Thursday, February 21, 2002

Stakes high for Eagles, Bearcats

Winning matchup big step toward C-USA title

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        University of Cincinnati assistant coach Dan Peters was walking purposefully through Shoemaker Center before Wednesday's practice, scouting report for Marquette in hand and a serious look on his face.

        Why not? This is serious.

        “Everything's on the line if you think about,” he said.

        Here is what could be at stake Friday night when the No.4-ranked Bearcats (25-2) play host to No.9 Marquette (23-3) on national TV (ESPN):

        • First place in Conference USA and probably the league's regular-season championship. Both teams have 12-1 conference records. UC has a tougher remaining schedule, finishing at Louisville (15-10, 6-7) and at home against Memphis (21-7, 11-3), while Marquette finishes at East Carolina (10-16, 3-10) and at home against DePaul (9-16, 2-11).

        UC has at least shared the conference title every year since the league started in 1995-96. “I think it's a great source of pride with our guys,” coach Bob Huggins said. “I don't think any of our guys want to be remembered as the first team that didn't win the league.”

        • The No.1 seed in the conference tournament.

        • The league's coach of the year award, which very well might go to the winner — Huggins or Marquette's Tom Crean, both of whom also could be considered for national coach of the year.

        • The C-USA player of the year award, which often goes to the best player on the best team. Though Huggins believes Bearcats senior Steve Logan to be a lock regardless, Marquette sophomore Dwyane Wade is sure to get strong consideration if the Golden Eagles sweep two games from UC.

        • A higher seed in the NCAA Tournament. If Cincinnati has designs on a No.1 seed, it probably has to win this game. This is the Bearcats' third game against a Top 25 team this season; it is 1-1 so far with a loss at Oklahoma State and a victory at Wake Forest.

        • National ranking. UC surely would fall with a loss, and Marquette would rise.

        • Pride. The Eagles have defeated the Bearcats three consecutive times. “If that isn't motive enough to come out and play, then I don't know what is,” UC junior Leonard Stokes said.

        The Golden Eagles ended what at the time was the longest winning streak in the country at 20 games when they beat Cincinnati 74-60 in Milwaukee Feb.2. Now Marquette comes in with a 12-game winning streak.

        UC has won 15 straight home games since an overtime loss to the Golden Eagles Feb.18, 2001. The Bearcats are 70-5 in Shoemaker over the past five years.

        “Marquette is going to come here and really play aggressive,” Logan said. “They believe they can win. That's what makes it a game.”

        “This is a must-win,” UC senior Jamaal Davis said. “We're 0-for-3 since I've been here, and I don't want to leave my senior year being 0-for-4.”

        Marquette, which was ranked for six weeks earlier in the season, returned to the Associated Press poll at No.18 on Feb.4 after defeating UC. It moved to No.11, then ninth in the past two weeks.

        Crean sounds like Huggins when he talks about preparing for each game one at a time without looking ahead.

        He said his players have not re-evaluated any goals directed toward how deep they can go in the NCAA Tournament.

        “I think when you set long-range goals, you get away from what's important in the whole process, which is getting better every day and understanding how important each game is, so we're going to stick with that philosophy,” Crean said.

        “All our guys are smart enough to realize there are a lot of things out there that we have the potential to do right now, but the biggest mistake we could make would be to start looking ahead or start planning things that haven't come about.”


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