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Bearcats use new defense to win title

Too tired to play man-to-man against No. 13 Marquette, Cincinnati goes zone to keep alive a shot at NCAA No.1 seed.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2002

Too tired to play man-to-man against No. 13 Marquette, Cincinnati goes zone to keep alive a shot at NCAA No.1 seed.

CINCINNATI -- Late Friday, after Cincinnati had won the second Conference USA tournament semifinal, Bearcats coach Bob Huggins bemoaned the 11:40 a.m. start time for Saturday's title game against Marquette.

He pouted -- "We tip off when we should be having breakfast" -- and spouted history, saying the winner of the late semifinal usually lost the next day.

So around midnight, Huggins, in his 13th season at Cincinnati, broke new ground in his coaching career. He installed a 2-3 zone.

About 14 hours later, his top-seeded Bearcats put the finishing touches on second-seeded Marquette 77-63.

"There wasn't any way we could play man-to-man for 40 minutes (with so little rest) the way we want to play man-to-man," Huggins said. "It was to try to conserve some energy. There was just no way we could chase them around."

In the brunch battle, No. 5 Cincinnati (30-3) -- heretofore a strict, proud man-to-man practitioner -- devoured No.13 Marquette (26-6) with a big helping of zone.

"It shocked me," tournament MVP Steve Logan said. "We never play zone here. I think it was smart to save our energy."

Marquette shot just 33.8 percent and didn't get within 10 after the first few minutes of the second half.

"I hate to trick people," Huggins said. "We kind of like to line up and play. But you've got to do what you've got to do.

"I don't like zone because I don't know who to blame. Man-to-man, I pretty much know who to blame."

With Bearcats legend Oscar Robertson watching from the second row of the Firstar Center, Cincinnati's first C-USA tournament title since 1998 was historic. It established a school record for victories and possibly positioned the Bearcats for their first No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Bearcats are considered to be in the running with Oklahoma for the fourth No.1 seed. They have been a No.2 four times.

"I don't think there is any question we should be (a No.1 seed)," Huggins said.

Both teams showed the effects of playing their third game in three days, but Cincinnati had one hot player in each half.

In the first, it was Field Williams, who came off the bench to make 3 of 4 3-pointers and spark an 18-4 run as Cincinnati led 31-24 at halftime.

In the second, it was Logan. The two-time C-USA player of the year had been ineffective in his previous three halves. He scored a season-low seven Friday against Charlotte and had five at halftime Saturday. Logan dominated the second half, however, and finished with a game-high 26. The teams split regular-season games, Marquette winning 74-60 in Milwaukee and Cincinnati eking out a 63-62 home victory. It was the dream title match for C-USA, but Marquette's shooting fizzled. The Golden Eagles had 20 offensive rebounds and a 39-35 edge overall, but they shot 22-for-65.

"We did a good job (playing against) the zone," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "We just didn't make the shots."

In the semifinal victory over Houston, Marquette guard Cordell Henry had 27 points, but he had just 11 against Cincinnati on 3-for-15 shooting. Dwyane Wade led the Golden Eagles with 16.

"We had the shots," Henry said. "They just weren't falling."

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