Cincinnati has clawed to No. 5 with good defense and an uncanny
With his team clinging to a 42-41 lead at halftime of last
Saturday's game at Wake Forest, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins told
the Bearcats that they'd lose if their defense didn't improve in
the second half. "We've got to stop them because we can't
outscore them," he told his players in the locker room. An hour
later, after Cincinnati had won a second-half shootout to beat
the 19th-ranked Demon Deacons 103-94, Huggins may have been the
most surprised person in the arena. "I didn't think we could
score that many points against anybody," he said. "Our guys did
what they had to do to win."
The Bearcats' record improved to 22-2 with the victory, which was
by far their most impressive of the season. Facing a ranked
opponent for only the second time (Cincinnati lost to Oklahoma
State in its season opener), the Bearcats had both their highest
point total and field goal percentage (58.1%) of the year. "To
come in here against an ACC team and win when we weren't at our
best [defensively] was a big statement for us," said senior guard
Steve Logan, who was excused from practice in Winston-Salem,
N.C., last Thursday, so that he could fly home to Cleveland to
spend time with his son, who was born the night before.
Nonetheless Logan scored a game-high 30 points.
Saturday's offensive explosion notwithstanding, Cincinnati has
climbed to No. 5 in the nation by virtue of its smothering
defense. Through Sunday the Bearcats were leading the nation in
field-goal-percentage defense (37.2%) and were ranked third in
scoring defense (59.2 points a game). Their scheme is simple:
They rarely press, trap or--heaven forbid--play zone. Huggins
doesn't even like his players to gamble, which is why Cincinnati
is ranked last in Conference USA in steals (5.1 a game). The
Bearcats succeed by forcing teams as far from the basket as
possible. "We don't try to trick anyone," says 6'6" junior guard
Leonard Stokes. "We're taught to look at our man and think, It's
just you and me, and you're not going to score."
For a program known for its toughness, Cincinnati has an ideal
leader in Logan, who through Sunday was leading Conference USA in
scoring, with 21.9 points a game. Logan is short--he's listed at 6
feet but is closer to 5'10"--and has little explosiveness off the
dribble, but at 198 pounds, he knows how to use his strength to
create space, and his shooting range extends well beyond the
three-point line. Logan's scoring ability is critical, given how
little offense the Bearcats get from their frontcourt players
(23.4 points a game). "Some G.M. needs to draft this guy,"
Deacons guard Broderick Hicks said of Logan after Saturday's
game. "I was in his face all game, but he made unbelievable
Cincinnati's win over Wake Forest was also important for
Conference USA, which had a 2-16 record in nonconference games
against Top 25 teams before Saturday. Last week Memphis coach
John Calipari criticized Huggins for not voting for Memphis, then
19-4, in the coaches' poll, though Huggins later claimed he had
voted for the Tigers. "Tell Cal that as usual, he's got bad
sources," Huggins said. In light of Memphis's 64-46 loss to UAB
last Friday night, perhaps Calipari should stop worrying about
the Tigers' ranking and start worrying about beating Cincinnati.
N.C. State Rebounds
Wolfpack Is Back in the Hunt
North Carolina State coach Herb Sendek is a thoughtful man who
would rather expound on the Wolfpack's "character quotient" than
its won-lost record. Sendek, however, understands that results do
matter, especially to N.C. State fans who a year ago were calling
for him to be fired during a miserable 13-16 season. Now, with
the Wolfpack in fourth place in the ACC (7-4, 18-6 overall) and
most likely heading for its first NCAA tournament in 11 years,
Sendek's job appears safe. "It's been a difficult process, but it
hasn't been without its fruit," Sendek says. "I love this team,
and it's not because we've been winning. We're not getting ahead
of ourselves, and we're not through with the journey yet."
Sendek's caution is understandable considering that two years
ago, N.C. State got off to a 15-4 start before losing seven of
its last eight regular-season games and winding up in the NIT.
This Wolfpack, however, isn't likely to endure a similar spiral,
even though it starts two or three freshmen a game. That's mostly
because of the senior leadership in the backcourt from Anthony
Grundy and Archie Miller, each of whom has overcome adversity of
In January 1996 Grundy was suspended for the remainder of his
junior year at Louisville's Central High because he brought a gun
into school, which he says he did to protect himself from gang
members who had threatened him. Grundy moved to Bowling Green,
Ky., that summer, where he lived with a youth pastor for a year
before enrolling at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. On
the court Grundy has improved each year at N.C. State, and he's
quietly putting together a season comparable with those of the
ACC's other top guards, Juan Dixon of Maryland and Duke's Jason
Williams. Grundy is seventh in the ACC in scoring (16.7 points a
game), eighth in assists (3.7) and fourth in steals (2.4). He's
also the Wolfpack's leading rebounder, with 5.6 a game.
Miller sat out most of his sophomore season following back
surgery, and last year he missed nine games because of a stress
fracture in his left fibula. This season for about six weeks in
December and January, Miller practiced on a limited basis because
of fluid buildup in the same leg. Miller didn't miss a game,
though, and has excelled at point guard. He leads the league in
assist-to-turnover ratio (2.6 to 1) while making 38.6% of his
three-point shots. "Our young guys have really fed off Anthony
and Archie's poise," Sendek says.
The N.C. State program has been devoid of confidence and poise in
the last few years, which is why its 67-66 win at Houston on Dec.
23 might have been even more significant than its 14-point road
win against then No. 9 Syracuse 15 days earlier. Echoing the
classic 1983 NCAA championship game between the two teams, the
Wolfpack defeated the Cougars on a buzzer-beating 25-foot heave
from sophomore forward Marcus Melvin. "It was such a relief when
that shot went in," Grundy says. "After all we've been through,
it was great to finally get a break."
Davis Is One Wild Cowboy
Wyoming forward Josh Davis says he likes to keep people guessing.
So once in a while he'll reach for the small bottle of nail
polish he keeps in his locker and paint a few of his fingernails
black. "There's no meaning behind it; I just like to see people's
reactions," says Davis, a 6'8", 235-pound senior who was player
of the year in the Mountain West Conference last season. "Maybe
that's why I'm a psychology major."
A part-time bass guitarist for a rock band, Davis is helping the
Cowboys make some noise of their own. Last week Wyoming earned
its biggest win in more than a decade when it snapped Utah's
48-game home conference winning streak and tied the Utes for
first place in the conference with a 54-46 victory. The Cowboys
are 16-5 (7-1 in the Mountain West), and their first NCAA
tournament bid in 14 years could be within reach of those painted
fingertips. "Josh has done so much to get us back in the national
spotlight," says Wyoming coach Steve McClain, who in years past
has sometimes had to get after Davis to be more consistent. "I
know he wants to finish the season right."
Basketball had never been a priority for Davis until the summer
before his senior year at Salem (Ore.) Academy, when he caught
the eye of a few recruiters while playing in AAU tournaments in
Colorado Springs and Las Vegas. Before that Davis had been trying
to decide between two small colleges in Oregon. He was all-state
in basketball and baseball in high school, and as a kid he played
soccer and gymnastics and swam. ("I liked wearing purple
Speedos," he says.) Davis even took ballet lessons when he was
five or so, which he credits for helping him stay coordinated as
Davis's willingness to try new things enabled McClain to play him
at small forward last season, and Davis responded by averaging
13.5 points and 9.4 rebounds. Now that the Cowboys have improved
depth (eight players are averaging at least 10 minutes a game)
and talent (six are scoring at least 8.9 points a game), Davis is
back at power forward, and while he's scoring fewer points (12.8
a game), he's shooting better (54.3%, sixth best in the league).
More important, says junior forward Marcus Bailey, "he's taken on
much more of a leadership role than in the past. He knows he's
the man on this team."
Davis overstepped his authority, however, when he got into a
shouting match with Cowboys graduate assistant Steve Gosar after
Wyoming's three-point loss at Boise State on Dec. 12. McClain met
with Davis for nearly two hours that night in McClain's hotel
room, where they talked more about Davis's attitude coming into
the game than about his loss of composure afterward. "Coach told
me I was being soft, and he was right," Davis says. "I play much
better when I'm pissed off. This is my last season, so from here
on out I'm going into every game believing I'm the best player on
Teams Working Overtime
Basketball fans got a bonanza of bonus time last Saturday.
Besides Notre Dame's 116-111 four-overtime win over Georgetown,
which produced the highest-scoring game in Big East history,
Jacksonville needed three extra sessions to edge Jacksonville
State 100-98, and Cal beat Oregon 107-103 in double overtime.
Five other games went to a single overtime.... Word is that
Purdue coach Gene Keady is thinking about stepping down at the
end of the season after 22 years with the Boilermakers. If that
happens, look for former Chicago Bulls and Iowa State coach Tim
Floyd to top the list of possible replacements. Purdue president
Martin Jischke hired Floyd at Iowa State.
For complete scores and stats, plus more from Seth Davis
and Grant Wahl, go to cnnsi.com/basketball/college.
Weekly Seed Report
Are there any good teams out there besides our four No. 1 seeds?
Fourteen of the AP's Top 25 lost at least once last week, marking
the sixth straight week in this season of parity that 14 or more
have gone down. Similarly, seven of our 16 seeded teams lost at
least once, as did many of the teams that might have hoped to
replace them. That allowed Alabama and Miami to hold on as No. 2
and No. 3 seeds, respectively. Ohio State lost twice but still
held on to a No. 4 seed. Oregon and Virginia weren't so lucky.
The Ducks lost twice (both times in overtime), and the Cavaliers
lost their fourth consecutive game, and both dropped out of the
seedings, giving way to surging Pittsburgh and Indiana.
1. Duke (22-1)
2. Florida (18-4)
3. Miami (20-4)
4. Ohio State (17-5)
1. Kansas (21-2)
2. Cincinnati (22-2)
3. Indiana (16-7)
4. Georgia (18-6)
1. Maryland (19-3)
2. Alabama (20-4)
3. Marquette (21-3)
4. Pittsburgh (21-4)
1. Oklahoma (19-3)
2. Arizona (17-6)
3. Kentucky (16-6)
4. Gonzaga (22-3)
Player of the Week
FRESHMAN, GUARD, NOTRE DAME
The 6'1" Thomas played the point for all 60 minutes of Notre
Dame's 116-111 four-overtime victory over Georgetown last
Saturday. He had 22 points and 12 assists, and his jumper with
just under two minutes to go in the last overtime gave the Irish
the lead for good. Three days earlier Thomas had 32 points and 11
assists in an 89-72 win over Rutgers. Here's his dossier.
How did you feel after four OTs? I was so exhausted I couldn't
sleep. Physically I was beat-up, but mentally I couldn't have
Worst thing about being a freshman: I get picked on. [Teammate]
David Graves always threatens to kill my pet snake.
Proudest achievement: Being named Indiana Mr. Basketball
Pregame ritual: I pop in DVDs of Michael Jordan highlights.
Nickname: Hollywood, because when the lights go on, I like to
showcase my talent.
Recent road trip reading: The Bible, for theology class
Favorite TV shows: The Simpsons and Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Tattoos: A man holding a basketball, with the words STOP ME IF U
CAN on my left shoulder