Monday, February 2, 2004

Shootout just another game

At least UC's coach thinks so

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tuesday night's Crosstown Shootout will be the 15th for University of Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins, giving him the distinction of being the head coach in more Shootouts than any other coach in the history of the series, which began in 1927-28.

UC head coach Bob Huggins says "It's just one game."
(Ernest Coleman photo)
Huggins says he has never regarded the Xavier game as the most important of UC's season, and still doesn't.

"It's one game," he said. "It's just one game. Nobody outside of this town brings it up. We think it's more than what it really is."

Huggins will pass former UC coach George Smith, who coached in 14 Shootouts from 1952-60, when the two schools often played twice in the same season.

Huggins is 7-7 against the Bearcats' crosstown rivals. Only Marquette (11), Memphis (8) and Louisville (8) own more wins over UC during the Huggins coaching era. Huggins owns a winning record against each of those teams, except XU.

"I have always tried to get our guys to maintain a fairly even keel as much as possible so that one game doesn't affect your season," Huggins said of his approach to the XU game. "We probably haven't put as much importance on it. Maybe we should have. Maybe we shouldn't. It's hard to argue with how many games we've won (overall)."

Huggins has coached against three different XU coaches in this series - Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser and current XU coach Thad Matta. The Musketeers have played in two different leagues during that span. UC has played in three and is heading for a fourth when it joins the Big East in 2005.

Huggins said he had no idea what the game was like until he coached in his first one on Jan. 31, 1990.

"People tell you things, but it's hard to grasp," he said.

He grasped it rather quickly during that first game. Before the night was over, his Bearcats had been beaten 90-88 by XU in overtime at Cincinnati Gardens. Jamal Walker hit a 3-pointer after a disputed call on a ball that went out-of-bounds gave possession to the Musketeers.

UC has had its share of success against XU under Huggins, but it's the XU victories that seem to garner the most attention. Twice - in 1996 and 1999 - the Musketeers knocked off UC when the Bearcats were ranked No. 1 in the country.

And then there was the infamous handshake game in 1994, when Huggins refused to shake Gillen's hand after an 82-76 overtime XU win at the Gardens because he said Gillen and his staff had been insulting Huggins throughout the game. Gillen stormed off the court in a rage.

"I'm no phony," Huggins said after the game.

Huggins declined to rehash the handshake game for this story.

At one point in the mid-90s, first Gillen and then Huggins suggested it might be time to discontinue the series for a few years so the emotions from fans on both sides would have a chance to cool. The atmosphere improved while Prosser was the head coach at XU from 1994-2001.

Huggins does not advocate discontinuing the series now.

"It's been a game between two really good teams," Huggins said. "It helps your RPI. Once you've played in that environment, there aren't any that are much more exciting or tougher."

Still, Huggins said, "I think it needs to be cleaned up. I really do."

Huggins said he will continue to place more emphasis on league games than he does on the XU game.

"I always grew up thinking that your league championship was really an important thing and we have always concentrated all of our energies into winning league games because we wanted to be the league champions," Huggins said. "That's kind of why you're in a league."

Crosstown veterans

The five head coaches who have coached the most games in the Crosstown Shootout, and their records:

Bob Huggins, UC, 7-7.
George Smith, UC, 9-5.
Tay Baker, UC and XU, 5-2 with UC, 0-6 with XU.
Ned Wulk, XU, 6-6.
John Wiethe, UC, 7-3.



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