Sunday, March 18, 2001

Bearcats dial up defense

        SAN DIEGO - What do I do now? Trevor Huffman didn't know. Kent State's 6-foot-1 guard and savior would get the ball above the top of the key, and there would be Kenny Satterfield, who seemed to have more than two hands, swatting at him. Behind Satterfield was 6-11 Donald Little, looming like a redwood. Do you know what it's like to be 6-1 and have a 6-11 guy waving his arms at you?

        “No one's ever doubled me like that off the ball screen. That's my bread and butter,” Huffman said. “I had to make the extra pass. It's hard seeing over those guys when they come out and smother you like that.”


Jamaal Davis on Trevor Huffman
(AP photo)
        Cincinnati's defense created a little jail cell for Huffman. He wrecked Indiana Thursday night, scoring 20 in the second half and making room for his teammates. The Bearcats watched and learned.

        When he got the ball, they stayed in his face. When a post player came out to set a screen, they dropped off the post player and doubled Huffman so effectively, he couldn't shoot and he couldn't see to pass.

        No Mickey Mouse effort

        “It's tough to look over us,” offered Jamaal Davis.

        Take away Huffman, watch Kent disappear.

        It's why assistant coaches watch tape until their retinas detach. Mick Cronin was in his hotel room at 3 Friday morning, watching movies of Huffman rolling off that ball screen unbothered. Cronin took a whole bunch of notes.

        “Ninety percent of our preparation was to defend” the screens, said Cronin, the UC assistant coach. “That's 90 percent of (Kent's) offense.”

        And so the Bearcats busted the monkey off their backs. They're going to Disneyland for the West Regional up the road in Anaheim, because they played defense this weekend like the '85 Chicago Bears. Like a bunch of crazed dogs.

        “You deserve it,” Bob Huggins said to Steve Logan, as coach and player bear-hugged when Logan left the game with a minute to go.

        Low-five highlights

        “I appreciate you, man,” said Logan. “Way to coach.”

        Logan proceeded to low-five everyone on the UC bench, including the trainer, the optometrist and the orthopedic surgeon. The junior had seen two postseasons finish in flames. Nobody would beat the Bearcats in a second-round game this time.

        “It's been a tough road in this program. We've come a long way,” said Logan. As for the group-hug, low-five dance, “We just wanted to show we appreciate each other.”

        The Bearcats got a good seed. They were lucky Kent did away with Indiana. But great defense is equal parts teamwork and hard work. It's got little to do with talent and less to do with luck. And make no mistake: This UC team is playing great defense.

        I asked Huffman how many open shots he got in the first half Saturday. He was 1-for-5 then, the one a three-point heave with Satterfield's palm in his nose. “That one wasn't open. I took it all the way to the basket a few times, tried to get some contact,” he said. “That's about it.”

        UC led by eight at half. But, just like Thursday against BYU, everyone in the gym knew who was in control. The Bearcats played Huffman straight-up most of the second half, but by then his legs and his spirit were shot. He finished 2-for-11.

        “I've never faced guards like that,” Huffman said after the game.

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