Sunday, February 29, 2004

Bearcats back on top in C-USA


Hard-fought win ties them with Memphis

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - After what happened Saturday, it's easy to envision University of Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins attempting to inspire a new group of players five years from now with a story about the time his 2003-04 team went to Charlotte and knocked off the 49ers to climb back into first place.

[img]
Charlotte's Martin Iti, center, fights for the ball with Cincinnati players Kareem Johnson (42) and Jason Maxiell (54) during the first half.
(AP photo)
He would talk about the way the Bearcats overcame an 8-0 disadvantage, about how they didn't quit even when Jason Maxiell picked up his third foul a minute into the second half, about how they stood up in the face of the most hostile crowd of the season and refused to back down.

It was that kind of day for the 15th-ranked Bearcats, who played as hard and as well as they have all season to knock off Charlotte 75-67 before a noisy, sellout crowd of 9,105 at Halton Arena.

After losing four of six games, the Bearcats have now won three in a row.

Coupled with Louisville's victory over Memphis earlier in the day, the win enabled UC (20-5 overall, 11-3 in Conference USA) to climb into a first-place tie with Memphis with two regular-season games remaining - at DePaul on Thursday and at home against Memphis next Saturday.

"We needed to win this one because we kind of felt like we let one slip away (to Charlotte) in Cincinnati," Huggins said. "You've got to really defend your home turf if you're going to win this league. That's what we've done so well over the years."

Charlotte (18-7, 10-4) began the day tied with UC for second in the conference, but now finds itself in a three-way tie for third with Alabama-Birmingham and DePaul.

The Bearcats got off to a terrible start. They trailed 8-0 after a Brendan Plavich 3-pointer with 16:49 to go and appeared to be on the verge of getting blown out.

"We knew they were going to come out with a lot of emotion," said UC forward James White, who had a career-high nine assists. "We basically just banded together and stayed focused through all of it. We did what we had to do."

The Bearcats were down by seven with 11:53 left in the half when Maxiell went to work, scoring 10 straight points to keep his team in the game, repeatedly beating the 49ers attempts to double team him by releasing his shot before the double-team could form or kicking the ball outside.

But just as Maxiell, who finished with a game-high 18 points, was heating up, he picked up his second foul and went to the bench with 6:34 to go.

No problem. Kareem Johnson, who had 14 points and nine rebounds, immediately picked up the slack with six points to keep UC within two at halftime.

"I've got to take my hat off to those two guys," said UC guard Tony Bobbitt. "They took the pressure off us."

The Bearcats took their first lead at 37-36, with 19:05 left in the game, fell behind again by six, then came roaring back one more time.

A Bobbitt 3-pointer with 5:52 to go gave UC a 64-60 lead and would be the Bearcats' final field goal of the day. Moments later, Johnson missed two free throws, but Maxiell grabbed a monster rebound, was fouled and made both free throws. Two more free throws by Bobbitt gave UC a 68-60 lead with 4:28 to go.

At that point, it appeared the Bearcats had the victory in hand, but a technical foul by White and a couple of turnovers led to some anxious moments for UC.

With proficient 3-point shooters like Plavich and Demon Brown on the floor for Charlotte, the Bearcats couldn't relax until the final horn sounded.

"We've got 21 seconds left and we're up six," Bobbitt said. "That means nothing to those guys."

But the Bearcats held on, closing out the victory with six straight free throws.

"I think we're on that road now," Bobbitt said. "We don't want to get knocked off. We're back tied for first, right?"

---

E-mail bkoch@enquirer.com

CincinnatiMFGAttFTAttRAFTOTP
White35370139436
Maxiell257944313018
Johnson286725901014
F. Williams384944230015
N. Williams16061223311
Hicks19250040224
Bobbitt18372241319
Kirkland21331213228
Totals20028531420292018975
Team rebounds - 1.

CharlotteMFGAttFTAttRAFTOTP
Withers334108101233116
Basden333534622310
Iti12230030214
Plavich3241322211014
Brown30290033225
Pigford5120000002
Johnson18353430339
Baldwin18141141403
Clemmons19142220014
Totals200215519233510171267
Team rebounds - 0.

Cincinnati3342-75
Charlotte3532-67
3-pointers - Cincinnati 5-14 (White 0-2, F. Williams 3-7, N. Williams 0-1, Bobbitt 1-3, Kirkland 1-1), Charlotte 6-23 (Basden 1-1, Plavich 4-13, Brown 1-8, Baldwin 0-1). Technicals - White. Officials - Tom O'Neil, Rick Crawford, Art McDonald. Attendance - 9,105.




BENGALS / NFL
Lewis is flexible in free-agent approach
Bengals' free agents
Daugherty: Benching Kitna's a bad move for Bengals
Bears may put Clarett on wish list
Preparing for draft now a full-time job

REDS / BASEBALL
Nomad hoping he's finally found home
Reds e-mail Q&A
Cubs line up aces for Reds
Inside camp
Healthy Castro fits role like glove
Kelly: Garciaparra still reeling from offseason fiasco
Boone vows he'll return this season
'Special' baseball records clouded by suspicion
Cubs give Lee 3-year contract

COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Bearcats back on top in C-USA
Smaller rotation pays big dividends
Musketeers finally fall off tightrope, derailing hopes
NCAA hopes dealt blow
Kentucky, LSU heading in opposite directions
RedHawks hit pothole in quest for No. 3 seed
Top 25: Stanford, St. Joe's stay the course
Creager's 22 points lead NKU women

PREP SPORTS
Groeschen: Freeman records remain mystery
Ernst: These guys on family plan
Taft lackluster in opening-round win
Landmark knocked off by Southeastern
Five sent to hospital after post-game brawl
Lakota East's Johnson, C-M's Thobaben win titles
Campbell Co. makes it look easy in winning title
Sr. Carothers guides Bombers to victory
Stowers, Long win 1-meter diving titles
Lakota West, Anderson headed for state

SUNDAY PAGE TWO
Good sports: Wrestler driven by determination
XU tennis players near singles mark
What's up with that?
A quick chat with ... Scott Smith
All thumbs
Planning ahead
This week's sports poll

MORE SPORTS HEADLINES
Woods vs. Love in Match Play final
Silas understands Baker's demons
Nets' Martin blocks it to 'em
Sports digest
Sports on TV, radio

Mail This Story (Click here) Send this story to a friend.

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

FOOTBALL

Paterno Won't Coach Penn St.-Temple Game

Paterno Won't Go to Penn St.-Temple Game

Spurrier Shadow Looms Large in Florida

No. 15 Rutgers Bracing for Historic Game

Hurricanes Stunned by Teammate's Murder

THE BIG EAST
Big East logo
UC joins Big East
• A special section of complete coverage, as the UC Bearcats join one of the nation's elite sports conferences.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

Terps Sign Gary Williams Through 2010-11

Bob Knight Approaches Winning Milestone

Buckeyes' Oden Content to Wait for NBA

Larranaga Enjoy Spoils of Final Four Run

Hansbrough Leads AP's All-America Team

AP's Preseason All-America Team

Gators Runaway Preseason No. 1 in Poll

Gators Return Starters to Defend Title

Texas Tech's Jackson Returns to Practice

Sutton Released From Hospital in Okla.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Paris Headlines AP's All-America Team

ACC New Powerhouse in Women's Basketball

Maryland Tops AP Women's Basketball Poll