One of the fiercest rivalries in the country is developing in the Great Midwest Conference between Cincinnati and Memphis State. Plenty of pregame intrigue surrounded their latest meeting, a 68-66 Tiger win last Saturday in Memphis that ended the fourth-ranked Bearcats' 14-game winning streak.
When Cincy arrived in Memphis, a group of fans was waiting at the airport, ready to heckle Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins because he had described the Tigers' student section a few days earlier as "the most obnoxious people in America." Anticipating the reception, the Bearcats went backdoor on the fans by boarding a bus on the tarmac and going straight to the hotel.
Even so, the Bearcats, who were 17-2 at week's end, seem to thrive on ugly confrontations, especially among themselves. Blowups between Huggins and his players are not unusual. "We're like a family that yells and screams sometimes but never forgets that they love each other," says senior forward Erik Martin, who was part of the Bearcats' best-known run-in to date. It occurred during the first half of a Jan. 30 game against DePaul, when he and Huggins had words and Martin was sent to the locker room. On his way Martin peeled off his jersey and flung it to the ground. On some teams that would have been cause for a suspension. Martin was back on the court in the second half.
Against the Tigers, Cincinnati trailed by 13 points in the second half before rallying to take a one-point lead with 5:14 left. But 27 points from Billy Smith helped Memphis State, which improved to 14-7 with the Win, survive a poor shooting night (two for 10) by its star, Anfernee Hardaway. Still, you get the feeling that the Bearcats are a team to keep an eye on, for their actions on and off the court.
TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY
Iowa, which has played valiantly since the death of forward Chris Street in a Jan. 19 car accident, isn't this season's only team to have made an emotional comeback following the death of a player. Pablo Coto, a 6'5" senior forward for Division III Marymount University of Arlington, Va., died of heart failure on Jan. 25 during a game against Goucher College. Coto suffered from an undetected case of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a thickening of the muscle wall between the chambers of the heart. In its first game after Coto's death, unranked Marymount went on the road and beat No. 16 York 72-66. "Pablo was a coach's dream," said Saint coach Webb Hatch, who phoned Iowa coach Tom Davis to ask for advice on how to help his players handle the death.