By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Drill. Play. Critique. Those are the three ingredients every basketball team uses to prepare for a new season.
For the past two weeks, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats have been drilling. Tonight they get to play against someone besides themselves. Then UC coach Bob Huggins probably will find plenty to critique.
The Bearcats, who are ranked in most preseason top-25 polls, face Division II Northern Kentucky at 7:30 p.m. at Shoemaker Center's Fifth Third Arena in the first of UC's two exhibition games. And they're itching for the chance to play against some outside competition, even if it doesn't count.
"We've been going hard now for two weeks," said Dan Peters, UC's associate head coach. "Some of the new guys, you can tell they've hit the wall mentally."
This will be the first opportunity to play in front of UC's fans for newcomers Robert Whaley, Nick Williams and Asrangue Souleymane. Two other newcomers will not play; Mike Pilgrim is out because of a stress fracture in his right foot and James White, a transfer from Florida, doesn't gain his eligibility until Dec. 20. Backup point guard Chadd Moore, struggling with a bad back, also is not expected to play against the Norse.
Williams, from Chipola (Fla.) College, has played both shooting guard and point guard, will be expected to run the show full time at the point for UC. That's a heavy burden for a newcomer still trying to learn the offense.
"It's hard," Peters said. "You're talking about changing from a guy who received the ball thinking about scoring who now has to get the ball up the court and get people in the right spots."
NKU, 25-6 last season, lost 63 percent of its scoring from that team. But it still has guard Mike Kelsey, who scored 19 points against the Bearcats last year, making five of eight 3-pointers.
UC, which finished the 2002-03 season 17-12, posted a 71-51 victory over NKU last year. But Norse coach Ken Shields could tell the team was not the typical dominating Bearcats.
"Last year when (Steve) Logan was gone, there were a lot of new people and there was no question there was a difference," he said.
But Shields, who has announced his retirement at the end of this season, forecasts a strong rebound for the Bearcats this year.
"I think this is going to be an outstanding UC team," he said.
There's an interesting sidelight to this game. Jenna Huggins, the older of Bob Huggins' two daughters, dates NKU freshman guard Kevin Schappell.
"Those two have been together for three years," Shields said. "Huggs always threatens every time he touches the ball he's going to triple-team him."
UC vs. NKU
Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. today, Shoemaker Center's Fifth Third Arena (13,176).
Records: UC 17-12 in 2002-03; NKU 25-6.
Radio: WLW-AM (700), WTSJ-AM (1050).
Series: UC leads 7-0.
Coach: Bob Huggins (349-112, 15th season; 517-184 overall).
Coach: Ken Shields (290-155, 15th season; same overall).
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