Friday, January 17, 1997
With Fortson frustrated,
Flint steps forward


BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Damon Flint wore a blank expression for a point-blank performance. He looked like a guy in the layup line, nonchalance bordering on boredom, as he tested the range of reality.

Five times in a row, the University of Cincinnati's point guard set up near the top of the key Thursday night and launched a three-point laser at the basket.

Each one was like the one before - all-knowing, all-net. Flint's body language was flamboyant - his arm hanging high in the air as if to serve as an exclamation point for his shot - but his poker face was carefully preserved.

Maybe some of the spectators at the Atlantic 10/Conference USA Challenge were startled by Flint's astounding aim - check that, maybe someone in the crowd was not surprised - but Flint himself was singularly stonefaced. If there was comfort to be found in the Bearcats' 70-55 loss to Temple, this was it.

The prolific Danny Fortson played only 12 minutes in the first half of Thursday's game, the nightcap of the Atlantic 10/Conference USA Challenge. He was frustrated by Temple's oppressive zone defense, and forced to the bench by foul problems. Yet for a while, UC managed mighty well without him. This was the biggest difference between this defeat and UC's previous setback, the 72-65 loss to Kansas on Dec. 4. This time, UC coach Bob Huggins had a fallback position.

''I like to think we have more than just one player,'' Flint said. ''There are going to be games when they shut him down. Other guys just have to step up.''

Departure from KU game

When Fortson picked up his third foul in Chicago last month, the Bearcats became a team of bricklayers. They shot 32 percent from the field against the Jayhawks, and Flint came in for much of the criticism. He missed 11 of his 14 field-goal attempts, was 1-for-9 from three-point range and seemed to be clinging to his starting point guard spot primarily through inertia.

This time, when Fortson sat down, UC had stand-up guys in his stead. D'Juan Baker had some nice moments off the bench. Bobby Brannen showed some muscle on the offensive boards.

But mostly it was Flint, taking a sad song and making it better. UC missed its first nine shots from the field, and trailed by 12 points asFortson went to the bench with two fouls and 8:30 to play in the first period.

Flint rose to this ominous occasion initially with his streak shooting - firing over Temple's matchup zone from the top of the key. Then, when the Owls felt obliged to guard him more tightly, he was able to find open teammates on the interior.

'Like Oscar Robertson'

''Every time I look at the stats, Flint is not doing too good,'' said Temple coach John Chaney. ''But every time he sees us, he starts shooting his (butt) off. Like Oscar Robertson.''

Flint's string of rainbow jumpers came in a span of three minutes and 27 seconds. They brought the Bearcats from a 12-point deficit to a 20-20 tie. Later, having drawn the defense out, he threw a no-look lead pass to Ruben Patterson for what should have been the go-ahead basket. Patterson's soaring attempt to slam banged off the rim, and UC went to its dressing room down by one, 29-28.

What followed was not nearly so heroic. The Owls, more nimble this season than is their custom, held Fortson to nine points - his first time short of double figures in 44 games. Ultimately, this was more than the Bearcats could camouflage. Flint would finish with a season-high 20 points, but made only one of five three-point tries after intermission.

Flint is not one of those players who can carry a team for long stretches. But over the short haul, he is a legitimate scorer. When the Bearcats can keep Danny Fortson in the game, having someone else for the short haul usually suffices.