By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COLUMBUS - This hasn't been one of the best rebounding teams the University of Cincinnati has fielded under coach Bob Huggins, but it's still formidable enough to cause opponents to gulp nervously over the prospect of banging with the Bearcats on the boards.
players meet before beginning practice at Nationwide Arena Thursday
in preparation for tonight's game against East Tennessee State. ETSU
will be looking for its first NCAA Tournament win sine 1992.
Their reputation as rebounding stalwarts caused East Tennessee State forward Jerald Fields to pause when he saw the Bucs' name go up on the bracket opposite UC's on Sunday.
"One thing that went through my mind when I saw them pop up is, 'Man, we're going to have to get on the glass,' " Fields said.
No. 4 seed UC (24-6) plays No. 13 seed East Tennessee State (27-5) at 3:05 p.m. today at Nationwide Arena in the first round of the NCAA Tournament's Atlanta Regional.
No. 4 UC vs. No. 13 East
Tipoff: Approx. 3:05 p.m.
Radio: WLW-AM (700).
• WCPO video
The Bucs, champions of the Southern Conference, have a speedy point guard in the 5-foot-9 Tim Smith, who can cause UC problems. They have 6-5 forward Zakee Wadood, the Southern Conference Player of the Year, who can dazzle the Bearcats with his versatility.
And they're loaded with confidence after their near-miss against Wake Forest in the Tournament last year.
But with a three-guard offense and a front line consisting of the 6-7 Fields and the 6-5 Wadood, they could struggle up front against the more physical Bearcats, who start four players at 6-7 or taller, bring the 6-6 Eric Hicks off the bench and now have 6-10, 255-pound Robert Whaley at their disposal.
"Any team we play should worry about us rebounding," forward Armein Kirkland said.
UC outrebounds its opponents by an average of 3.7 per game. The Bucs are about even with their opponents.
"We're going to have a tough time dealing with those guys," ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. "We are not a very big, physical team."
But UC could have trouble dealing with Smith and the speedy transition game he runs.
"I've never seen anybody that fast," UC guard Tony Bobbitt said. "Maybe (Memphis') Antonio Burks a little bit, but not like that."
Smith averages 17.4 points and 4.5 assists and has the ability to turn a game into an up-and-down free-for-all that could hurt UC.
"It's amazing," Huggins said. "They look really fast on tape. Most people think tape has a tendency to slow people down, but they look extremely fast on tape, so I think our guys got the message."
UC, which began the season as a running team before morphing into its current half-court identity, will try to slow the game and use its size to its advantage.
"Rebounds are the key to the game," UC forward Jason Maxiell said.
Bartow won't argue.
"If we get hammered on the glass," Bartow said, "which we could, the game won't even be close. We'll have no chance."
The Bucs might have surprised Wake Forest last year, when they took the Demon Deacons to the wire before losing by three points.
But the Bearcats, who have been eliminated in the first two rounds of this Tournament in six of the last seven years, aren't overconfident.
East Tennessee State enters this game looking for its first NCAA Tournament win since the Bucs upset Arizona in 1992. They're confident they can pull off an upset.
"We've been talking about this since last August," Bartow said. "And our guys really believe - whether we're playing Cincinnati or someone else - they really believe they're going to win."
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