Monday, March 18, 2002

UC women meet old nemesis

Bearcats have lost 18 straight vs. old Metro rival

By Chris Dearing
Enquirer contributor

        COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Cincinnati women's basketball team finally exorcised the demon of never winning a NCAA Tournament game, now they have another challenge to face that most of the players and coaching staff doesn't even know about.

        The Bearcats have lost 18 consecutive games to South Carolina, their second-round opponent in the NCAA East Regional here. The schools used to meet every year when both played in the old Metro Conference.

        “The odds seem to be in our favor,” Cincinnati coach Laurie Pirtle joked when asked about the losing streak. “We just feel good just to be here. We're working hard getting ready for a South Carolina team that is very athletic and very talented.”

        The Bearcats, the sixth seed, defeated Saint Peter's 76-63; South Carolina, the third seed, defeated Liberty 69-61 on Saturday. The winner of today's 7:30 p.m. game will advance to the Sweet 16 in Raleigh, N.C. March 23-25.

        After finishing 11-17 last season, No.13 South Carolina has made one of the most dramatic turnarounds in NCAA history — the third-best to be precise. South Carolina improved to 23-6 and a second-place finish in the tough Southeastern Conference.

        The Gamecocks rely on Jocelyn Penn and Shaun Gortman, both first-team all-SEC picks. They al so have Petra Ujhelyi, a bruising 6-foot-4 center from Budapest, Hungary, and Teresa Geter, another 6-4 player, to rebound. Cristina Ciocan, the point guard, starts the break.

        “South Carolina is very good in transition,” Pirtle said. “They know exactly what they want to do and they know how to do it.”

        South Carolina outrebounds teams by an average of nearly four a game.

        “It's very important that we don't let them get easy rebounds and putbacks,” UC forward Brittani Young said.

        When Penn (16.9 points) and Gortman (15.1) are out and running, the Gamecocks are most successful. When they've scored over 70 points this season, they are a perfect 19-0.

        The last time the schools met was Feb.11, 1991, an 81-58 South Carolina victory.

        Cincinnati (27-4) has won 14 in a row and is ranked No. 19 in the AP poll.

        The Bearcats had to come back from a five-point deficit with 2:39 remaining to force overtime.

        “Now it's all about surviving and advancing,” Pirtle said. “We hadn't played in 13 days and it was good to get the cobwebs out.”

        South Carolina coach Susan Walvius said UC poses some problems.

        “They play a lot of traditional 1-3-1 zone,” Walvius said. “They move the ball well against the zone. They are a good shooting team who executes their offense very quickly. We're going to have to do a good job on defense to beat them.”

        Valerie King, the Bearcats' leading scorer at 19.1 points, struggled most of the night until she scored 13 of her 24 points in overtime vs. St. Peter's.

        “If you put a lot of attention on King, the other kids are capable of beating you,” Walvius said.

Sunday story: UC women gain 1st NCAA tourney win
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