Robert Jackson had three baskets in the first three minutes, against three different UC centers. Marquette's big man strolled into the Bearcats' lane like he was cruising Aisle 7 at Kroger. It was easy: Get the ball, back it in, turn around and score. Three baskets in three possessions, from gimme-putt range.
This was UC we were watching, right? The UC Bearcats? Back in the day, not long ago, Jackson would have received a double-elbow welcome in the Cincinnati lane.
Art Long, Danny Fortson, Bobby Brannen and Kenyon Martin would give you a Muscle Beach hello if you brought the ball into their paint. You'd be picking up pieces of jaw. That's just how it was.
Now, Bob Huggins is pacing his sideline like a first-time father in the delivery room. He's starting Kareem Johnson, yanking him after a minute and a half, sending in Derek Hollman for, oh, 45 seconds, then shoving Rod Flowers to the scorer's table. Jackson is clubbing them all.
UC head coach Bob Huggins rips his suit coat off and argues a call.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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UC lost a deceptively close 82-76 game to Marquette on Saturday. The Bearcats lost something else, too, something you figured they'd always have: their swagger. Their snarl. Their unique sense of UC muscular-ism.
"We didn't fight," Huggins decided.
To Huggins, there is no bigger indictment.
The Bearcats didn't box out; they didn't chase loose balls. They were outrebounded by 15. In a game they needed to jump-start the defining part of their season, they were backed into a corner and TKO'd. At home. Who'd have thought?
Said Tony Bobbitt: "I've been watching Cincinnati basketball since I was a child. We're not playing Cincinnati basketball."
If your talent can't compete, Huggins' reasoning goes, then your will should be in overdrive. Huggins has gotten 6-foot-5 guys to play like they were 6-10. Getting 6-8 guys to play that way shouldn't be so hard.
It seems that it is. Barely two minutes into the game, Huggins sat his entire starting lineup for not hustling.
"If we still had 15 scholarships like we used to, they wouldn't have gotten back in the game," he said.
Huggins spent the rest of the day running players in and out like they were doing windsprints. In, out, in, out. The coach looked like a man with a TV remote in his hand, changing channels.
The talent isn't what it usually is at UC. The Bearcats' post players are, to be polite, lacking. Watching them play defense is like oral surgery. Offensively, they just aren't there. It's hard to beat anyone playing 4-on-5.
The Bearcats have always had an identity. They've always had a player they could lean on when games got iffy. They'd win home games on intimidation alone. They have none of that now.
Marquette led by 17 with four minutes left, and Shoemaker Center was silent enough that you could hear Golden Eagles fans gloating.
"We quit tonight," Bobbitt said. "They were putting the ball in our faces."
Stokes was a freshman when senior Kenyon Martin enforced the lane like the baddest cop on the beat. Stokes barely can believe what he's seeing.
"My head isn't really here," he said. "We've got to find a way. The rest of the season can't keep going like this."
It's possible that it can. At Louisville, here against Oklahoma State, at Memphis, at Marquette. That's the next five weeks.
Someone better be sharpening his elbows.
Marquette 82, UC 76
Daugherty: Snarl gone from 'Cats
Rankings become least of concerns
Xavier 66, Richmond 52
Victory a little sweeter for West
OTHER COLLEGE BASKETBALL
No. 7 Kentucky 87, South Carolina 69
Miami 57, Buffalo 55
Ohio State 65, Northwestern 52
No. 8 Louisville 95, No. 19 Indiana 76
Syracuse stuns No. 2 Pitt
Texas A&M denies Knight 800th victory
Top 25 roundup: Who's No. 1? Maybe Texas
How the Top 25 fared
Women: UConn blasts No. 1 Duke
Smith's late basket lifts Norse men to 76-75 victory
REDS / MLB
Shake this winter chill, make tracks for Florida
Reds Spring Training Guide
A look at the Grapefruit League
Leading off, Adam Dunn?
Judge: Put Rose in HOF
BENGALS / NFL
Ditka interested in coaching Lions
Garcia frustrated by 49ers' coaching conundrum
Rice's heart fonder for Hawaii
Hula Bowl: South 27, North 24
Paterno: 2006 might be final year at Penn State
Grambling QB wins Gaither Award
Streaking Champali adds WEBN at Turfway
Medaglia d'Oro wins Strub Stakes after three-month layoff
Record number nominated for Triple Crown races
Groeschen: St. X swimmers step up
Schmidt: Former prep football stars get shot at pros
Withrow gets top seed in Division I
Sectional tournament pairings
St. Henry hits All 'A' state
Ohio boys games
Ohio girls games
Ky. boys games
Ky. girls games
Prep sports results
Herron pulls away by 4 strokes in Hope Classic
NBA: Penalized Pacers prevail
MacInnis, Roy lead West to skills victory
NHL YoungStars: East 8, West 3
NHL All-Star notebook
Ducks waddle past Admirals
The Boogity Man is back
Tight battle up front in Daytona
Ex-GCL, XU players skip along in ACC
Local man knows story behind numbers
Enquirer's Page Two power rankings
AS THE SPORTS WORLD TURNS
Lewis prefers Tyson rematch over quality opponent