Sunday, February 29, 2004

Smaller rotation pays big dividends

Move was key to 3-game win streak

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - After their loss at Alabama-Birmingham on Feb. 18, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats looked like a team on the verge of collapse. They had lost four of their last six games, were beaten up and down the floor repeatedly by the Blazers, and their offensive execution was horrendous.

Cincinnati's Armein Kirkland reacts after a basket in the second half.
(AP photo)
Since then, the Bearcats have rallied with three straight wins, beginning with an overtime victory over Louisville that may have salvaged their season, and have secured a 20-win season for the 13th time in the 15 years Bob Huggins has been the coach at UC.

So how did the Bearcats turn it around?

"When we were losing, people's heads were down and we weren't doing the things we were supposed to be doing," said UC forward Armein Kirkland. "We weren't enthusiastic to play. After the Louisville game and a couple of practices we had that were good, everybody was coming together more."

Huggins has also reduced his substitution rotation from 10 or 11 players to eight.

"We haven't played as many guys," Huggins said. "We've played guys that I thought that day were going to play."

SECOND-HALF POISE: Perhaps the most impressive thing about UC's win over Charlotte on Saturday was the way the Bearcats maintained their poise and executed their offense in the half-court, especially in the second half.

"They executed so much better than we did," said Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz. "We changed defenses, but they adjusted. We couldn't stop them from scoring."

Said Huggins: "We showed patience offensively in the second half. We moved the ball. We took better care of the ball and we rebounded it better. They got us pretty good on the glass in the first half."

DEFENSE STEPS UP: The Bearcats held Charlotte to 67 points, 13 below its league-leading average of 80 and limited the 49ers to 38.2 percent shooting, 30.8 percent in the second half.

After making 5 of 11 3-pointers in the first half, Charlotte was just 1-of-12 in the second half. Brendan Plavich was 1-for-7 from 3-point range in the second half.

"A lot of them were kickouts for open shots," Lutz said. "They were shots that we wanted. You can't say they're only good shots just when you make them."

Some of Plavich's shots wouldn't be considered high-percentage shots for most teams, but as UC's Kirkland said, that's a big part of Charlotte's offense.

"If I had made those shots, we wouldn't have been playing long," Kirkland said. "We would have been out of the game so fast. But that's their offense."

WHITE TECHNICAL: James White was surprised to get called for a technical foul after he shoved Charlotte's Demon Brown with 3:16 left.

"He was all over me," White said. "I just basically kind of shoved him off. I didn't even know they called it at first."

NOTES: UC's 52.8 shooting percentage gave the Bearcats back-to-back 50 percent shooting games for the first time this season . . . Jason Maxiell needs 19 points to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career. Field Williams needs 53 . . . Kareem Johnson has averaged 11 points and 10.5 rebounds in his last two games.

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• 1:00 p.m. Sat. Nov. 20
• Nippert Stadium
• Radio: WLW-AM 700


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