat. Nov. 20
• Nippert Stadium
• Radio: WLW-AM 700


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