Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Williams' shooting crucial in tourney

Bearcats take on Southern Miss in today's opener

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LOUISVILLE - Field Williams thinks he might have found the answer to his shooting woes. With the help of some videotape study and the University of Cincinnati coaching staff, Williams, who has shot 23 percent (18-78) in his last eight games since the first Louisville game on Feb. 5, has detected several mechanical flaws that might be preventing him from making the long-range shots the Bearcats were counting on him to convert this season.

"Coach talked to me yesterday and told me that I need to keep my hands and my wrist over my head," Williams said Tuesday.

If the junior guard has found a way to make shots, it could make a huge difference for the Bearcats as they begin the postseason.

No. 5 seed UC (17-10) will play No. 12 seed Southern Miss (12-15) at 9:30 p.m. today at Freedom Hall in a first-round game Conference USA Tournament game, with the winner advancing to face No. 4 seed Saint Louis on Thursday in the quarterfinals.

"I don't think anybody in the Conference USA Tournament that has ever been excited about playing Cincinnati," said Southern Miss coach James Green.

Southern Miss didn't play UC this year during the regular season, but Green has seen from a distance what the other coaches in the league have witnessed up close: This is not the same powerful Bearcat team that has dominated this league for seven years.

But even that didn't ease Green's concern.

"They're not the same," Green said. "But all they have to do is shoot it better on the day that you play them and you've got your hands full."

UC fans can attest to that. They've seen UC knock off Oklahoma State, Oregon and Louisville this season. More often than not, though, the Bearcats' shooting inconsistencies have doomed them to mediocrity.

But hope still resonates within the UC players and coaches that one of these days the same shots that have bounced off the rim suddenly will begin to fall through the hoop, and when that happens, the Bearcats again will be formidable, maybe even formidable enough to rise up and win this tournament.

They'd like to win two games and head into Selection Sunday with a 19-11 record and a good feeling about their NCAA Tournament chances. That's where Williams' shooting comes in.

"He was working on the side yesterday with (assistant coach Keith LeGree)," Huggins said. "He shot it a lot better today in practice."

The Bearcats were eager and upbeat as they went through a workout at Freedom Hall on Tuesday. There have been times this season when they have appeared frustrated and eager to have the season end, but on the eve of the C-USA Tournament, none of that was evident.

"I think they understand the urgency of the situation," Huggins said. "Most of them do. Maybe some of them don't, but they probably won't stay in the game very long."

Southern Miss won only five conference games this year, but one of them was an 84-67 victory over National Division champion Memphis.

Known as a solid defensive team, the Golden Eagles have allowed 70.5 points a game this season. Like UC, they have no player taller than 6 feet 8, so the Bearcats match up well with them.

But if UC continues to struggle with its shooting, even a favorable matchup can turn sour in a hurry. In the postseason, Huggins said, poor shooting can be more damaging than during the regular season.

Today's lineups:

Clement CarterJr.6-54.3
Greg JohnsonJr.6-612.5
Charles GainesJr.6-714.9
Mario MylesSr.6-55.9
Dante StiggersSo.6-26.0
Coach: James Green (109-95, seventh season; same overall).

Leonard StokesSr.6-616.0
Jason MaxiellSo.6-711.8
Derek HollmanSr.6-80.9
Field WilliamsJr.6-311.7
Taron BarkerSr.6-16.5
Coach: Bob Huggins (349-110, 14th; 517-182 overall).


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vs. South Florida (3-4)
• 1:00 p.m. Sat. Nov. 20
• Nippert Stadium
• Radio: WLW-AM 700


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