Friday, March 16, 2001

Sweet opportunity for UC




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        SAN DIEGO — Could the door have opened any wider? After four years of second-round tournament knockouts, UC's path to the round of 16 is right up the road, just past ... Kent State?

        You expected, one of these years, that UC would halt its second-round hex. Only maybe you didn't think it might happen this way. Having only to beat a 13th seed to get to the round of 16?

        Sweet.

        Maybe it's karma. Four seasons of maybe-next-years had to be good for something. Kenyon Martin, you did not fall in vain. That knuckleball bank shot West Virginia got in '98, to take out the 2nd-seeded Bearcats?
Maybe this is payback.

        First the Bearcats got a gracious seed, No.5 in the West. Now, Kent clears Indiana's big front line, and all those matchup headaches, from UC's path. Is somebody living right in Clifton?

        It could be the University of Cincinnati is due a break. After the early KOs, it could be time for a long count. And don't you know it might happen for what is the least recognized Bearcats team in a decade.

        UC won Thursday night. Just as importantly, fourth-seeded Indiana didn't. The Bearcats beat Brigham Young. Kent took out the Hoosiers. For the first 34 minutes, the Golden Flashes hung on like a bad cold. Then a plucky little gym rat named Trevor Huffman ran IU over and out of the NCAA Tournament.

        (Nice opening day effort by the Big Ten, by the way. Three losses in four games. Not to worry, though. The league still has a few more teams capable of making the selection committee look silly. The committee only gave the Big Ten seven bids.)

        Against BYU, the Bearcats did everything right in the first half, except lead by more than five. Eight of their first 17 points came from center B.J. Grove, who was averaging just four a game.

        They also made BYU's best player, 6-foot-9 senior forward Mekeli Wesley, work for everything he got. Grove and Donald Little kept a forearm in Wesley's back; when Wesley caught the ball, he had Jamaal Davis or Antwan Jones in his face. UC's defense has been a rock this season.

        Wesley still managed nine of BYU's 30 points, but he also had three turnovers.

        The Cougars didn't have UC's skill or athleticism. You guessed they were living on borrowed time. It was merely a matter of minutes before the game would reflect that. It happened early in the second half.

        UC led 38-30 when Jones hit his third three of the night, an NBA-sized bomb from the top of the key. Kenny Satterfield followed with a three from the right wing; Steve Logan matched him from the same spot. In just over a minute, UC had gone from an eight-point maybe to a 15-point definitely. It was fairly showtime after that.

        Meanwhile, what to make of Kent State? It helped the Flashes that Indiana playmaker Tom Coverdale injured a hip in the first half and hobbled the rest of the way. “There was a five-minute stretch when we played like a high school team,” coach Mike Davis said.

        Still, Kent was relentless, especially its guards. “I knew toward the end of the game, they would break down,” Huffman said of IU. “Their guards play so many minutes.”

        So do UC's. It should make for an interesting show Saturday.

        E-mail: pdaugherty@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/daugherty.

Online pool and college hoops coverage at Cincinnati.com



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