Freshmen Hit Their Mark

After a rough 2004 season, Coach Laurie Pirtle and her staff worked hard in landing several top freshmen to the team. That move provided the Bearcats much firepower in todays season opener.

Playing in front of a live television audience for their season-opener Saturday afternoon, the University of Cincinnati women's basketball team kicked off the non-conference portion of its regular season schedule with a win over St. Francis (PA), 74-39.

Though their nerves seemed to be on edge for about the first five minutes of action, falling behind 8-4 and committing several careless mistakes on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, in the end it was the dominating up-pace, crash the basket attack that "did-in" a rebuilding Red Flash squad.

"I think our kids worked extremely hard and that is very, very important – at least in the first half," said Bearcat Head Coach Laurie Pirtle, who was not at all happy with the performance of her young team at times. "We showed some weaknesses on defense, both on the ball and in the post. I thought at times we functioned as a cohesive unit on the court, but at times we just weren't crisp. There are still a lot of things we have to improve upon, and a lot of work to be done."

It is obvious that there are weaknesses in UC's collective team game that need improvement if this team hopes to make a name for themselves in Big East this season (namely their outside shooting (1-for-12 from three-point range), attention to detail on both sides of the ball, and their ability to handle pressure). However, even Pirtle, the consummate self-cynic/-pessimist, was impressed by the standout play of her dynamic freshman class (three of which started) – the "Fab Five" as Pirtle labeled them.

"You know we've had a lot of kids come in "ready to play," like Valerie King and Doris Scott, but I've never had a class that was this good, this talented so early. This class is special. They're the "Fab Five".

While this class has a lot of work to do to equal the accomplishes(and perhaps to avoid an "untimely" timeout or two) of the similarly labeled quartette made famous in Ann Arbor now over a decade ago, from their official inception today as part of the Cincinnati women's basketball tradition they are well on their way.

The freshman class of Kahla Roudebush (5-8 - G), Shelly Bellman (5-10 – G/F), Angel Morgan (5-8 – G), Jill Stephens (6-2 – F), and Michelle Jones (6-1 – F) pitched in 40 of the team's 74 points. The class of 2009 also chipped in 23 rebounds (12 offensive), 10 assists, and seven steals in their coming out party.

While each of the freshmen played well, it was the outside-inside duo of Bellman and Jones that really stood out on this day. Bellman, a native of Ottawa, Ohio, finished atop the list of 10 Bearcats that scored during the contest with 15 points, six rebounds (four offensive), three assists, and two steals.

. "[For the first five minutes] maybe it was a little bit of [our nerves], but we had some changes to the starting lineup and we had some cold shooting that may have affected our play a bit as well," said Bellman, who led the UC roster in scoring during the squads two preseason games at over 18 points per outing. "We learned a lot from our exhibition season. It really got us ready for how game-day atmosphere was going to be and we were ready. Hopefully, we'll take a lot from this game and bring it with us into our next game and throughout the season."

Bellman, who showed great physical strength against defenders that tried to muscle her off her dribble and on the offensive glass, proved to be just as strong in the huddle as well, as she on several occasions looked to get her ‘Cats fired up – freshman and upperclassmen alike.

"We don't see class when we step on the court," said Bellman. "I just feel so comfortable with this team. We got along so well on the court, and we all like one another off the court, so there aren't any egos or bad feelings about anyone, and when we step out onto the court you've got to take charge and do your stuff. We just want to win basketball games, so everyone feels comfortable taking charge."

Another of the Cincy freshman to "take charge" was Jones. While not necessarily acting as vocally as Bellman, Jones was definitely a presence to be heard from in the paint. While playing just 14 minutes Jones managed her first double-digit scoring total, finishing with 10 points.

Like Bellman, who would echo Jones in a statement of her own, Jones realizes that the success achieved today means little more than a earning a non-conference "W" to add to their win column.

"A win is a win, and you have to be happy with that, but you can't settle for that. We've got a lot of work to do and we are going to get better and learn with every game."

Jones' game-by-game attitude is one mimicked by 5-6 Treasure Humphries. However, Humphries day-by-day, step-by-step approach comes about after having last season all but taken away from her. Humphries, who was filling in at the point for injured starter Micah Harvey (knee), suffered a season-ruining knee injury that left the speedy dynamo without her wheels. While not the passer or "floor general" that Harvey is, Humphries used her quick hands and even quicker feet to initiate the break and go in for numerous scoring chances at the bucket. Humphries finished with eight points, four steals, four assists and, perhaps most importantly one turnover.

Harvey, who was obligated to sit-out of today's contest because of the injury, looked to be in good spirits, and should be ready to reclaim her starting position in the not-too-distant future.

The Bearcats will return to action Wednesday night at 6 pm at Fifth-Third Arena. UC will attempt to push their perfect start to their 2005-06 against East Tennessee State University.

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