Thursday, January 22, 2004

UC runs up whopper of a reality check



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LOUISVILLE - You can climb down from Mount Giddy now. On your descent, feel free to wonder which Bearcat club is more for real: The bunch that went hand to hand with Louisville and trailed 44-40 at half? Or the group that crashed and burned in the last 12 minutes?

UC got its sass kicked. A March-in-January first half turned into a night of epic lows and a 93-66 defeat you never thought any Bob Huggins team would endure. "We thought it was going to be a nail-biter," Louisville's surprised Luke Whitehead said.

After Robert Whaley dropped a jumper from the free throw line, Louisville led just 56-52. Describing what happened next, in the final 12:41, is a puzzle best answered by a demolitions expert. Or Huggins.

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"That's a first for me," Huggins said. "I don't ever want to lose like this again. This is embarrassing. We didn't compete.

"Things have been too easy for us. We dunked on people (while starting 13-0) and everybody clapped."

Lots of people clapped here Wednesday night. The Freedom Hall crowd sounded like 16-year-olds at a Beatles concert. They watched a Cardinals team that proved its No. 5 ranking was no fluke. And a Bearcats team that proved its No .6 designation just might be.

In the last few minutes, rather than open another Bearcat vein, Louisville held the ball and drained the clock. Until UC turned it over, whereupon the Cards had nothing to do but run the floor and dunk on somebody's head.

"Embarrassing," Armein Kirkland said, echoing the theme of the evening. "This was a reality-check game for us."

Huggins blamed most of the blasting on a lack of focus and sweat. "I don't think we were ready to play," Huggins said. "An internal thing," he called it. "The other stuff can be fixed."

The other stuff was equally troubling. Louisville undressed UC in the half-court, at both ends of the floor. Quite simply for the Bearcats, when the defense isn't shaking, the offense doesn't stir.

"We never got good shots," said Huggins. "We didn't run the offense, not even a little bit.

"They (the Cardinals) were much more disciplined offensively, and that's my fault."

Louisville's "limited" inside game, as Louisville coach Rick Pitino called it, chopped up UC's inside defense. More to the point: "Luke Whitehead destroyed us," Huggins said. "He beat us down the floor, handled the ball. He did everything." Whitehead had 18 points and eight rebounds. He also brought the ball down the floor several times, a real mind-blower for UC.

And the free throw shooting was miserable. The Bearcats made 12 of 26. That's 46 percent, for all you English majors.

It could be, as Pitino said, that the Bearcats "just had an off night in the second half." Louisville got rolling, at home, and the game got away from the Bearcats. It happens. Or it could be that the soft early schedule led to some overzealous dreaming.

Ultimately, a game in January, even a big game, is nothing but a resume builder. This isn't college football. UC gets Louisville at Shoemaker Center Feb. 21. And then we'll see about both teams.

In the first half, there wasn't a sneaker's difference between them. They could have been the same team.

Same colors. Same pressing defense, same ability to make devastating runs, same 10-deep rotation, same Armani-wearing coa ...

OK. One difference.

In the second half, one team showed up. The other watched. What it all means is anyone's guess.

E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com




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