Thursday, January 20, 2000

Where layups go to die

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kenyon Martin had 10 blocks, but he was called for goaltending on this play.
(AP photo)
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        He is the No.1 player on the nation's No.1 team, so Kenyon Martin is sure to get some consideration for Player of the Year. He keeps playing like this, he'll be sure to win it.

        The University of Cincinnati's senior center turns leaners into long shots. He disrupts your rhythm and distorts your aim. He can dominate a college basketball game without taking a single shot. He must have left the Memphis Tigers muttering to themselves Wednesday night.

        In a 75-55 shellacking at Shoemaker Center, the Bearcats' 40th straight home victory, Martin defended the goal like a bear besieged by bugs. Whatever he didn't swat away swiftly fled from his reach.

        Martin blocked 10 shots altogether — six in the game's first five minutes and 33 seconds — and he so altered other attempts that the Tigers started taking high-banking jump shots in search of a clear route to the basket. This didn't work so well, either.

You can run ...
        “We wanted to go away from him,” Memphis coach Johnny Jones said. “But he found where we were.”

        Memphis would miss 19 of its first 20 shots from the field, and even its one success during this span carried an asterisk. It was a basket credited to Earl Barron on a dubious goaltending call against Martin.

        Say what you want about UC's home-court advantage — the fans, the floor, the familiarity of the rims — but the difference in this game was the monster in the middle.

        The tattoo on Martin's left shoulder depicts the Grim Reaper holding a basketball. The message is menacing: Kenyon Martin is the place layups go to die.

        “Have you ever blocked 10 before?” asked a correspondent from Basketball Times.

        “You're not from around here,” Martin surmised.

        Martin's 10 blocks tied the career high he set as a sophomore, but that statistic represented only the most intimidating part of an inspired performance, one the linguistically challenged like to refer to as a "triple-double.”

        He also had 13 rebounds and 28 points, becoming the 38th Bearcat to reach the 1,000-point plateau for his career. Martin reacted to the milestone by running down the floor with both index fingers extended, but he later lamented that he had failed to reach 1,000 by sinking his first career 3-point shot.

... But you can't hide
        Life is full of disappointments. Martin's life, however, figures to be filled with adulation from here on out. He may not win the Wooden Award or the Naismith Award or the Player of the Year award the basketball writers named for Oscar Robertson, but he has to be in the hunt. Memphis' Jones volunteered Wednesday that Martin had secured his vote.

        “I don't know who has more effect on the game,” UC coach Bob Huggins said. “There are guys who score more points, but they don't guard like he does, they don't get tough rebounds like he gets. ... Danny (Fortson) was pretty good, but Danny couldn't do all the things that Kenyon can do.”

        How many 6-foot-9 centers are quick enough to press in the backcourt and still get back for the rejection beneath the basket? How many big men are a threat from the perimeter and go after loose balls with the gusto of a freshman walk-on?

        “You have all these guys who can't play and run their mouth all the time,” Huggins said. “This is a guy who is a great player and he never says a word.”

        Watching the Bearcats this season has been, for the most part, an exercise in sadism. Wednesday's game was uncommonly close — Memphis moved to within seven points with 8:15 remaining — but the issue was never really in doubt. The Bearcats are to suspense what John Rocker is to civility.

        What holds your interest, however, is the notion that this is a team with a rare chance at excellence. DePaul would appear to be the Bearcats' only serious challenge within Conference USA. If more difficult matchups await in the NCAA Tournament, there is no team in America that matches up well with Kenyon Martin.

        UC 75, MEMPHIS 55
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