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Mere winning falls short of UC standards

The 19-8 Bearcats may have spoiled fans so much that a C-USA title doesn't satisfy.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001


TAMPA -- With two games remaining in its regular season, the Cincinnati men's basketball team has 19 wins and eight losses.

For some programs, in fact for many programs, that's a pretty good season. But Cincinnati is not just any program.

The Bearcats have the third-most wins (137-29) in Division I over the past five seasons, are the only program to earn a top-three region seed in the NCAA Tournament the past five years and have finished in the Top 10 four of the past five seasons.

So the fact that Cincinnati lost five seniors (four starters) from last season's team, including national player of the year Kenyon Martin, was of no consequence to Bearcat fans. They expected to win.

"You have to understand, Cincinnati has been a powerhouse for a long time," junior guard Steve Logan said. "We lost five guys, but people have never seen a season with eight losses; it's usually four or five. People just aren't used to it. That's a lot of losses. But how many teams are out there right now with eight losses, but are considered to be having a good year? It's just something that's not expected of Cincinnati."

Yet despite what is largely considered a "down" season, the Bearcats are alive and well. Cincinnati (19-8, 9-5 Conference USA) plays South Florida (17-10, 9-5) at 9 tonight at the Sun Dome in a game televised on ESPN. And even with its eight losses, the Bearcats are in the hunt for a conference title and NCAA Tournament play.

Cincinnati comes in having won five of its past six games and is playing as well as anyone in the conference.

"I think we've improved tremendously," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. "We've gotten so much better defensively. We're very difficult to score against right now. We've made tremendous strides over the last two or three weeks offensively. We're a lot more balanced now, we're passing the ball better and our understanding of how to score is better. And certainly our balance is better than it was."

At the heart of Cincinnati's team is Logan and backcourt teammate Kenny Satterfield. Logan is the sixth-leading scorer in Conference USA and is fifth all-time on Cincinnati's career three-point list.

Between him and Satterfield, the Bearcats are solid at scoring, getting steals, making assists and preventing turnovers.

"We want to win; that's why we play well together," Logan said. "When you've got two leaders out there that want to win as bad as each other, that makes it a lot easier. Instead of one leader out there, there are two. It's important because you have to be able to talk to the young guys and make them understand why we do the things we want to do. It's not just talking, it's leading by example."

And lead by example they have. Both are double-figure scorers, and Satterfield is second in the conference in assists and fourth in steals and has averaged 14.2 points in the past five games. Cincinnati is first in the conference in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio.

Huggins said the backcourt, which also includes sophomore guard Leonard Stokes (10.0 ppg), has been the heart and soul of this season's team.

"Our perimeter guys have not been consistent, but the backcourt is doing everything well," Huggins said. "They are playing pretty good defense. Logan and Satterfield are both making shots and Sat's doing a much better job of getting us into our offense and getting us into running what we want to run at the particular time we want to run it. And they both handle the ball very well. We haven't turned the ball over very much, and that's because they have the ball in their hands the majority of the time and really don't turn it over very much."

Cincinnati has won or shared every regular-season title in the five-year history of C-USA. Logan said he's feeling a little pressure to keep that streak going, but he said the most important thing is to concentrate on tonight's game, then the regular-season finale Saturday.

"It has been a real adjustment for me to look up and see 19-8; it's tough to lose eight times in this program," Logan said. "People don't realize how hard it is to play here and to lose here. But we have stuck together as a team. We've got a lot of respect for each other as players."

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