By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The preliminaries are over. The University of Cincinnati Bearcats can begin to look forward to the games that will define their season.
Moments after dispatching DePaul 90-65 Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 13,176, the Bearcats began to talk about Wednesday's showdown in Milwaukee against No. 22 Marquette (11-2), the team that snatched away the Conference USA championship from them last year after UC had won the first seven.
"We want to try to make a statement," said UC forward Jason Maxiell, who scored 18 points and blocked four shots. "We want to let them know that Cincinnati is back, that we're a top-10 team and we're going to bring the championship back to Cincinnati."
The 11th-ranked Bearcats (11-0, 2-0 in C-USA) forced 24 turnovers against DePaul (7-6, 0-2), blew out to a 23-9 lead and never let the Blue Demons back into the game.
It was the 13th straight victory for UC over DePaul at Fifth Third Arena.
UC's Tony Bobbitt, who led the Bearcats with 19 points, issued a warning to Marquette point guard Travis Diener.
"I don't even know, what's his name, Diener?" Bobbitt said. "I really do think we can pressure him. He's a heck of a player. Don't get me wrong. He's probably the best point guard in the country other than the kid from UConn.
"But he also knows he's got 10 wild, crazy Bearcats that want him. We're going to come for him and we're going to come for him hard. We're not going to let up on him because we owe him. We know he will hit tough shots, but he's going to earn it."
UC limited DePaul to 16 shots in the first half, just one above the amount of turnovers the Blue Demons committed before intermission.
But they hit a lull in the second half, missing eight of their first 10 shots and allowing DePaul's Delonte Holland, the league's leading scorer, to score 22 of his game-high 29 points.
It was that second-half lull that was the focus of attention after the game. "If we come out like that in the second half Wednesday night, we'll be in trouble," Bobbitt said.
Bobbitt received no argument from UC coach Bob Huggins.
"I'm a big believer in history," Huggins said. "We played pretty good up there last year in the first half, then they took us apart in the second half.
"In the first half, we played hard, but we didn't play intelligently. Then we came out (in the second half) and didn't play hard or smart."
UC played without starting forward Armein Kirkland, who watched the game in street clothes from the UC bench. Sophomore James White received his first UC start in Kirkland's place.
Junior center Robert Whaley, who did not make the trip to New Orleans for last week's game against Tulane, entered the game with 13:37 left in the first half and scored a career-high 10 points with four rebounds before fouling out in just 13 minutes.
"I hope he can play more than 13 minutes and not foul out," Huggins said.
Team rebounds - 4.
Team rebounds - 2.
3-pointers - D 1-13 (Holland 0-2, Greer 0-1, Diener 1-6, Smith 0-2, Seals 0-1, Exilus 0-1), UC 9-23 (White 0-3, F.Williams 3-6, N.Williams 2-3, Bobbitt 4-11). Technicals - None. Officials - Wood, Ware, Mathis. Att - 13,176.
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