Wednesday, March 19, 2003

UC waiting for shots to fall


Outside game has been troublesome

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

At the University of Cincinnati, they fantasize about making shots the way a 6-footer dreams of being able to dunk. "We can compete with anybody if we make shots," UC coach Bob Huggins has said over and over this season.

Tony Bobbitt, the streak-shooting guard, wistfully wondered what it would be like if both he and guard Field Williams suddenly started to connect on their long-range shots in the same game.

"Field gets 20 and I get 20. That's going to be a shock," Bobbitt said.

Pardon the Bearcats for having their heads in the clouds a bit as they prepare for their first-round NCAA Tournament game. It's been a long season of watching shots bounce off rims and smack errantly off backboards. Statistically, this is the worst-shooting team Huggins has had in 14 seasons at UC.

The Bearcats shoot 40.4 percent. The next-worst squad of the Huggins era is the 1990-91 team, which shot 44.3 percent.

No. 8 seed UC (17-11) faces No. 9 seed Gonzaga at 12:40 p.m. Thursday in Salt Lake City. If the Bearcats are to advance in the tournament, well, you know by now ...

"We've got to make shots," Huggins said one more time. "We've got to free (Jason Maxiell) up so he can get some baskets in close."

The Bearcats are 14-3 when they shoot better than 40 percent, but they've done that only three times in their last seven games. They're 6-1 in games when they make more than 45 percent of their shots.

But UC averages just 67.3 points a game.

"I thought it would be better than what it has been," Huggins said of UC's shooting. "I was hoping that Field and Tony would be more consistent. We're missing point-blank open shots that we really shouldn't miss."

If Williams (34.0 percent) and Bobbitt (37.5 percent) have been disappointments, point guard Taron Barker has exceeded expectations. He's UC's best 3-point shooter at 43 percent, but he hasn't been able to compensate for the Bearcats' overall scoring deficiencies.

Huggins says he has tried everything he can think of to improve UC's shooting.

Ultimately, though, no amount of tinkering with offensive sets has been able to overcome the basic problem: These guys just can't shoot.

"It's hard to change mechanics during the season," Huggins said. "It's hard to change mechanics period, but really hard to change them during the season."

To add to the problem, UC gets very few easy baskets from offensive rebounds or in transition off its defense.

Forward Leonard Stokes believes he can improve the situation if he penetrates defenses more consistently and kicks the ball out to open teammates when the defense collapses on him.

"I've got to attack the basket and get shots for Tony and Field when they've got their feet set," Stokes said.

Then it's up to the shooters. But is there any reason to believe those same shots that have missed for most of the season suddenly will begin to fall through the basket now that the NCAA Tournament has arrived?

"I didn't have any reason to believe they'd start falling (in wins) against Oregon or Louisville or Oklahoma State," Huggins said. "But they did."

E-mail bkoch@enquirer.com




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