Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Is there improbable run in the Bearcats?

Bracket offers opportunity

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Wouldn't it be ironic? There's no Kenyon Martin, no intimidating physical presence. There's no Ruben Patterson, no high-flying human highlight film. There's no No.2 or 3 seed. There were no preseason expectations that this could be a Sweet 16 team. Heck, this group isn't even ranked.

        Yet, as the University of Cincinnati prepares to enter its 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament, the Bearcats (23-9) have a chance to end a string of four straight second-round exits.

        Of course, this team could also flame out in the first round.

        UC, the West Region's No.5 seed, plays No. 12 seed Brigham Young at approximately 10:25 p.m. Thursday at Cox Arena in San Diego. The winner will play at approximately 8:10 p.m. Saturday against the Indiana-Kent State winner.

        The internet was not exactly oozing with confidence in the Bearcats on Monday.

        ESPN.com said BYU has “a legitimate chance to upset Cincinnati” because of its inside-outside combination of scorers. CBSSportsline.com said the “Cougars will show 'Cats they can run, too.” FOXSports.com picks UC to win but calls the game an “Upset Alert!” And The Sporting News lists Cincinnati as “Likely to be a bust.”

        “This team is an underdog compared to (UC) teams in the past,” junior Jamaal Davis said. “We just have to come out and keep proving people wrong. I think we feed off the negative thoughts of other people.”

        UC, which has won six of its last seven games and nine of 11, is not the only hot team in the immediate portion of its bracket.

        • BYU (24-8) has also won six of its last seven and nine of 11. The Cougars lead the nation in free throw shooting (.782) and were 24-of-39 from 3-point range (.615) during the Mountain West Conference. They have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1995.

        • Indiana (21-12) is in the NCAA Tournament for the 16th consecutive year, the third-longest streak in the country behind North Carolina (27) and Arizona (17), only this time they are without Bob Knight, who was fired in September. The Hoosiers were last in the Sweet 16 in 1994; since then they are 2-6 in the NCAA, including last year's 77-57 loss to Pepperdine.

        The fourth-seeded Hoosiers, under interim coach Mike Davis, have won five of their last six games and seven of nine. They set a Big Ten Conference record by holding league opponents to .382 shooting from the field. They would give UC trouble inside with 6-10 junior Kirk Haston, a first-team all-league pick, and 6-9 Jared Jeffries, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. They combined to average more than 32 points and 15 rebounds a game.

        • Kent (23-9) has won four of its last five games and eight of 10. The Golden Flashes are in their second NCAA Tournament in three years and have won 23 games — a school record — three straight years.

        With all that said, UC's path could be worse. The other No.4 seeds are UCLA, Kansas and Oklahoma. The other 12 seeds include always dangerous Gonzaga and a tough Utah State squad.

        Cincinnati has advanced to at least the Sweet 16 three times under coach Bob Huggins (1992, '93 and '96). The only time it lost in the first round was to Wisconsin in '94.

        “I think we're going to beat BYU,” sophomore center Donald Little said. “We had a great practice today; everybody was focused. If we get everybody on the same page, we win. I have no doubt. Some people doubt us, but when we come together, we can play.”

Online pool and college hoops coverage at Cincinnati.com

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