Monday, February 16, 2004

Coaching volcano inactive - for now

Huggins pipes down

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - The head game was as good as the real one. Bob Huggins was as calm after losing Sunday as he was angry after winning Wednesday night. "To me, it's rather amusing, this notion we're in dire straits," Huggins said after Wake Forest beat UC 91-85.

Huggins didn't look amused. In the gym, when does he? After saying four days ago his players were lazy, the worst Huggins offered Sunday was that his team lost its cool on offense during the last four minutes of the first half.

There is a time to be a madman and a time to be reasonable. A big part of coaching is to know when each is needed. If you're foaming at the mouth all the time, your comrades will stop handing you towels.

Maybe Huggins felt "OK" about the loss. Maybe he didn't.

The Bearcats' road ahead
A look at UC's remaining regular-season schedule:
Date Opponent Rec. (C-USA)
Feb. 18 at UAB 15-6 (8-2)
Feb. 21 Louisville 17-4 (7-3)
Feb. 25 Saint Louis 12-9 (5-5)
Feb. 28 at Charlotte 15-6 (7-3)
March 4 at DePaul 15-7 (8-3)
March 6 Memphis 18-4 (9-2)
Maybe he sees this as a delicate time for a team that, six games before the March meat grinder, still doesn't know what to expect from itself. Who shows up? Who knows? Now UC them, now you don't.

These Bearcats are either a reason to boast, or they're a bomb in your hand, often in the same game. With 4:35 left in the first half, they were up 39-27. Huggins had slapped a mind-blowing zone on Wake, and ordered it extended so far that the Deacons' prized guards were peeling Bearcat hands from their jerseys 25 feet from the hoop.

This was an impressive bicep-flex from a group that started 13-0 but has lost four of eight since. On the road, against a top-tier Atlantic Coast Conference team, playing so well, even the intellectuals in the student section - chanting "You can't read" at Bearcat players - had no comeback.

Then it all fell apart. The Deacons outscored UC 20-3 in the final 4:35 of the half. The Bearcats looked like they were playing South Florida. They never got closer than four after that.

"We didn't play no defense," Eric Hicks decided.

"When we (felt) a little pressure, we got down a little bit," Tony Bobbitt said.

"We're 17-4. How many people in the country would trade (with) us? If we are down in the mouth, I'm not sure why that is," Dr. Huggins said.

This hasn't been an easy team for him to read. Selfless to selfish, hustling to lazy, a pleasure to a pain. Huggins needs a chalkboard and a Ouija board. Riding the tidal waves of Huggins' passion and moods is a favorite Cincinnati parlor game in February. This year, the extremes are more pronounced.

This much we know: Since 13-0, the Bearcats haven't beaten anyone that will sniff the NCAA Tournament. They have a difficult game at UAB Wednesday and a rematch with Louisville Saturday. This is no time to mess with your team's fragile psyche.

Against UC, freshman guard Chris Paul had 30 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. He broke the ankles of every Bearcat that tried to guard him. Wake also got just enough from its big men to nullify UC's inside advantage, and made 23 of 26 free throws. UC hung around in the second half, but you never thought the Bearcats would win.

So Huggins rested his whip Sunday. "The effort was OK," he said. At this point in every college season, players are weary of being coached. Coaches have stopped pulling out their hair.

After a loss like Sunday's, you either slip on the kid gloves or haul out the Mike Tysons. Huggins, atypically, chose the former.

We'll see how it turns out. With these Bearcats, you just don't know.



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vs. South Florida (3-4)
• 1:00 p.m. Sat. Nov. 20
• Nippert Stadium
• Radio: WLW-AM 700


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