By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - University of Cincinnati forward Eric Hicks says the Bearcats' confidence hasn't been shaken, that they just need to improve their execution and everything will be fine.
"We still know what we're capable of doing," Hicks said.
Maybe so, but they haven't played with much confidence during their last seven games, three of which they've lost after starting the season 13-0.
"I think this team needs a breakthrough win," said assistant coach Andy Kennedy. "We're not playing as well as we were earlier. I think that's obvious to everybody."
No. 13 UC (17-3) will attempt to secure that win at 1:30 p.m. today in a non-conference game against No. 20 Wake Forest (14-6) at Joel Coliseum.
The Bearcats have never lost to Wake Forest in five previous meetings.
When UC released its schedule last summer, this was the only non-conference marquee game to be found. As both teams began their seasons on a roll - Wake won its first 11 games - it shaped up as a game that would capture national attention, possibly between two top five opponents.
But both teams have struggled lately, and now it's a game each team is hoping to win to provide a lift for the final few weeks of the season. UC is coming off an 80-67 win over South Florida. The Bearcats allowed the lowly Bulls to shoot 52.2 percent, breaking a string of 56 games in which the Bearcats held their opponents to less than 50 percent shooting.
Wake, 3-6 in its last nine games, beat Clemson on Thursday night, 82-67.
Hicks, from nearby Greensboro, is looking forward to seeing his friends and family members today. But he knows how important this game could be for both teams.
"This would be a big win for us," said Hicks. "We're both very good teams, but we just haven't been doing too good lately. We need to bounce back and get a good quality win. It'll help either team to get out of the drought they're in."
For UC, this game begins a final seven-game stretch that will define their season and either send them limping into the NCAA Tournament or barging into the post-season with a full head of steam.
"We need a little confidence builder," said associate head coach Dan Peters. "We need a boost."
To beat Wake, UC will have to improve its defense against a team that has five double-figure scorers and averages 83.3 points per game to UC's 80.1. Sophomore guard Justin Gray leads the way with 15.8 points per game for the Deacons. Freshman point guard Chris Paul is quick and explosive and has 61 steals.
"We've got guys that can shoot the basketball," Peters said. "But we've got to be able to stop them a little bit, too."
How they choose to do that remains to be seen. UC coach Bob Huggins declared after Wednesday's South Florida game that the Bearcats would no longer press and will instead fall back into a zone defense. But there's a feeling around the program that UC will press if the need arises. And it's hard to imagine the Bearcats playing the entire game in a zone.
"We're going to have to have high energy against those guys, because they're going to run up and down the floor," said UC forward James White. "They've got good, quick guards and all of them can shoot."
No. 13 UC at No. 20 Wake Forest
Tipoff: 1:30 p.m. today, Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum (14,665), Winston-Salem, N.C.
Records: UC 17-3, Wake Forest 14-6.
TV: Ch. 9, 2.
Radio: WLW-AM (700).
Series: UC leads 5-0.
Line: Wake Forest by 3.
Coach: Bob Huggins (366-115, 15th season; 534-187 overall).
|Kareem Johnson||Sr. ||6-7||5.4|
Coach: Skip Prosser (60-25, third season; 225-103 overall).
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