Saturday, March 13, 1999

Temple next: Time to give a hoot

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BOSTON — This was light stretching before the workout. A little running in place and shaking it loose. No offense to Mr. George Mason, but this amounted to the title game of the old Delta Bearcat Classic.

        For all the potential charm of the NCAA Tournament's first round, there is a reason teams are seeded third and 14th.

        “Since we hadn't been in this position before, we didn't know how to respond,” said Jim Larranaga, coach of the George Mason Patriots, a fitting 14th seed.

        The Patriots tried to play Cincinnati's style, without Cincinnati's players. It wasn't a good idea.

        Louisville wanted to do the same thing this winter, and twice the Cardinals were run from the gym. If the Bearcats had played the 'Ville 10 times this year, they'd have won 11. What would make George Mason different?

        UC trailed 4-2, then waved the Patriots goodbye with a 33-10 run that highlighted everything Cincinnati does right.

        Pete Mickeal slashed into the lane freely. He was in there more than wood. An interested Michael Horton had three assists. Jermaine Tate and Kenyon Martin kept Mason's big man, George Evans, so scarce he was nearly invisible. Evans took just six shots, and missed them all.

        The Patriots quickly were reduced to shooting jump shots, which they generally missed.

        By late in the first half it was 35-14, Alvin Mitchell was assisting on baskets by Eugene Land and everyone wearing red was wondering when they'd see Alex Meacham. (With 4:18 left, as it turned out.)

        George got crushed, to say nothing of Mason, 72-48. The Patriots were a pushover. Temple will be nothing like that.

Time to get serious
        That's the topic on the table now. The Owls had a little trouble with Kent, but not much. They led by 17 with eight minutes left, and won by seven. The Golden Flashes were fearless and pressuring, but also short and wild. It wasn't so bad they started a 6-foot-2 forward; it was making just 34 percent of their shots that killed them.

        Part of that was Temple's defense, which is hard to figure if you've played the Owls recently and impossible if you haven't. Another part was the inside-outside work of 6-10 forward Lamont Barnes and the two guards, Rasheed Brokenborough and Pepe Sanchez. Against a scrambling, pesky Kent defense, Sanchez was a tranquil 5-of-8 from the field, with nine assists and no turnovers. Barnes was merely immovable.

        This means nothing except UC can now start getting serious about March.

        Temple will pose a big threat to their season, and here's the prediction: Sunday's game will be Mel Levett's to win or lose.

        If Levett finds some touch from the outside, the Owls matchup zone can't slog things up in the middle. Mickeal can roam, Kenyon Martin can bang and the regional will be in sight.

        It would help if UC made its full-court pressure defense work. Kent hurt the Owls some with that. The Bearcats could also use some penetration from the point guards, though that isn't Steve Logan's game and Horton can't be trusted to handle the ball.

Levett's game
        What's crucial is that Levett, the senior, shoots well. When Bob Huggins says, “We could come out and make virtually every shot (or) we could come out and have a hard time buying one” he's talking more than a little about Levett, who can go 8-for-16 one night and 3-for-13 the next, as he did last week in the C-USA tournament.

        The Bearcats played stiff defense Friday. “We're one of the best defensive teams in the country,” he said. George Mason was 5-for-31 from the field in the first half, and it wasn't just because UC was haunting their shooting hands. Several open tries clanged off the rim.

        “Even if you feel like you're open, you have a sense someone is attacking you, and you rush,” Larranaga said of UC's inside pressure.

        “If we can make open shots, we can beat anybody,” Huggins said. Make a few on Sunday, and Temple is anybody.

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