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2000-01 Season Review




The University of Cincinnati entered its 30th season of women's basketball with great expectations. Coming off its third straight postseason appearance, fourth winning season and third winning Conference USA slate, UC had already placed itself among the many up-and-coming programs in the country, but the 2000-01 Bearcats were looking to accomplish more.

Although it seems like Cincinnati picked up right where it left off, the team had some challenges to meet in order to continue setting the foundation for future success. The first of which was building a starting lineup after losing four starters, including the nation's sixth-leading scorer Madinah Slaise.

UC also had to quickly develop its core of younger players, most of whom averaged less than 12 minutes a game the season before. But perhaps the biggest challenge awaiting the 2000-01 Bearcats was finding a way to win at least 20 games and making it to postseason play for a fifth straight time.

With 10 returning letterwinners joined by a recruiting class ranked as high as 21st in the nation by the All-Star Girls Report, Cincinnati was ready to meet these challenges head on and by the end of December, the Bearcats gave little indication that a challenge was even posed.

UC started the year with a 10-1 record, including a perfect 8-0 mark in December. The start was highlighted by a 16-point win over No. 19 Xavier and its fifth straight Bearcat Invitational title. The wins allowed Cincinnati to attract national attention by receiving votes in both national polls for 11 weeks during the season, the most of any C-USA school.

UC showed signs of youth and inexperience throughout the year, but somewhere along the way a host of Bearcats developed into impact players, ranking among the conference leaders and etching their names all over the UC record books. Freshman Valerie King emerged as the team's top offensive weapon, while K.B. Sharp and Tammy Douglass became supporting cast members in the starting lineup.

UC Opens Season In Dramatic Fashion

Cincinnati's non-conference schedule, featuring four new opponents and the return of the Bearcat Invitational, posed the first set of tests as to how quickly UC was to developed into a competitive unit.

A 97-75 win over St. Bonaventure in the season opener seemed to set the pace for the early season. Valerie King, who become just the second freshman since 1995 to start the season opener, wasted little time showing who the offensive leader would be as she erupted for a game-high 18 points while adding eight assists.

A week later, UC topped Rider, 74-56, as Merelenea Dozier lead the team's perimeter attack by converting 5-of-7 3-pointers to score a career-high 17 points.

Off to a 2-0 start, the Bearcats traveled north for their first road game of the year, a meeting with NCAA Tournament participant Wisconsin-Green Bay. Inexperience showed as the Phoenix handed Cincinnati its first loss of the season, 90-68.

Returning home to face Coastal Carolina, the Bearcats used their homecourt advantage to dispose of the Chanticleers, 84-55. Tammy Douglass led four Bearcats in double figures with 15 points as UC shot 61 percent (33-for-55) from the field in the game, the third-best single-season field goal percentage in school history.

A 64-52 win at American a week later brought UC's record to 4-1. Laura Wilder broke into both the Bearcat and C-USA record books by pulling down a career-high 22 rebounds, the fourth highest UC single game total and second most in C-USA history. Her effort on the glass was also listed as the fourth highest total recorded in the nation during the year.

Riding a two-game win streak, Cincinnati entered into its toughest game of the year, a battle with crosstown rival and No. 19 Xavier. The Bearcats used a 19-2 run late in the second half to secure the Hometown Shootout title with a 75-59 win and claim local bragging rights. King scored 26 points while Douglass chipped in with 16 points and 12 rebounds. It was Cincinnati's fifth straight victory over the Musketeers, who would advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. The Bearcats were one of just three teams to beat Xavier, handing the Musketeers their biggest loss of the year.

Riding the momentum of the Xavier win, the Bearcats welcomed back the Bearcat Invitational by sweeping through Radford and UNC Wilmington to claim its fifth straight crown. King, who scored 15 points against UNC Wilmington, was tabbed the tournament MVP, making her the first freshman in tournament history to earn that honor. C-USA also commended King on her efforts by naming her the league player of the week.

With a tournament title in hand and win over nationally-ranked Xavier, Cincinnati started attracting national attention by receiving votes in national polls for the first time since the 1998-99 season. In the weeks to come, Cincinnati would be ranked as high as 28th in the nation by the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and 34th by the Associated Press.

Wins over Dayton, Kentucky and Butler added to UC's early season success and allowed the team to wrap up its non-conference slate with a 10-1 record, its best start since the 1988-89 season, the same year the Bearcats earned their first NCAA Tournament bid.

Bearcats Open C-USA Season Optimistic

Cincinnati put its eight-game win streak on the line when it opened Conference USA play at Louisville on New Year's Day. Disappointment set in for UC as it led at by two at halftime before falling, 72-58.

A visiting Houston squad made up for UC's bad fortune as Douglass provided the winning margin on a free throw with 1.6 seconds in overtime to give Cincinnati a 63-62 win.

Following a 66-52 win over South Florida, the Bearcats embarked on a two-game road swing against Marquette and DePaul. The weekend proved long and complicated for head coach Laurie Pirtle as the team battled cold shooting and turnovers, dropping both games.

Despite the two losses, the Bearcats owned a 12-4 mark at midseason, the team's best start in the last 10 years. UC, powered by Sharp's 23 points, beat Saint Louis, 79-61. The 79 points were the most the Billikens had allowed during the year, as they entered the contest ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense (56.1 ppg). A day later, Cincinnati ran past Charlotte 69-48 for its fourth league win of the year and the 200th for Pirtle at UC.

Road Proves Difficult For Bearcats

The two-game win streak was not enough for UC as the road woes once again set in during a weekend road swing against Southern Miss and Tulane. Shooting .394 from the field and committing 16 turnovers, UC fell 81-71 against the Lady Eagles. Two days later, UC failed to close against the Green Wave despite holding a 33-31 halftime lead and using the offensive efforts of King. The 5-6 guard scored 28 points after converting a game-high six 3-pointers to tie a UC single game school record.

Losing four straight on the road was having its toll on Cincinnati. Luckily, a four-game homestand was on the horizon.

UAB was the first to invade the Shoemaker Center during the stretch, dashing UC's hopes of an undefeated season at home. The Blazers' Mia Thrash stole an inbounds pass at halfcourt and converted it into a 3-point play with 0.3 seconds left to end UC's 11-game win streak, the second longest in program history and the 14th longest in the nation.

UC Picks Up The Pace As Season Winds Down

Starting with a 71-58 win over Memphis on February 4, Cincinnati went on to win five of its final six regular season games. UC used a career-high 25 points from Sharp to down a visiting DePaul squad, before heading into a home contest against Marquette, regarded as one of the most memorable games of the season. Trailing by one in the closing moments, Dozier nailed a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds, lifting UC to a 63-61 win.

The following week , UC defeated both Charlotte and Saint Louis on the road, ending the squad's four-game road slump.

King averaged 17.4 points per game during the five-game win streak, including 22 points at Charlotte to earn C-USA player of the week honors for the second time, becoming the only league freshman to earn the honor more than once during the year.

Despite a 70-57 loss to Louisville in the season finale in the Shoemaker Center, the Bearcats wrapped up the regular season with C-USA's best overall record of 19-8. Their league mark of 9-7 placed them second to the Cardinals in the American Division race and handed the team the No. 5 seed in the Conference USA Tournament

Although Cincinnati just missed out on a first round bye in the C-USA tournament, the team knew that a postseason bid was just around the corner. Continuing its late season run, UC beat South Florida in the first round before downing UAB and DePaul to advance to the championship game. Cincinnati became the first No. 5 seed in the history of the league tournament to reach the final game.

The Bearcats entered the championship game with defending tournament champion Tulane, which earned a first round bye, already having played three games in three days. UC took a 19-17 lead at the half and continued its advantage through the first nine minutes of the second half. The teams traded leads until Tulane took over the lead with four minutes left in regulation and pulled away for a 63-50 win.

King, who had a game-high 22 points against the Green Wave, collected the second-highest point total during the tournament with 82 points and matched a tourney single game record with six treys in the championship game. Her efforts were commended by being named the tournament MVP, marking Cincinnati's first tournament MVP and the first time the award was given to either a freshman or a player that represented a team other than the champion.

Sharp, who set the tournament single-season assist record with 10 dishes against South Florida and added 16 points against Tulane, was named to the all-tournament team.

Bearcats Earn Fourth Straight Postseason Bid

UC's dramatic run through the league tournament meant one thing-the season was not over. Winning eight of their last 10 games, the Bearcats earned their fourth straight postseason bid and the sixth in program history when they received a Women's National Invitation Tournament invitation

Facing Ohio State, the Bearcats turned a 29-25 halftime deficit into an eight-point lead with two minutes remaining in regulation before faltering. UC committed three turnovers and missed four free throws down the stretch, bringing the game to within one point. OSU's Caity Matter's desperation heave with 1.7 seconds on the clock found the hands of Tomeka Brown, who made an acrobatic layup at the buzzer, ending UC's season.

Cincinnati, which featured just three seniors on the team, including two who played in just half of the team's total games, capped off the year with a 22-10 record, matching NCAA tournament participant Tulane as the overall best record in C-USA. The 22 wins tied the 1998-99 season as the second highest win total in program history and marked the fifth straight winning season.

 

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