Monday, March 17, 2003

Bearcats are a long shot

Tony Bobbitt was saying something about hanging an old man by his feet from a cliff. "If you want answers, he's going to give you answers," said Bobbitt, UC's streak shooter and resident enigma. Unlock what makes Tony run, win fabulous prizes.

"We're on that cliff now," Bobbitt decided.

The Bearcats are seeded eighth. Their season of fits and starts has landed them a first-round game with Gonzaga, a team of tall players who play a lot of zone. If UC shoots the way it has lately - like Ray Charles - Gonzaga will play top seed Arizona on Saturday.

(By the way, for all the dreamers out there, did you see the West bracket? Arizona, Kansas, Duke and Illinois. They tried to get the Lakers, but Shaq had a prior commitment.)

But back to the old man. What kind of answers will we get from the Bearcats? The most cherished perceptions of Bob Huggins-era basketball have been tested this year: This team doesn't play as consistently hard as its forebears. The Rippling Bicep Factor is a memory.

And, of course, as Huggins will tell you, the Bearcats don't listen. Probably, his best teams weren't much better at listening than this one. But when you have Kenyon Martin, Danny Fortson and Steve Logan, listening problems aren't as obvious.

Bobbitt and his mates swore Sunday that the selection committee's reprieve has made them all ears. As he put it, "You don't have to tell us to get in a stance. It's common sense now."

That's good. The problem is, how do you change who you are between now and Thursday? Does Huggins have the Magic Shooting Wand to pass over Field Williams? Does the coach have the Ouija board answers for Bobbitt? Can anyone explain the Southern Miss game?

It's not a good idea to still be learning about your basketball team three days before the NCAA Tournament. When you ask Huggins, "Do you know any better now than you did a month ago which team is going to show up on a given night?" he says, No. He doesn't. We have to make shots, he says. "If we make shots, we've got a chance."

It's a very good year for the lesser powers to be having very good years. After UK, which is flat out better than 60 teams, and Arizona, which is nearly as good as UK, any of the next 40 teams can make it to the second weekend.

That might include the Bearcats, if they weren't such a question coming into the event. "Everybody thinks we're up and down," Bobbitt said. Well, yeah. "But all we have to do is concentrate and play hard."

And make shots.

"And make shots," he said.

In the meantime, they'll practice like there's no tomorrow because there is no tomorrow. Redemption is at hand. Either that, or a lot of missed shots.

"You can throw the (regular) season out the door," Bobbitt said. "I'm rollin' with my boys until the day we fall. I know what we've got."

Yup. Arizona in the second round. Maybe.


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