Saturday, March 8, 1997
UC's psyche, not seeding,
is big concern


BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ST. LOUIS - The word for today is swish. This is the term for a basketball shot that falls like a snowflake, soft and sure, all-net, no-sweat.

It is the sound Marquette made Friday night with startling frequency, from remote distances, to remarkable effect.

The Golden Eagles shot the lights out at Kiel Center. Blew the bulbs to smithereens. They had to in order to beat the University of Cincinnati Bearcats in the Conference USA Tournament semifinals. Three-point shooting was their best shot.

Marquette does not match up physically with Bob Huggins' Bearcats. Mike Deane can't counter Huggins' depth. But when his players shoot as they did Friday, they are the equal of just about any squad in college basketball.

In a display of precision bombing unseen since Desert Storm, the Golden Eagles sank 10 of their first 12 shots from three-point range and held on for a 91-79 victory when their legs wobbled and their aim wavered.

''They made shots,'' Huggins said. ''They made 7-of-8 (three-point) shots in the first half, 13-for-20 in the game. That's pretty good. I'm not sure we could do that if there wasn't anybody in the gym with us...

''Our preparation to get through their screens was very poor. Up there, (Feb. 27) we did a much better job. Our preparation away from the ball was very poor.''

UC's defensive shortcomings hardly detracted from Marquette's marksmanship. The Golden Eagles' sharp shooting earned them a place in this afternoon's C-USA championship game against North Carolina-Charlotte. It also should have ended their uncertainty about a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Costly defeat for UC?

In the process, Marquette stopped UC's string of conference tournament championships at five. Whether the defeat will have any other impact on UC's season depends on the NCAA's Selection Committee and the Bearcats' psyche.

Friday's shortfall will probably cost the Bearcats a No. 3 seed in the bracket to be announced Sunday, but it should not drop them any further than a No. 4. The difference between the two seeds is relatively trivial.

What matters more is what the defeat does to UC's mindset. Will it serve as a spur, as did Kentucky's Southeastern Conference loss to Mississippi State last season? Or will it erode the confidence that typifies UC's play this time of the year?

''Why wouldn't I be (confident)?'' Huggins said, matter-of-factly. ''We've got one of the top five players in America. We've got to do a better job of guarding.''

In a season that has so far produced greater expectations than results, the Bearcats have fostered the notion that they could fix their problems in time for a tournament run. Yet they will watch the selection show Sunday still waiting for consistent play at point guard, and for a halfcourt offense worthy of Danny Fortson.

''We stopped moving the ball,'' Huggins said. ''We kept it on the same side of the floor too long.''

Bearcats caught standing

Fortson scored 30 points Friday night, but the Bearcats were at their best when forced to improvise without him. The All-America forward went to the bench following his fourth foul with 14:18 to go in the game, and UC was able to trim a 10-point deficit to four points in his absence.

The Bearcats did less standing around without Fortson to feed, and their depth began to tell on the backboards. Marquette tired, but would not collapse, even when Fortson returned to the game refreshed.

It was an impressive display of determination, made more compelling because Marquette played more than 39 minutes without its hottest player. Anthony Pieper left the game in the first minute upon aggravating a troublesome shoulder injury.

The Golden Eagles compensated by setting screens and sinking open jump shots, by shooting 65 percent from beyond the three-point arc. You can win a lot of games that way, but it's pretty hard to do.

''Our defensive effort was terrible,'' Fortson said. ''We let them shoot uncontested three-pointers and we're not going to win like that.''