Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Bearcats ready for speedster

Buccaneers' 5-9 guard Smith is big assignment to defend

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

James White says it would be fun to try to guard East Tennessee State point guard Tim Smith.

East Tennessee State's Tim Smith
(Photo courtesy of East Tennessee State)
Not many players would use the word "fun" to describe the task of chasing the tiny Smith around the court, trying to contain the non-stop ball of energy. Some would call it unnerving. Others would see it as frustrating.

But it's not like White, the University of Cincinnati's 6-foot-7 forward-turned-point guard, doesn't know what he's wishing for. White played with Smith at Hargrave Military Academy in 2000-01 and saw first-hand what he can do to defenders.

"He's very fast," White said. "He's like (Antonio) Burks from Memphis, maybe a little faster. He's left-handed. He's a very unorthodox player to play against."

No. 4 seed UC (24-6) plays No. 13 seed East Tennessee State (27-5) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament's Atlanta Regional at 3:05 p.m. Friday in Columbus.

Smith, a sophomore from Newport News, Va., is the juice that makes the Buccaneers' fast-paced attack go. He averages 17 points and 4.5 assists per game. He's not a great shooter - he makes just 42.1 percent of his shots - but he's so quick that he causes matchup problems.

Though he's listed at 5-9, Smith says he's actually closer to 5-8, not that it matters much at that size because Smith says he never considers how small he is.

"I don't look at size," Smith said. "I just go out and play. I just like to get it and go. I just play 'til the end, play hard all the way through."

There was never a better example of that than last year in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when the No. 15 seed Buccaneers took No. 2 Wake Forest to the wire before losing 76-73.

Smith scored 22 points in that game, but it was a 65-second stretch late in the game that defined the type of player he is.

During that span he made a 3-pointer and two free throws to trim a 72-64 Wake Forest lead to three with 47 seconds left. He then stole the inbounds pass and after two missed shots by his teammates, nailed a trey to tie the game.

Trailing 75-73 with 10.9 seconds left, he drove to the left corner and launched a 3-pointer that might have won the game, but the shot was an air ball and the Bucs lost their chance for a major upset.

"We made little mistakes that we shouldn't have made," Smith said. "That was our first year in the tournament. We were young. It'll be a lot different this year."

If White guards Smith, as he's expected to, he'll have a size advantage of almost a foot, which will make it difficult for Smith to shoot over him. But Smith is quicker and he knows how to use that quickness to his advantage.

"He's so quick he gets you back on your heels," said UC coach Bob Huggins. "It's hard to bother him that much. He's faster than anybody we've got on our team. He penetrates better than anybody we have. He creates more. They rely on him."

This is not the first time that Huggins and UC have faced an ETSU team with a diminutive, speedy point guard. On Dec. 22, 1990, Huggins' second year as head coach, UC played against a Buccaneer team that was led by 5-7 point guard Mister Jennings, who scored 19 points with nine assists and five rebounds in a 90-79 East Tennessee State victory at Shoemaker Center. Whether Smith and this ETSU team can make history repeat itself remains to be seen.

"He's a good player," White said. "I'm looking forward to playing against him. When I saw that we were playing East Tennessee State, that's the first thing I thought of. Hopefully, I'll be able to guard him."

Smith is looking forward to it, too.

"It's going to be fun, both of us being out there," Smith said. "It'll be like a reunion."



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