By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
SALT LAKE CITY - With an NCAA Tournament first-round win on the line and the season hanging in the balance, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats frittered away their big chance Thursday in a way that epitomizes their season: with a player not following directions.
Cincinnati head coach Bob Huggins sits in front of his bench during the first half.
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Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf dunks over Cincinnati's Kyle Bankhead.
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Gonzaga's Winston Brooks (1) celebrates with teammates following their 74-69 win over Cincinnati.
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UC, which lost to Gonzaga 74-69 at the Huntsman Center, had clawed back from an 11-point deficit after head coach Bob Huggins was ejected for arguing a traveling call.
"I just told the players, 'Look, be calm,' " said associate head coach Dan Peters, who took over for Huggins. "There was a lot of time to go in the game.
"We were just trying to make it into a series of small games, which we did."
The Bearcats still trailed by 12 with 4:57 to go, but thanks to three missed free throws, two missed dunks and a missed layup by the Bulldogs, they had the ball with 22 seconds left, trailing by just three.
Peters called time out and designed a play for guard Tony Bobbitt.
"It was supposed to be for Tony to get the basketball and come off and make a play," Peters said. "Tony forgot to go get the basketball."
Eventually, the ball did go to Bobbitt, whose 3-point attempt was blocked by Tony Skinner.
The Bulldogs' Ronny Turiaf was fouled at the other end and made two free throws to account for the final five-point margin.
"He made a good defensive play on the ball," Bobbitt said. "But I've got to listen. I've got to understand things when we call a play."
A LITTLE SHOVE: Forward Jason Maxiell, whose traveling violation precipitated the protest that led to Huggins' ejection, said a Gonzaga player did push him just before he traveled.
"There was a little bump in the back," Maxiell said. "But that's the way the ref called it."
PETERS SURPRISED: Peters said he went onto the court just before Huggins was ejected, not because he feared a second technical foul but because he was trying to help Huggins avoid a first technical.
"I didn't know he got the first technical, let alone the second," Peters said.
Peters said Huggins did not use profanity.
DEFENSE COLLAPSES: UC's normally reliable defense was shredded by Gonzaga in the first half.
The Bulldogs shot 53.8 percent in the first half and continually beat the Bearcats down the floor for easy layups.
"We didn't get back in transition," Huggins said. "The whole game turned when we gave them a bunch of transition baskets. And we didn't do a good job of attacking their zone."
UC senior forward Leonard Stokes was held to seven points, nine below his average.
"They did a good job," Stokes said. "It was tough for me to get a shot."
Stokes finished his UC career with 1,318 points, leaving him 17th on the school's career scoring list.
TECHNICAL DENIED: Huggins pleaded for a technical foul to be called against Gonzaga's Cory Violette near the end of the first half but was denied.
Gonzaga guard Winston Brooks threw what appeared to be a pass intended for Violette under the basket, but the ball went through the basket for a 3-pointer with 1:22 left in the half.
Violette then picked the ball up and dunked it.
"It was the judgment of the official that the Gonzaga player did not know the ball had gone in the basket," said Karl Benson, the NCAA Basketball Committee representative.
Huggins was upset again just before the half ended when he thought Taron Barker was fouled on a 3-point attempt that did not go in. Instead, Skinner converted a trey at the other end for Gonzaga before the buzzer went off.
BY THE NUMBERS: Huggins' ejection was the third of his UC career. He was ejected Feb. 26, 1995, in a 64-63 loss at UAB and again Feb. 25, 1996, in a 65-63 win at Tulane. . . . Huggins' two technicals Thursday were his second and third of the season. . . . UC finished 17-12, ending a string of 11 straight 20-win seasons. It was only the second time in 14 seasons that a Huggins team has failed to win 20 games, and the fewest wins in his time at UC.
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