CINCINNATI (AP) -- As he squinted at tape through bleary eyes
late at night, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins decided that it was
time to do something totally out of character.
He devised a game plan with the No. 5 Bearcats playing zone
With Steve Logan struggling and their front line wilting, the
Bearcats slipped into a zone that confounded No. 13 Marquette and
set up a 77-63 victory Saturday for the Conference USA tournament
Cincinnati (30-3) set a school record for victories and made its
bid for its first No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament by ditching
the bumping, man-to-man defense that's its trademark.
"It shocked me," said Logan, who overcame a sluggish first
half and finished with 26 points. "We never play zone here."
Trailing by five points in the first half, Cincinnati came out
in a 2-3 zone that confused Marquette (26-6) and knocked its
offense out of sync for the rest of the game.
Huggins watched tape of Marquette's high-energy offense after
the semifinals on Friday night and concluded the Bearcats would
wear down if they played man-to-man for the entire game.
"I didn't think on 12 hours' rest that we could chase them
around," Huggins said. "As long as I've coached, I've never
played a 2-3 zone. I put it in about 11:30 last night to conserve
some energy. They had a hard time scoring, so we stayed with it.
"I hate to trick people. I like to line up and play. But you've
got to do what you've got to do."
Logan, the conference's leading scorer and two-time player of
the year, couldn't do anything in the first half -- he missed a pair
of uncontested layups and made only one shot. Huggins described his
best player as "beat up."
Logan turned it up in the second half, but it was the defense
that made the difference by holding Marquette to 33.8 percent
shooting from the field.
The Golden Eagles were defensive about their inability to make
shots, blaming themselves instead of Cincinnati's strategy.
"We had open shots, they just weren't falling," point guard
Cordell Henry said.
Henry, who scored 24 and 27 points in Marquette's first two
tournament games, managed only 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting.
Dwyane Wade led Marquette with 16 points.
Cincinnati has won all seven of the conference's regular-season
titles, and now three of its tournaments. The last one was in 1998,
when the tournament was played on the Bearcats' home court.
The crowd of 15,242 at a downtown arena gave the Bearcats the
home-court advantage Saturday in a game that got as heated as
Logan got into a shoving match under the basket after center
Scott Merritt fouled him hard for his fifth in the game. The
officials had to step in to restore calm as players exchanged
shoves and taunts.
Two minutes later, Cincinnati's Jason Maxiell got an intentional
foul for hitting Henry in the abdomen, knocking him to the floor.
Marquette's Tom Crean, the conference's coach of the year, was
still upset a half-hour after the game. Asked if he had feared the
game was getting out of hand, Crean paused for five seconds,
thought about his response and answered with an edge to his voice.
"I'm just going to say this: They won today. They deserved it.
We didn't play well enough to win," he said. "It was a physical
The teams split their season series. Marquette ended the
Bearcats' 20-game winning streak with a 74-60 win in Milwaukee on
Feb. 2, and Cincinnati won the rematch 63-62 on Feb. 22.
Marquette got the best of it early Saturday. Huggins raged at
his ineffective front-line players as Marquette got 11 of the first
14 rebounds and pulled ahead 18-13.
The Bearcats then unveiled their zone, and Marquette's offense
came to a halt. The Golden Eagles kept trying to force the ball
inside against the packed-in D and made only four of 20 shots the
rest of the half.
With Logan missing six of his seven shots in the first half, it
fell to Field Williams to get the offense going. Cincinnati's
3-point specialist hit two of them in a 10-point run that put the
Bearcats ahead to stay, 23-18.
Wade's one-handed dunk got the lead down to four points early in
the second half, but that was the only shot the Golden Eagles would
hit for four minutes as Cincinnati stuck with the zone and answered
with a a 10-point spurt.
Logan made a 19-foot jumper and a 3-pointer -- both shots went in
cleanly -- as Cincinnati opened a 41-27 lead. Logan later made a
quick burst on a fastbreak layup and hit a pullup jumper as
Cincinnati stretched the lead to 17 points.
Marquette never got closer than 11 again.