By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - For the past two weeks, University of Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins has been telling anyone who would listen that his players were too lazy to press, that they didn't care enough to work on their games after practice, that they couldn't play defense and weren't very good offensively, either.
But Sunday afternoon, after the 13th-ranked Bearcats (17-4) absorbed a 91-85 non-conference loss to 20th-ranked Wake Forest (15-6) at Joel Coliseum, the UC coach wondered where all the doom and gloom about his team had come from.
Jason Maxiell is fouled by Wake Forest's Kyle Visser.
"To me, it's rather amusing, this notion that we're in dire straits," Huggins said. "We're 17-4. We were 12th in the country (in the coaches' poll) coming in. We're tied for the lead in our league. We play everybody above us here in the next three weeks.
"How many teams in the country do you think would trade us at 17-4?"
Told that the gloom and doom had come largely from his own comments, Huggins said, "I haven't changed. I want them to do right all the time. I try to be honest. We didn't play very well against South Florida. Am I supposed to run in and do cartwheels and say how wonderful things are? I can't do that."
Huggins wasn't doing cartwheels Sunday, either, after watching Wake Forest make 10 of 15 3-point shots, but for some reason, he decided to put a happy face on this latest UC loss.
"We had a stretch where we didn't make shots," Huggins said. "Field (Williams) hasn't made any shots, and at the end of the game Field made some shots. Tony (Bobbitt) made some shots. James White kind of broke out of his slump and started attacking the basket a little bit better."
Happy days are here again.
With 4:36 left in the first half, it appeared that the Bearcats, who are 4-4 in their last eight games, were on the verge of nailing down a road victory against a quality Atlantic Coast Conference opponent, the kind of win that could restore any confidence that had been lost during the past two weeks.
After overcoming an early 14-5 deficit, the Bearcats came back to take a 39-27 lead, outscoring Wake 34-13.
"We were down 12 and perhaps on the precipice of getting knocked out in our own building," said Wake coach Skip Prosser.
Wake Forest's Eric Williams ducks below UC players Kareem Johnson (42) and Tony Bobbitt (15) during the first half.
But that lead disappeared in a flash of UC turnovers and some devastating long-range shooting by the Demon Deacons.
Wake's comeback began with an Eric Williams dunk, followed by a steal of the inbounds pass and a layup by freshman point guard Chris Paul, who led the Deacons with 30 points.
Before the Bearcats knew what hit them, they had been outscored 20-3 to close the half and went into the locker room trailing by five after allowing the Deacons to shoot 60 percent in the half.
"Coming off the canvas at that time and getting the lead by halftime was the most telling period of the game," Prosser said. "We were against the ropes, ready to call the fight doctor, Ferdie Pacheco. I thought we were out of it."
UC never recovered. The Bearcats didn't score until the 16:45 mark of the second half. By then, they trailed by nine and had been outscored 25-3.
Nick Williams' layup at the 16:19 mark of the second half ended a field goal drought of 9:39.
But the real news of the day was Huggins' suddenly rosy outlook on life, an outlook that seemed to stun his players.
"When have you ever seen losing that helped?" said UC forward Eric Hicks. "Any loss for me doesn't help my confidence."
"That's coach Huggs," Bobbitt said. "He can say whatever he wants to say. He's the general. Everything he said was exactly true."
Team rebounds - 1.
Team rebounds - 1.
3-pointers - UC 8-21 (White 0-3, F.Williams 2-3, N.Williams 1-5, Moore 1-1, Bobbitt 4-9), WF 10-15 (Levy 0-1, Danelius 2-2, Gray 3-7, Paul 3-3, Downey 2-2). Technicals - UC (Team), WF (Downey). Officials - Wood, Donato, Valentine. Attendance - 14,329.
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