Coming off an emotional loss to the recent Big East upstart St. John's, the University of Cincinnati responded with an emphatic, emotionally driven defensive performance against an unimpressive Syracuse Orangemen squad. Now, with their second Big East victory under their belts (first-ever road win and Big East winning streak as well (2)), the Cincinnati (13-5, 3-4) continued that success against Big East bottom-dweller Georgetown (8-10, 1-6) with an inspired, 87-68 showing.
As she has done in two of the past three games, Shelly Bellman's outstanding individual performances have unquestionably have made her the "Chris Webber" of this Fab Five freshman class. Bellman scored 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting in the drubbing of Georgetown. Bellman, a freshman from Ottawa, Ohio, came up particularly big in the first, 39-31, when the "route" of the Hoyas was anything but on. With four frontcourt players in foul trouble and UC leading scorer Treasure Humphries put on "lockdown" during the first half (one point), the Bearcats needed someone to step up their play. Bellman came out and kept her team in the game with 15 points during the first 20 minutes of action. Sliding down to play the power forward position for a few minutes as her "bigs" waited anxiously to get back on floor due to rapidly amassing fouls, Bellman did all the "little things" (that show up big at the end of the game) her team needed from her in order to win. She did the things that do not necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but definitely do in the rankings. Bellman pulled down seven rebounds, dished out a pair of assists, had two steals and only turned the ball over one time.
Ironically, while this is her second-best statistical performance of her young career, Bellman would be quick to tell you that this was her best overall showing because her team won. Bellman, who scored 28 in the emotional loss to St. John's, refused to take solace in her individual accolades because basketball is about one thing: WINS!
"It is about winning games and we lost," said Bellman after the team's heartbreaking loss to St. John's. "That is what we are here to do, and that is what everyone in that locker room is trying to accomplish every time we step onto that floor; nothing else matters."
That "nothing else matters" persona is one that several of the Cincinnati veterans have had to adopt in recent weeks – especially the veterans. Relying heavily on the play of the Bearkittens in recent games, seeing freshman after freshman step-up and deliver big time in place of the more advance ‘Cats, Cincinnati needed a solid showing from two of its eldest ‘Cats. A successful outing, as Bellman put it, does not necessarily have to equate to points scored or minutes played. It has to do with getting done what the team needed to get done in order to win, and both players did just that Both Treasure Humphries and Karen Twehues were desperately in need of a solid showing in tonight's Big East showcase. Not just for their team (who is in dire need of a win at home in conference to keep their postseason hopes alive) or for their coach (who has seen her fingers point the way of underclassmen when it came to clutch time), but many for themselves. In desperate need of a confidence booster, both, Twehues and Humphries responded – and for both players, that would mean doing things they have not necessarily been asked to do all season.
While they did not get the point production they usually expect from her, UC's "Treasure" did her part to bury the Hoyas by getting others opportunities to score. Humphries, who until recent games has been the Bearcats' most dynamic offensive weapon, got her team involved in the game by distributing the ball better than any Bearcat woman has ever done. Humphries dished out a record-breaking 14 assists, eclipsing the former school record of 13 and her personal best of set two years ago against Charleston Southern 11/25.
"Teams tried to take my offense away so I took advantage of it and got my team the rock. That is what point guards do," said Humphries, who has played more of the scoring guard since the return of senior Micah Harvey (who had nine assists in the loss to St. John's).
Doing "what point guards do", Humphries (and Bellman) did a great job of penetrated the middle of the 2-3 zone the Hoyas employed (the first "true zone", according to Pirtle, the ‘Cats have seen for 40 minutes), creating open shots outside and leaving room for scoring opportunities down low.
Humphries has seen her statistical performance slow down mightily in recent games. With teams starting to take better notice of her, defensive game plans to stop the Bearcats are usually designed to take Humphries out of the offensive equation. Because of her early-season success, earning the dreaded "player to stop" label, Humphries has seen herself drawn into stupid fouls by way of charge or being too aggressive on the defensive end, looking to kick start her offense by getting a steal. Humphries' foul trouble in recent games has made her an ineffective weapon for the Red and Black. In fact, it has been a lot more red then black for Humphries in recent games, at least in the face. Humphries, who had little control over last season's lengthy stint on the bench after suffering a near season-ending knee injury, which basically ruined her season, has been sent to the bench this season due to her own on-court indiscretions. Creating a large portion of her offense off steals and defense rebounds, the aggressive of Humphries on the defensive end has left her mute on the offensive end, as she has been unable to get into an offensive flow. Humphries had scored at least twenty points in four of her last five outings before her recent six-game skid where she has averaged under-10 per contest (9.3).
Humphries, who managed a double double (10 points) despite only attempting from the floor (three of which came late in the second half), for the first time this season, at least during her sluggish stretch of games, has let the offense come to her. Known to press in recent games, trying to make something out of nothing because she thought it her role to carry her team to victory, Humphries found a new way to put her team on her shoulders – letting them do the work. Teams are going to focus on Humphries as a key scorer for the ‘Cats for the remainder of the season, including the employment of "trick" defenses such as the Box and 1. By embracing her role as a decoy, being able to drive and kick and not necessarily think as the natural scorer that she is, will help allow players like Bellman and Twehues, and the entire frontcourt, to benefit greatly.
Twehues most definitely benefited from Humphries unselfishness and unofficial switch to the point guard position. While not statistically the "player of the game", Twehues 18-point performance off the bench was vital for the Bearcats. In fact, one of the biggest emotional lifts for the Bearcats was the play of their bench. Combining to score 27 of UC's 87 points (including 17 of 48 in the second half), the UC bench was able to come up big when the team needed them. Riddled with frontcourt foul trouble in the first half because of the interior play of undersized power forward Kierrah Marlow, who put all four Bearcat post-players in foul trouble in the first half, players like Jill Stephens and Karen Twehues had to come up big. While the freshman Stepehens energized the team early in the second half with a couple early buckets and offensive rebounds, Twehues' game-long performance gave the Bearcat players and their crowd the extra-lift they needed to "wear down" a depleted Hoya squad. As she always does, Twehues came off the bench not just ready to play, but to score – and score big! The 6-0 Swiss Miss nearly changed her name to the "Swish Miss" with an inspired offensive performance for the ‘Cats. Twehues came off the bench to play a season-high 20 minutes and knockdown a career-high tying six three-point field goals en route to her best individual showing of the year (18 points).
Twehues, who has seen three of her top scoring outputs come in the past five games, has handled her new role on the team well. As she has reiterated all season long, Coach Laurie Pirtle has been impressed with the way the veterans have been able to embrace new roles on the team, losing minutes to freshman. No player has seen her role more role more drastically changed then Twehues, who has seen her minutes-per-game drop from 26 to around eight. It has been the ability for this team to play as a team, and not let stat sheets or egos get in the way of chemistry that has seen this team win three of its last four Big East games.
UC will look to improve their first-ever Big East winning-streak to three games as they head to Seton Hall on February 1.