Friday, February 20, 2004

Huggins unsure how - or if - UC will recover

Rematch with Louisville pits two fast-starting teams hungry for a win after recent losses

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The message took a long time to communicate, long enough that University of Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins missed his postgame radio show Wednesday night while he addressed his team in the Bearcats' locker room at Bartow Arena.

But there was nothing complex about what he was saying.

"He told us either we can make a run or we can fall down," UC center Robert Whaley said.

UC had just been defeated 80-69 by Alabama-Birmingham, its fourth loss in its last six games, and finds itself reeling as it prepares for Saturday's rematch against Louisville at Fifth Third Arena.

It was Louisville that ended UC's 13-game season-opening winning streak Jan. 21 with a 93-66 victory at Freedom Hall in Louisville.

No one knew then that the loss would start a downward spiral that would see the Bearcats (17-5, 8-3 Conference USA) lose five of nine and slip from No. 6 in the Associated Press poll to No. 17.

Both teams are desperate for a victory. Louisville (17-5, 7-4) has lost four of its last five, including Tuesday's 71-46 loss at Texas Christian.

The question now is whether the Bearcats have the wherewithal to pull themselves out of their morass with five regular-season games left.

Huggins won't hazard a guess as to how his players will react.

"I can't tell you what it will take," Huggins said. "I would think that what's happened to us would wake everybody up, but it hasn't."

As the regular-season reaches its climax, the Bearcats still haven't identified a player who can step up and make a play in a close game.

UC's offense, which showed signs of recovery by scoring 85 points against Wake Forest on Sunday, struggled to score against UAB.

"This team gets screened more than any team I've ever had," Huggins said. "We accept blockouts and we accept screens. Our inability to pass the ball to open people takes a lot of people out of our offense."

There are no slouches left on the UC schedule as the Bearcats attempt to end their skid. After Louisville, they face Saint Louis (13-9, 6-5) at home on Wednesday, then finish the season at Charlotte (16-6, 8-3), at DePaul (15-7, 8-3) and against Memphis (18-4, 9-2) at home.

Like Huggins, Whaley said it's hard to predict how this team will react.

"I don't know," he said. "I hope we can get together as a team to make a run."


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