By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The University of Cincinnati Bearcats didn't need a film session or a scouting report to remind them of what happened when they played Charlotte Jan. 31.
Not many teams come into Fifth Third Arena and take it to the Bearcats the way Charlotte did that day on the way to an 86-83 win.
The 49ers not only won the game, they confronted the UC mystique head-on from the opening tipoff and pushed it aside as if it didn't exist. It was UC's only loss at home this year and only its sixth conference loss at Fifth Third since the building opened in 1989.
"That was personal," said UC guard Tony Bobbitt. "That was more like a hit in the mouth and we couldn't hit them back. Now we get a chance to play them again."
The Conference USA race was still in its formative stages when these teams met for the first time. Now it has come down to the last week, the final three games, with No. 15 UC (19-5, 10-3 C-USA) tied with Charlotte (18-6, 10-3) for second place, one game behind Memphis.
UC, which has never been swept in a season series by Charlotte, hopes to return the favor today when it meets the 49ers at sold-out Halton Arena, one of only two arenas in the league where the Bearcats (3-4 at Halton) have a losing record. The other is the Bradley Center, Marquette's home in Milwaukee.
"Playing at Charlotte is like playing at Sacramento (in the NBA)," Bobbitt said. "Everybody says that Sacramento's got the best crowd in the league. I think Charlotte has the best fans in the league. The way their gym is designed, the fans are right there on you."
Said UC center Kareem Johnson: "Their fans are just into it for the whole 40 minutes. They're always in it. Charlotte is a different team at home."
But the Charlotte fans are not the Bearcats' biggest concern as they prepare for this game. Their first challenge is to slow the 49ers' offensive machine that produces 80.4 points per game, tops in the league, a point better than UC's offensive average.
The 49ers possess the ability to score inside with forward Curtis Withers (16.5 points per game) and Eddie Basden (10.6) and the ability to kick it out when the defense collapses to present open looks for 3-point bombers Brendan Plavich and Demon Brown, who average 12.3 points apiece.
Plavich, who leads the league with 76 treys, is especially difficult to handle on the perimeter because of his ability to make tough shots. He scored 17 points and nailed five 3-pointers in 12 attempts in Charlotte's win over UC last month. He scored 31 points in the 49ers' victory over TCU on Wednesday.
"He made hard shots, but we gave him easy shots, too," said UC coach Bob Huggins. "You can't give him easy shots. You have to make them all hard. We didn't do a very good job of guarding him."
UC has won two in a row after dropping four of six games and is coming off a 25-point win over Saint Louis, one of its best overall efforts of the season.
"We've got a chance to put ourselves in a good situation," Johnson said, "and I want it. It's my last year."
PILGRIM OUT: Mike Pilgrim no longer has a basketball scholarship at the University of Cincinnati because he has been declared an academic non-qualifier, associate athletic director Brian Teter confirmed Friday.
According to Teter, the NCAA declared Pilgrim a non-qualifier on Jan. 22. UC requested that the NCAA review Pilgrim's records after its own internal review revealed a potential problem.
Pilgrim, a 6-7 forward from Purcell Marian High and Brewster (N.H.) Academy, remains enrolled at UC and will be eligible to receive a scholarship next year if he meets academic standards.
No. 15 UC at Charlotte
Tipoff: 5 p.m. today, Halton Arena (9,105).
Records: UC (19-5 overall, 10-3 Conference USA); Charlotte (18-6, 10-3).
Radio: WLW-AM (700).
Series: UC leads 12-7.
Line: UC by 2.
Coach: Bob Huggins (368-117, 15th year; 536-189 overall).
Coach: Bobby Lutz (111-72, sixth year; 292-163 overall).
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