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Updated: Saturday, March 13, 2004 4:22 PM EST
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(12) Cincinnati 55, Depaul 50

CINCINNATI (Ticker) -- Tony Bobbitt and Cincinnati showed they were tough enough to win another Conference USA tournament championship.

Falling to the floor after being punched in the groin in the second half, Bobbitt returned and hit a clutch 3-pointer with 2:12 left to help the 12th-ranked Bearcats post a 55-50 victory over DePaul for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"It was all about pride," Bobbitt said. "Three games in three days is a cakewalk for us. We go for three hours in practice every day. If you can't, you don't belong here."

Appearing in the C-USA championship game for the fifth time, Cincinnati (24-6) won the title for the fourth time. The previous one came here at the U.S. Bank Arena in 2002.

DePaul (21-9) finished in a five-way tie for first-place in the regular season and will likely receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Blue Demons rallied from a 16-point deficit in Friday's semifinal win over Alabama-Birmingham, but could not overcome a 14-point deficit on Saturday.

After Delonte Holland missed a dunk attempt that would have pulled DePaul within three, Bobbitt drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing to give Cincinnati a 42-34 lead with 9:10 left.

On Cincinnati's ensuing possession, DePaul guard LeVar Seals inexplicably punched Bobbitt in the groin and was called for a flagrant foul and ejected with 8:22 left. Bobbitt crumpled to the floor and was helped to the locker room as Field Williams hit 1-of-2 free throws to increase the advantage to 43-34.

"I didn't see it, but the referee said he threw a punch," DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. "I don't condone that in our sport or any sport - throwing a punch at somebody."

"What happened today has no reflection on their program," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. "They're all class individuals."

After the Blue Demons closed within 47-41 on a jumper in the lane by Holland with 2:30 remaining, Bobbitt returned and drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the game. He added a layup with 39 seconds left to seal the win.

Voted the tournament's Most Valuable Player, Bobbitt finished with 17 points off the bench as Cincinnati's reserves outscored DePaul's bench players, 30-0.

The Blue Demons shot a season-low 35 percent. Their only 3-pointer in 12 attempts was a meaningless one by Holland with 32 seconds left. Drake Diener, the conference's most accurate 3-point shooter, missed all four attempts.

The teams split the season series, with DePaul beating the Bearcats last week in Chicago, setting up a five-way tie for first place.

"They ruined our chance at an outright conference title, so today was about payback," said Cincinnati's Eric Hicks, who netted 10 points off the bench.

Holland finished with 17 points and Quemont Greer added 13, but DePaul guards Diener and freshman Sammy Mejia combined to hit 5-of-17 shots.

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