Sunday, March 11, 2001

UC guards too pooped to pop

        LOUISVILLE — The legs are the first thing to go. They get weary, they turn wobbly, and they rob the jump shot of its altitude and its accuracy.

        The last thing to go is the conceit that fatigue is no factor. Basketball players are wary of anything that sounds like an excuse, even when it is the most plausible explanation.

        If you want to know why the Cincinnati Bearcats stumbled down the stretch Saturday afternoon, it was because they were worn out. Just don't expect any of them to acknowledge it.

        “It wasn't our legs,” Kenny Satterfield insisted.

        “I was a little tired,” Steve Logan said. “Other guys were a little tired. But that doesn't have anything to do
with it. What we've got to understand is that this is a championship game.”

        The Bearcats advanced to the Conference USA Championship game because of the brilliant play of their guards, Logan and Satterfield. But they lost Saturday's title game to Charlotte 80-72, and it may have been because their perimeter players were pooped.

        UC coach Bob Huggins preferred to blame his rebounding deficiencies — and they were certainly profound — but that has been a recurring complaint all season long. What was out of character for the Bearcats Saturday at Freedom Hall was that neither Logan nor Satterfield was able to exploit Charlotte's zone defense by shooting over it.

        Perhaps, as Satterfield said, it wasn't because of a lack of legs. Perhaps, as Huggins argued, the problem was not so much missed shots as the failure to secure second shots through determined rebounding. Still, any way you spin it, UC's second-half shot chart was a study in futility.

        The Bearcats made 11 field goals after intermission, but only two of them were longer than layups. Beyond point-blank range, UC was 2-for-23 — a level of marksmanship usually achieved only when the bad guys are giving chase to James Bond.

        “When you're fatigued, it's hard to make shots,” UC assistant coach Mick Cronin said. “I think that was a factor in the second half.”

        Logan was 1-for-8 from the field in the second half, Satterfield 2-for-8. Their outside shots frequently clanged off the front of the rim — a tell-tale sign of being tired. Trailing 46-39, Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz switched from a man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone as a temporary measure. As the Bearcats continued to misfire, however, Lutz stuck with his zone strategy and the 49ers forged a 14-2 run.

        “We usually use (the zone) for three or four minutes and then go back to man, but it was so successful we stayed with it,” Lutz said. “They had tired legs, no doubt about that — that's part of it. ... As well as they were playing against us man to man, we couldn't guard them, so that's a gamble we had to take.”

        It was a gamble that might not have succeeded at any other stage of the season, but this was UC's third game in 44 hours — a pace possible only in a conference tournament. The Bearcats are so dependent on their starting backcourt that Satterfield played 103 minutes in UC's three games; Logan played 99.

        The Bearcats can take comfort that their guards will never have to play on consecutive days during the NCAA Tournament. Their season may yet have some legs.

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- UC guards too pooped to pop
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