COLUMBUS - The Cincinnati Bearcats ventured into the NCAA Tournament's First Round Funhouse (motto: Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive) and nearly lost to a kid no taller than a gas pump. Tim Smith would be the best player you've never heard of, if this tournament weren't filled with Tim Smiths, every ever-lovin' year.
As it was, East Tennessee State's 5-foot-9 guard nearly made the Bearcats face another 12 months of Can't Win In March. Only Tony Bobbitt prevented it. Bobbitt has the guts and conscience of a burglar. With UC's world on the brink, Bobbitt calmly pump-faked ETSU's James Anthony into the front row and dropped a 3-pointer from the left baseline with 16.1 seconds to go.
That accounted for the final 80-77 score and ended a typically incredible first-round game in routinely spectacular fashion. If there is a better 48 hours of sports than the first round of the Madness, someone buy me a lifetime ticket.
"Pump-fake, get 'em in the air and shoot it with confidence," said Bobbitt. He might as well have been reciting facts from History class. As East Tennessee coach Murry Bartow noted, "Some guys are more apt than other guys to take that shot." Bobbitt has apt written all over him.
The Bearcats were a No. 4 seed, playing a No. 13, but they needn't apologize for making it interesting. This event is ghostly with high seeds losing early or biting their knuckles until the buzzer. What was it Paul Brown said? Never complain, never explain. Just take the win and ease on down the road, before somebody changes his mind.
But back to Tim Smith. He's like guarding a vapor trail. "You can have 20 feet on him and he can go past you," Bobbitt said. "That's shocking."
When he wasn't scoring himself (26 points), he was getting his teammates open looks (five assists). When he wasn't doing either, he was slapping at the ball like a bear pawing a beehive (four steals.)
When Bobbitt drained a three with 11 seconds left before halftime, giving UC an eight-point lead and a nice psychological bump into the dressing room, Smith came back to knock down a Take That! three at the buzzer.
He ran past Field Williams for a coast-to-coast layup that gave ETSU its first lead, 57-56. "Like Michael Vick with a basketball," Williams decided.
Smith can't outrun his shadow. But can he outrun yours. He's on the ball as much as orange. You could catch a fish with your bare hands, or you could guard Tim Smith. The degree of difficulty is about the same.
With six minutes left, a three by Smith's running mate Zakee Wadood put the Buccaneers ahead 71-68 and gave UC a renewed glimpse of its tortured Tournament past. Zakee (17 points, 14 rebounds) was one bad Wadood.
But the Bearcats persevered. This team is good at that, one reason to believe its season won't end in Round Two on Sunday. Bobbitt answered Wadood's trey with one of his own, to keep UC in balance.
It went that way until the end. At 77-all, Bobbitt missed an NBA three from way past the key with less than a minute left, but Eric Hicks kept UC going with a monstrous rebound. That set the stage for Bobbitt's bloodless game winner.
Someone asked Field Williams if Tim Smith's performance elevated UC's game. "The game elevated our game," said Williams.
The Buccaneers were more than a gnat in UC's eye. They were better than a truck on their bumper in the passing lane, or the relative who comes for a weekend and stays for a week. If the Bucs are a No. 13 seed, Bob Huggins is Abraham Lincoln.
The Bearcats will play on because they played on. Thanks to Bobbitt, Field Williams (five threes), Hicks and Nick Williams (3-for-3 treys) they didn't get voted off the island.
"I was hoping it wouldn't be that hard," a drained Huggins said. It was wishful thinking. This is March.
NCAA TOURNAMENT (Special section)
XU: Musketeers fight back to advance
Patient Sato picks his spots, hits his shots
UC: Bobbitt hits game-winner
Daugherty: Little guy not so little in Tourney
ETSU's Smith plays big
Hicks gets job done as Bearcats' stealth sub
UK: 'Cats pull away in 2nd half to win
Hayes just misses triple-double
Murray St. gets taste of Illini's Big Ten
Cowboys get Sutton's angry halftime message
Wolfpack uses defense to subdue Ragin' Cajuns
Pacific waves goodbye to 5th seed Providence
Maryland sets sights on 'Cuse's sharpshooter
Calhoun could do without matchup
NCAA Tournament at a glance
It's not exactly home, but it's close for the Buckeyes
Tournament chase is all about class
Team by team in the women's field
WNIT: Scoring drought ends MU's season
Victory sends Wilmington to title game
REDS / BASEBALL
Reds pitcher lost for season
2003 Reds finances may have finished in the black
Inside Reds camp
Lidle in Opening Day hunt
Aching Nixon, Garciaparra out of action for Red Sox
BENGALS / NFL
Bengals, Sapp close in on deal
It's official: Keyshawn, Parcells reunited
MND plays nation's top-ranked team for state title
C-J storms into Division I title game
Colonels discover that the 3 is king
Royals win one for the ages
Mason Co. pushed to the 3-OT brink
Prep sports results, schedules
Silver Minister, Bejarano aim to play spoiler
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Maruyama moves ahead
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