Wednesday, February 4, 2004
Bearcats throw away 11-point lead
By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer
While Lionel Chalmers' go-ahead basket Tuesday night will define this Crosstown Shootout for Xavier - and the pluck it has shown in recent years against its archrival - Nick Williams' final pass will embody Cincinnati's struggles in the series.
The Bearcats again turned tight in the clutch against XU, surrendering a five-point lead in the final 4:04 and throwing the ball away on a potential tying possession.
The Bearcats have now lost six of the last eight to their crosstown rivals, representing XU's best eight-year stretch in series history.
"This is real tough," UC forward Eric Hicks said. "Looking at their record (XU was 10-9), that's real tough."
UC has lost the last seven games in the series decided by six or fewer points.
After Chalmers put XU ahead Tuesday 70-69 with 27 seconds, UC called time out to set up a play, but Williams' pass with five seconds left sailed over the head of Armein Kirkland and out of bounds.
Williams was not made available for interviews. But Tony Bobbitt and Eric Hicks were, and they painted the picture of a team less concerned with losing to a rival than with losing control of the season.
"We've lost our swagger. We've lost everything," Hicks said. "We haven't been listening to Huggs. At 13-0, everyone was on our side, but he told us this would happen."
UC (15-3) has lost back-to-back games and three of its last five.
"It's all about being tough," Bobbitt said. "Right now, we're just soft."
On Tuesday, UC blew an 11-point lead during the first half. Then after rallying to its late five-point lead, it allowed XU to outscore it 10-3 in the final 4:04.
"You get up, you've got to put people away," Hicks said.
The Bearcats failed to make a basket on their final 10 possessions. They made 3 of 5 free throws in the final four minutes, though Hicks' miss on the front end of a one-and-one was costly.
Huggins said his team has lacked energy and emotion in recent weeks and can't explain why.
"We came in before the Charlotte game (which UC lost Saturday), and you would have swore they were 1-16," he said of his players. "You would have swore they packed it in for the year.
"I don't understand. ... People have a hard time handling success, and we have not handled it well."
UC's usual strengths, ballhandling and pressure defense, failed the team Tuesday, as it committed 18 turnovers with just nine assists. It had forced an average of 21.3 turnovers, but XU committed just 11 turnovers. Huggins said the players called off the press in the first half, not him.
The Musketeers continually drove and drew fouls, earning 28 free throws.
"Our half-court defense is as bad as any team I've ever had," Huggins said. "Our half-court offense is not good, either. We've got guys that think they're better than what they are. ... This is a soft, soft basketball team."
Said Hicks: "It's our (the players') fault. It's all us. You can't blame this on Huggs."
He'll go down in history
Xavier senior guard Lionel Chalmers led all scorers with 20 points.
None, however, was as big as that fall-away that gave Xavier a 70-69 lead with 26 seconds remaining.
Aside from his game-winning shot, Chalmers picked his spots Tuesday.
He gave Xavier the lead three times during the game.
"I understood what it took at certain times in the game," he said. "I wanted to make shots at those times."
Time to practice
UC sophomore forward Eric Hicks was a defensive force Tuesday night.
Free throw shooting was another thing.
Hicks missed two of three free throws with less than 2:40 remaining in the game, including the front end of a one-and-one with Xavier ahead 68-67 with 1:34 remaining.
Get that outta here
Hicks entered the game with 16 blocks in 17 games this season.
The forward blocked five alone in the first half, leading to eight UC points, and eight in the game.
In the most intense game so far this season, Xavier forward Justin Cage got his first career start and did well.
The freshman played 26 minutes and finished with five points.
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Daugherty: Chalmers delivers in the clutch
Bearcats throw away 11-point lead
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