Sunday, February 1, 2004

Bearcats' problems beginning in practice

UC notebook

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For most of the season, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats have been focused and have worked hard in practice.

But after the Bearcats absorbed an 86-83 loss to Charlotte on Saturday, UC coach Bob Huggins said his players' practice habits have slipped recently, and he can't figure out why.

Things got so bad Friday that he ended practice an hour early, frustrated by the way his team was performing.

"I told them we were going to get obliterated in transition defense, and we did," Huggins said. "We don't run. We complain a lot about running, but we don't run. It's not a half-court game. They don't understand it's work. It's a job, man. Come in and compete."

Huggins said there have been signs of slippage recently, beginning with players not wanting to lift weights.

"We had two terrible, terrible, terrible practices," Huggins said. "It's hard for me to understand how that can happen after you just got whacked by 27 and you have one of the two or three best teams in the league coming into your building. Let's be honest: If you're going to win this league, you'd better win at home. How can you not be ready to play?

"It continues to befuddle me at 50 years old, being in this game for 27 or 28 years. I used to think I had a better grip on it than I do. I did know we weren't ready, but I didn't know what to do about it. So I haven't gotten any smarter."

JOHNSON'S EFFORT: Huggins singled out center Kareem Johnson as one of the few UC players who competed Saturday. Johnson scored a career-high 15 points and pulled down eight rebounds. It was his play in the second half that kept the Bearcats in the game.

"I had a terrible first half and put our team in a big hole," Johnson said. "I knew in the second half I had to give it all I've got. It started with me, because I wasn't rebounding the ball."

BIG WIN FOR LUTZ: Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz called the win "the best win we've had."

It was the first victory for Charlotte over UC in Fifth Third Arena in eight tries, and the second this season against a top-10 team. The 49ers knocked off then-No. 7 Syracuse Nov. 26.

"I'm happy for Bobby," Huggins said. "His kids played like crazy. I hope they keep playing like that against some other people we need them to beat. He's a really good coach. Good coach, good guy. I'm miserable, but I'm happy for him."

NOTES: Official Ted Hillary met with both coaches midway through the first half to tell them that because the floor was so slippery the officials would be more lenient on calling traveling violations. ... Charlotte's 48.4 percent shooting was the best by a UC opponent this season. ... UC's loss ended a 14-game homecourt winning streak, 13 of which were played at Fifth Third Arena.



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