Thursday, February 27, 2003

UC 53, East Carolina 52

Uninspired Bearcats escape upset

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Stop me if you've heard this one before. The University of Cincinnati Bearcats didn't shoot well Wednesday night. They lacked emotion and intensity and they can't seem to figure out why.

Eric Hicks celebrates with Jason Maxiell after their narrow victory.
(AP photo)
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They did manage to squeak past East Carolina 53-52 before 12,202 fans at Shoemaker Center on a Jason Maxiell free throw with 4.2 seconds left, but somehow it didn't seem like much of a reason to celebrate.

"I'm going to try to forget about it as soon as I possibly can," said UC coach Bob Huggins.

It was the first time the Bearcats have won consecutive games since they beat East Carolina and Charlotte on Jan. 22 and Jan. 25.

For UC (16-8, 8-5 Conference USA) it was another severe mood swing. The Bearcats came down from the emotional high that carried them to an upset of Louisville on Saturday back to the uninspired level they have occupied for so much of the season.

"That's what we're trying to fix," said senior forward Leonard Stokes, who scored 13 points as an encore to his 31-point outburst against Louisville. "We can't get complacent when we get a big victory. We've got to work the same way we did before that game."

Maxiell is fouled with four seconds left, setting up the inning free throw.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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East Carolina (12-13, 3-11) has lost four in a row and 11 of its last 13, but the Pirates did not back down from UC.

They were outrebounded by just one and played a pesky zone defense that frequently confused the Bearcats. UC shot 35.1 percent from the field and made only nine of 18 free throws.

Tony Bobbitt, coming off a 25-point game against Louisville, scored only five.

"I think there was a lot of pressure on them," said East Carolina coach Bill Herrion. "They're playing with some urgency. They've got to try to win every game to get into the NCAA Tournament."

They're also trying to outlast UAB for the last first-round bye in the league tournament March 12-15 in Louisville.

Bob Huggins directs his team during the final seconds.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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Huggins ended a streak of using the same starting lineup for seven games in a row by inserting Rod Flowers at center in place of Kareem Johnson, who was benched for not practicing hard.

UC led by eight in the first half, but never by more than five in the second. The Pirates actually held small leads at several junctures, the last one at 52-51 on a Gabriel Mikulas basket with 3:54 to go.

But they would not score again. They missed two free throws with 3:02 left and fired up several ill-advised shots in the closing minutes.

UC, which didn't convert a field goal in the last 5:23, took possession with 37.4 seconds left and the score tied at 52. The Bearcats cleared the floor for Stokes, who penetrated into the lane, then passed the ball out to Field Williams.

Williams dribbled to the baseline and unleashed a jump shot that hit off the rim. Maxiell rebounded and was fouled by Belton Rivers.

Maxiell made the first of a one-and-one bonus situation, then missed the second, to give UC a 53-52 lead.

UC's Kareem Johnson and Eric Hicks battle East Carolina's Gabriel Mikulas and Jonathan Moore for a rebound.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
"I just took my time and let it go," Maxiell said of the first free throw. "I took a deep breath. If it went in, it went in. If it didn't, we went to overtime."

Erroyl Bing rebounded and East Carolina called time out at mid-court with 1.8 seconds left. Derrick Wiley inbounded the ball to Travis Holcomb-Faye, whose 3-point attempt at the buzzer was no good.

All that was left was for Huggins to try one more time to figure out how his team could play so well one day and so poorly a few days later.

"It's probably more frustrating than normally it would be because of the year we had a year ago," Huggins said. "It was fun to go to practice. They played so hard. Sometimes this is like going to a wake rather than a practice. It's hard when you have to try to coach effort and energy and enthusiasm and at the same time maybe throw in a little bit of basketball."


Team rebounds - 4.

Team rebounds - 1.

E. Carolina2428-52
3-pointers - EC 3-12 (Rivers 1-4, Holcomb-Faye 2-6), UC 4-24 (Stokes 0-3, Maxiell 0-1, Flowers 1-3, Williams 2-9, Barker 0-2, Bobbitt 1-5, Kirkland 0-1). Technicals - None. Officials - Whitehead, Davis, Pyatt. Attendance - 12,202.

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