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College Basketball

INSIDE COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Bearcats Claw Back

Undermanned Cincinnati just keeps winning

by Kelli Anderson

Posted: Wed January 27, 1998

 
After the buzzer had sounded on then No. 21 Cincinnati's 88-82 win over No. 22 Rhode Island at Shoemaker Center in Cincinnati on Sunday, Ruben Patterson, the Bearcats' 6'6" senior forward, tore the white Michael Jordan designer jersey off his back and wadded it up as if he were going to throw it into the crowd. But Patterson, who had just matched a career-high with 27 points in his first home game in more than two months, hesitated and kept the singlet clutched in his hand. For the first time in a long while, wearing a white jersey at the Shoe was something he could feel good about.

CB02025.jpg (22k) Between Nov. 17 and Sunday, wearing white in that gym had been all sweat and no glory for Patterson, who kept in shape during a 14-game suspension for NCAA rules violations by playing on the white-clad scout team in every minute of every Bearcats practice. "Any time there was action on the floor, I had to be in it," says Patterson. "I might get a few sips of water; otherwise I was running." But practices—even coach Bob Huggins's grueling workouts—aren't the same as games. "Games are much more intense," says Patterson. "It feels great to be playing in them again."

Patterson couldn't have picked a better one for reintroducing himself to the home crowd. Rhode Island, much improved (13-4) under first-year coach Jim Harrick and appearing in its first regular-season national TV game, kept it close despite getting pounded on the boards 37-18. The Rams ultimately lost because they had no one who could guard the versatile Patterson, who led both teams in scoring and rebounding (10). He had scored just 29 points total in Cincinnati's previous three games, which were all on the road. "Nobody thought he'd take over immediately," says teammate Melvin Levett. "I'm just glad he didn't wait a couple of more games."

Though Patterson's contributions were clearly needed, there had been some concern in Cincinnati that his return might negatively affect what has become, against all odds, a very good team. Unlike last year's Danny Fortson-led Bearcats, who started the season ranked No. 1 and then struggled under weighty expectations before losing to Iowa State in the second round of the NCAAs, Cincinnati this season has flourished as a starless underdog. After a 20-point loss to Xavier in early December, the Bearcats appeared to be the mediocrities everybody thought they'd be without Fortson, Darnell Burton, Damon Flint and Charles Williams, who are all gone from last year's team.

But then a funny thing happened. Two starters, D'Juan Baker and Kenyon Martin, were given three-game suspensions for misusing the athletic department's long-distance access codes, the same offense that was a factor in Patterson's suspension. Desperate for bodies, Huggins had to give significant minutes to Bearcats on the far end of his bench, which included two football players, Brent Petrus and Brad Jackson, who had joined the team primarily for winter exercise. Instead of crumbling, Cincinnati jelled. Between the loss to Xavier and a 66-63 overtime loss at Marquette last Thursday, the Bearcats won 10 in a row. After their defeat of Rhode Island they were 15-3 and ranked No. 18 in the latest AP poll.

"Last year we had more talent," says senior forward Bobby Brannen, whose points per game have soared from 5.0 last season to 16.9. "This year we play harder and really defend. It's been more fun because with all the talent we lost, not much was expected from us. So we've had a great time showing everybody that we can play."

Issue date: February 2, 1998

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Bearcats Claw Back

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