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.
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.
Cincinnati's Armein Kirkland reacts after a basket in the second half.
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.
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
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
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
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
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 on TV, radio