By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Two days after University of Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins said he wished he had left Tony Bobbitt home after he played poorly in a loss at DePaul, Huggins wouldn't have traded his flamboyant senior guard for anybody.
Playing his last game at Fifth Third Arena, Bobbitt responded to Huggins' stinging criticism by scoring the last five points of the game and lifting UC to an 83-79 victory over Memphis on Saturday before a sellout crowd of 13,176 at Fifth Third Arena.
Tony Bobbitt celebrates the Bearcats' win over Memphis.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
The win enabled the 13th-ranked Bearcats (21-6 overall, 12-4 in Conference USA) to claim a share of the league title with No. 20 Memphis (21-6, 12-4), Charlotte, Alabama-Birmingham and DePaul.
UC receives a first-round bye and a No. 3 seed in this week's C-USA Tournament. The Bearcats will play a quarterfinal game at 7 p.m. Thursday at U.S. Bank Arena against the winner of Wednesday's game between No. 6 Louisville and No. 11 East Carolina.
"The one thing about Tony," Huggins said, "Tony's an idiot and he knows he is. When he screws up like that, he knows he screwed up and to his credit, he tries to fix it, which is admirable. There's a lot of guys, they just keep going down the wrong path. Tony knew he had a terrible week. He told me yesterday he's back on pace."
UC trailed by a point when Bobbitt drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Bearcats an 81-79 lead. After Memphis' Sean Banks missed a 3, Bobbitt rebounded, was fouled and dropped in two free throws with 19.7 seconds left to seal the victory.
UC, which surrendered the league title last year to Marquette after winning the first seven, has won or shared eight of the league's nine titles.
"We told them yesterday that we've won a lot of regular-season championships and it's come down to big plays in big games," Huggins said. "Tony made a big play today. Field made a big play today. Two of our seniors made big shots for us down the stretch."
Bobbitt had some horrible days of practice leading up to the DePaul game, in which he scored only three points.
"My attitude (stunk) Thursday," said Bobbitt, who led UC with 20 points. "I have never in my life talked back to a coach like that. Your attitude reflects your play."
Moments before Bobbitt's game-winning shot, Williams, who scored 16 points, hit a clutch 18-foot jumper of his own to give UC a 78-77 lead with 1:12 to go. But Banks, who confounded the UC defense all day with a game-high 28 points, answered with two free throws to return the lead to the Tigers.
On UC's next possession, Bobbitt penetrated the lane, then pitched the ball to Williams. His pass was high and nearly went out of bounds, but Williams saved it.
"I looked at Huggs when I caught it and he was squirming like he thought I was on the out-of-bounds line," Williams said.
"I just kicked it back to whoever was posting up down low and they kicked it out to 'T' on the other side."
Bobbitt took it from there.
"Jason Maxiell set a hell of a screen," Bobbitt said. "When I let that ball go, something in my body said that ball's going in."
As expected, the Bearcats got into a long-range shootout with the Tigers, who made 12 of 29 3-pointers. UC hung in, shooting 9-of-19 from beyond the arc, and received 19 points and nine rebounds from junior forward Jason Maxiell.
UC outrebounded Memphis 36-30 and committed only six turnovers.
"We had our chances," said Memphis coach John Calipari. "If we could have rebounded the ball in the second half . . . We gave up about eight straight offensive rebounds in the second half that they scored on. We had some good individual performances from guys, but so did they."
Bobbitt, known for never being at a loss for words, initially couldn't describe how it felt to win a share of the title after being shut out last year. Then he found the words.
"When we signed a national letter-of-intent," he said, "it was to come here and win the conference. Now that we accomplished that, we've just got to keep going."
Team rebounds - 2.
Team rebounds - 4.
3-pointers - M 12-29 (Carney 3-6, Banks 3-9, Burks 2-6, Rice 4-8), UC 9-19 (F.Williams 4-5, White 1-4, Bobbitt 4-10). Technicals - None. Officials - Olson, O'Neill, Croft. Attendance - 13,176.
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