Sunday, January 02, 2000

UNLV fast-paced test for UC

35-game home win streak on line

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When he spoke about this afternoon's game at the Shoemaker Center, UC Bearcats forward Pete Mickeal referred to UNLV's team as being “so up-and-down.” He meant this to be a compliment.

  • When: 2 p.m. today
  • Where: Shoemaker Center (13,176)
  • Records: UNLV 8-2, Cincinnati 11-1
  • TV: Channel 19
  • Radio: WLW-AM (700)
  • 95.5: Average points scored by the opposition in UNLV's defeats
  • 67: Average bench minutes for UC in the past two games, up four a game from the first 10 games
  • 116: Points center Kenyon Martin needs to reach 1,000 for his career
  • 6.7-to-1: UC point guard Steve Logan's assist/turnover ratio the past three games
        Mickeal was speaking of UNLV's style, not its consistency as a basketball team. The Runnin' Rebels (8-2) have recommitted themselves to the modifier in their nickname, and the No.3-ranked Bearcats (11-1) look forward to being caught in a a genuine fast-break game 2 p.m. today at The Shoe.

        “That's the type of style I like to play,” Mickeal said. “Playing in the NBA, I want to play for a Western Conference team, because I want to go up and down the floor.”

        UC, which owns the nation's fourth-longest home winning streak at 35 games, is at home for three games in the next seven days after spending 21 of the previous 40 days on the road. When the heart of Conference USA play begins with a Wednesday game against UNC Charlotte, only a few of the Bearcats' opponents will attempt to run with them. Louisville, most likely. Tulane, most certainly. Most of the others can be expected to concoct defensive schemes that attempt to force the Bearcats into a low-scoring, low-possession games.

        UNLV is attempting 68 shots a game, its opponents 67. By comparison, UC shoots 55 times a game and is considered an uptempo team.

        “It's good to get a chance to get out and play our type of basketball against a team that likes to run,” said center Kenyon Martin, “but we can't let them get in there and just run us out of our gym. We've got

        to contain them, but we want to run, too.”

        It seems to be no accident UC scored 70 or more points in all but one game this season, and that was in its loss.

        Instead of battling to impose its will on UNLV, UC expects it will be able to focus on simply playing better basketball. When the Bearcats played UNLV last season, they scored 86 points in a double-digit victory. That was their eighth-highest point output last season, and the Rebels' 73 points ranked sixth among UC opponents. This game is likely to move faster.

        “Oh, yeah. Absolutely,” coach Bob Huggins said. “I thought the other team that would run with us was Xavier, but they really tried to slow it down. I don't think Vegas will do that. They're going to run.”

        UC managed to perpetuate a reputation among recruits for playing an end-to-end style of basketball, which helped attract such players as Mickeal, Johnson and freshman point guard Kenny Satterfield.

        The reality in recent seasons was somewhat removed from this perception. The Bearcats wanted to run full-time, but the limitations of their guard corps prevented that. They wanted to run more than they did, but opponents figuring UC would struggle against constricted defenses emphasized getting back in transition and made that nearly impossible.

        Although the Bearcats dominated Conference USA last season and won their fourth consecutive regular-season title, they ranked only fourth in scoring. They were basically a halfcourt defensive team.

        “We've got more ball skills,” Huggins said. “We've finally got guys with ball skills. It's hard to run without guys with ball skills. We tried, but it's hard. We couldn't get it there.

        “The people who can really run are the people who have more than one person that can handle the ball. We're a lot better at it.”

        UNLV coach Bill Bayno admits he's been influenced by new assistant coach Max Good, who spent the previous decade as head coach at Maine Central Institute and last season had a 6-9 shooting guard named DerMarr Johnson on his squad.

        The Rebels ended last season with a 16-13 record despite the presence of NBA lottery pick Shawn Marion, scoring fewer than 70 points five times in the final two months of the season. This team has worked on the running game since the start of fall practice and hasn't yet scored fewer than 76.

        Their break has been energized by point guard Mark Dickel, who never was entirely comfortable playing halfcourt ball. This way, he's averaging 14.2 points and 8.8 assists. The running game has not eliminated or diminished the contributions of 6-10 center Kaspars Kambala, one of the nation's best low-post scorers. He's averaging 20.6 points, nearly eight more than a year ago.

        “He's so wide ... he turns, and he kind of clears you out,” said Martin. Martin will be around to help out 6-9 Jermaine Tate, who will start with the primary responsibility of defending Kambala.

        “You've got to be in the right position on him, in the right place. If he catches the ball in front of you, he's got a good chance of scoring,” Martin said. “I'm going to be on the weak side no matter where he is, so if he's going to shoot, I'm coming. He's going to have to look out for me.”


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