Monday, February 22, 1999

For a day, UC was big, bad and back

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After the 91-78 roll over Louisville, Pete Mickeal declared that the “big and bad Bearcats are back.” He was allowed. Mickeal is not only the best UC has, he's also the team's conscience. The Bearcats can use one.

        “Somehow, they're going to have to buy into it a little more,” was Bob Huggins' answer to his team's romp.

        A little more? After Sunday's board-crashing, shoulder-rolling, chest-bumping, primal romp? This was UC at its brute best. Sunday nitro. More?

        Even the normally sedated home crowd hurled prodigious decibels at the Cardinals. More?

        Huggins wanted fewer turnovers, movement without the ball and bone-to-bone defense. What went unspoken was the need to buy into his attitude which, more or less, centers on playing every second like the other team just slapped your mother.

        It's a fine line with the Bearcats, who have no high school all-Americans, don't shoot consistently well and haven't yet righted the point guard position. Huggins' best teams have always overcome their shortcomings by muscling and hustling foes whose wills were not as strong as theirs. When the sweat ethic has universal approval, the Bearcats are very good.

        It was there Sunday, every last drop. When senior walk-on Alex Meacham jacked up a three-pointer with two seconds left, everyone stopped to admire it and wait for the horn.

        Everyone but Mickeal, who crashed into the lane like the cops were after him. As the buzzer sounded, Mickeal was there to follow Meacham's miss for the last two of his 28 points.

        “I don't stop until the buzzer,” he said. “I'm a warrior. Anybody that wants to stand around because they think the game is over is a fool. I'll take those rebounds and those points.”

        UC's 40-minute muscle-flex showed a few things, namely that the Bearcats are only as good as their desire allows them to be. They'll go as far as their grit takes them.

        They beat up on Louisville for the second time this year because the Cardinals play the same way UC does, only not nearly as well. Denny Crum refuses to slow down the game, even as other, lesser teams have stopped UC doing exactly that.

        It also would have helped if the Cards had made any shots. They missed 25 of their first 32, lots of them open.

        UC still runs a committee at point guard, though that notion may be fading. Huggins yanked Michael Horton for good with 14 minutes to play. When asked why he started the senior Horton, Huggins said, “because it was senior day.”

        Regardless, this is a top 10 team when it packs the sweat ethic with the towels and the basketballs. The irony was, in three straight losses, the Bearcats weren't big and bad at all. They blew second-half leads, turned the ball over, played tentatively and generally performed like a team that was. . . playing UC.

        “You know all that hype?” Mickeal asked. “The big Bearcats? The strong Bearcats? (Opponents) were scared of that before. I used to see guys looking at us before games, to see what we looked like. Now they're just ready to play. They're saying, "(UC) got beat by DePaul? We beat DePaul. We can beat UC.'

        “It continues until we shut 'em up and put it on 'em.”

        He is the conscience of this team. Mickeal is the one to show everyone how to skin their knees and get a little dirty out there. This is what Huggins demands, but doesn't always get.

        It's how they have to play. Without that, UC is just another pretty good team looking for a road loss in February.

        “We can't have any more good days in practice,” Mickeal decided. That is, good isn't good enough. “Only excellent practices, from now on.”

        Conscience. Yes.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.