Friday, January 31, 2003

UC slacking heading into key stretch


Lack of effort hurting team, Huggins says

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Shortly after the University of Cincinnati's team bus pulled away from Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., on Wednesday night, a tape of Marquette's Jan.25 71-52 win over DePaul was in the VCR. The Bearcats were treated to an in-depth look at Marquette, their next opponent, beating up on DePaul, the team that had just physically battered them in a 56-52 Blue Demons victory.

"I was thinking, `What the hell are we going to do come Saturday?'" said UC point guard Taron Barker. "Because Marquette has got some big guys. I was just thinking, man, they're coming into the Shoe and we've got to defend it."

UC (13-4, 6-1 Conference USA) faces No.18 Marquette (14-3, 6-1) at Shoemaker Center in a game both teams need to win to keep pace with first-place Louisville, which is unbeaten in C-USA play.

The Bearcats play at Louisville Wednesday.

Marquette starts a front line of 6-foot-7 Todd Townsend, 6-9 Robert Jackson and 6-10 Scott Merritt - a foreboding prospect for UC, which has been suspect along the front line all season.

And then there's Marquette swingman Dwyane Wade, who leads the conference in scoring with an average of 23.1 points a game.

UC's answer up front is 6-7 Jason Maxiell, who has struggled with teams that double-team him when he touches the ball on the low block.

Maxiell has made only eight of his last 24 shots.

"I'm expecting it," Maxiell said of the double team. "I try to look to see where it's coming from, then try to hit the open man. If they don't come, then I try to hit the turnaround jump shot."

It sounds good in theory, but lately it hasn't worked well. As a result, the offense has bogged down, which makes it even more imperative for the Bearcats to play solid defense.

"We've got to make a better effort," said UC coach Bob Huggins. "We can't get outrebounded. We've got to come up with loose balls. We can't drop balls out of bounds.

"We've kind of survived here because we've defended and because we've rebounded the ball better than everybody else."

Huggins and his players are well aware of the challenges they face during the next 10 days. In addition to Marquette and Louisville, they face No.9 Oklahoma State Feb.9, then travel to Charlotte Feb.15.

If the Bearcats don't correct their effort-related deficiencies or improve their offensive prowess, they could be looking at five straight losses and find themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

"We've done that here for a long time," Huggins said of UC's formidable schedule during the next few weeks. "That's why you practice the way we practice. I'm looking forward to it. ... In the next few games here, we're going to get tested. We'll find out how much resolve we have."

Shooting guard Field Williams, who scored 22 points against DePaul, said the Bearcats have to rededicate themselves not only for the next few games but also for the remaining 10 games of the regular season.

"It's not really the next three games, it's the next 10 games," Williams said. "(The NCAA selection committee) always goes by the last 10 games of the season. We've got to go and hopefully pull out all 10 of them."

As disappointing as the DePaul loss was, Williams said it won't shake the Bearcats' confidence.

"If we let that hurt our confidence, then you're really not a basketball player," Williams said.

E-mail bkoch@enquirer.com




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