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2001-02: A Surprising Season

The 2001-02 Bearcats began the season as an unknown quantity in the college basketball ranks. College basketball prognosticators were mixed on the Bearcats' prospects. For the first time in four years and the second time in the last 10, UC was not included in the Top 25 of the preseason major polls. Cincinnati, a senior-less team in 2000-01, was nonetheless hit by personnel losses when point guard Kenny Satterfield opted for the NBA. A two-year regular, Satterfield had set up Steve Logan in the Cincinnati attack the previous season, a combination which took the Bearcats to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament and made Logan the Conference USA Player of the Year. It became obvious that this year's Bearcats would go as far as Logan, who would inherit the ball-handling responsibilities, could take them. That proved to be pretty far.

A Surprising Start
A season-opening 69-62 loss, albeit on the road to Oklahoma State, ranked No. 16 at the time, didn't do much to boost expectations about Cincinnati. A rarity, that loss was the first opening game setback in 21 years. The Bearcats did play strong defense in that game. Logan accounted for half of UC's scoring with 31 points. The Bearcats set about regrouping. Just about everyone got into the scoring act in an 83-54 rout of Wright State four days later. The Cincinnati big men stepped up their play as Donald Little and Jamaal Davis combined for 24 and 21points in hard-fought wins over UNLV and Dayton. UC's defense put a stranglehold on Duquesne and Coppin State, allowing a combined 80 points and a .239 in two more lopsided victories. The win streak reached six with a 68-55 decision over Toledo, courtesy of Leonard Stokes' 19-point offensive boost and Davis' second double-double in four games. The season's first defining moment was the mid-December showdown with crosstown rival Xavier. The Musketeers, who had posted upset wins in each of the previous two seasons, entered the game as the fan favorites. But the Bearcats shut down stellar center David West, chiefly through the defensive efforts of Davis, and built a double-digit lead late in the first half. The only remaining question was whether West, who sustained an ankle sprain late in the half, could return to rally Xavier. He tried but couldn't and Cincinnati rolled to a 75-55 win. The victory enabled the Bearcats to make their season debut in the Top 25 in both polls.

A Classic Performance
The Las Vegas Classic became the Steve Logan show. The senior had 25 and 23 points as UC dispatched Richmond and Louisiana-Monroe. Some pregame trash talking by Mississippi State, which entered the semifinal contest with an 11-0 record, riled Logan into a 40-point scoring performance. When he took a breather at the 9:52 mark, he had outscored the entire Misssissippi State team. The Bearcats turned back the Bulldogs, 90-56. Logan capped his tourney showing with 29 points in the 79-62 championship game win over Purdue. Logan, who averaged 29.3 points over the four games, left little doubt about the tourney MVP award. Cincinnati capped its pre-conference schedule with a 73-57 win over Akron. UC had a 12-1 record, matching its best pre-conference start ever.

Fast Start in C-USA
Though Logan was the Bearcats' leader, the team's continued success was the result of many other players stepping up their contributions. Donald Little became more than just a shot-rejector around the basket. The 6-11 junior keyed UC's Conference USA opening win over East Carolina with 17 points and 15 rebounds and had another double-double against Houston a week later. Leonard Stokes had back-to-back 19-point outings in wins over Charlotte and Houston, then exploded for a career-high 36 to key the mid-January victory over DePaul. Freshman Jason Maxiell emerged to provide scoring and rebounding punch . He snagged 14 rebounds and scored a pair of critical baskets in Cincinnati's 54-50 edging of Saint Louis, then followed that with a career-high 18 points to help clinch the 78-68 win at South Florida four days later. Field Williams supplemented the offense with timely long-range shooting. He came off the bench to riddle Louisville for 18 points, on 5-of-5 shooting from 3-point range, and tallied 18 in the late January rematch with East Carolina. Immanuel McElroy keyed the Bearcats' defense, which was ranked stingiest in the nation in points allowed and opponents' field goal percentage throughout the month of January. McElroy usually drew the opponents' top perimeter scorer, and was usually successful in shutting down that scorer. His effort agains Charlotte's Jobey Thomas was instrumental in both wins over the 49ers and he held Altron Jackson well under his average in UC's win over South Florida. Logan continued to provide the scoring leadership, topping the 20-point mark in five of the Bearcats' first eight C-USA games, all victories Cincinnati hiked its win streak to 20 games, tops in the nation. Unranked at the start of the season, the Bearcats cracked the Top 25 in mid-December and climbed to No. 4 by the end of January. The early February schedule of consecutive road games at Marquette, Charlotte and Wake Forest provided the Bearcats their major test of the season. Marquette snapped UC's 20-game win streak and defensive dominance with a 74-60 win in Milwaukee to open the month. The Golden Eagles became the first team to shoot .500 from the floor against the Bearcats. Cincinnati rebounded with a convincing 85-66 win at Charlotte, keyed by Stokes' 30 points and 24 more from Logan. Logan scored 30 points and defensive stallwart McElroy tallied a career-high 19 as Cincinnati won a 103-94 offensive battle at No. 16 Wake Forest

Bearcats Begin Stretch Run
Cincinnati completed the gauntlet of its schedule-playing five of six games on the road over a three week period-with a 5-1 record. The Bearcats returned home to defeat Saint Louis in another tight defensive struggle, 67-53. Logan fired in 41 points, outscoring the entire Southern Mississippi team, in an 89-37 rout of the Golden Eagles. Maxiell provided a shining moment-making all nine of his shots from the field for 18 points-to key the 79-62 win at DePaul. That win made UC the first team in the nation to reach the 25-victory mark and the only program to win 25 or more games in each of the last seven seasons. It also set up the rematch with Marquette in a contest which would likely determine the C-USA championship.

UC Wins Two Title Showdowns
It looked like the showdown for first place with Marquette might become a Cincinnati blowout as the Bearcats jumped out to a 16-point lead. The Golden Eagles recovered to turn the game into a see-saw affair over the final 15 minutes. Cincinnati was faced with a four-point deficit with 30 seconds to play. Logan drilled a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left. Donald Little rebounded a missed Marquette free throw try two seconds later and UC set up for a final shot. Little was probably the last option to take the game-winner, but when Logan and McElroy were thwarted by double teams, the ball ended up in the unguarded junior's hands and he swished a jumper with three seconds to play. The win put the Bearcats in the driver's seat for a seventh straight championship, and UC's prospects became even brighter when Marquette was upset in its next game. Though at least a share of the title was guaranteed, the No. 1 seed for the C-USA tourney was jeopardized when Louisville upset Cincinnati in the next-to-last game of regular season. That put the hype back into the season finale with Memphis, at team which some had picked to end UC's stranglehold of C-USA titles. The game featured 17 lead changes and 16 ties, and 45 minutes of play. Logan insured the overtime when he drove the length of the floor in the final six seconds of regulation after Memphis had taken a 68-66 lead to loft in a leaner from the lane which bounded around the rim as the final buzzer sounded before falling through to the net. A well-guarded Logan managed only two free throws in the overtime period, which gave him 30 points for the game. McElroy scored the next five points to lift UC to a 77-75 lead with 35 seconds to play and the Bearcats hung on for an 80-75 win. The C-USA title was UC's but the team's quest for its first-ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament would ride on Cincinnati's showing in the Conference USA tournament.

Bearcats Win C-USA Tourney
A more balanced field, which produced upsets in two of the first six tournament games, would make Cincinnati's road difficult. The Bearcats opened with a 79-57 win over No. 8 seed South Florida. Steve Logan tallied 15 points and Jamaal Davis contributed 13, but the biggest statistics of the game were the minutes played-or lack of them. Only one Bearcat regular played 25 minutes, making UC a well-rested team for the remainder of the run. The semifinal clash with Charlotte proved to the Bearcats that they could be successful even without the production of scoring-leader Logan. He struggled through a 7-point, 1-of-7 shooting night, but Donald Little stepped up to tally 16 points and Leonard Stokes added 15. Cincinnati's defense played perhaps the largest role, holding the 49ers to .344 shooting. Immanuel McElroy, named C-USA defender of the year days earlier, showed why by holding Charlotte's Jobey Thomas, a 19.5-point scorer, to six points on 1-of-7 shooting. The victory set the stage for the championship game clash with Marquette, a rubber match with the Golden Eagles. Marquette had handed Cincinnati its worst loss of the season, a 74-60 setback in early February which stopped the Bearcats' 20-game win streak. UC edged the steam-rolling Golden Eagles two weeks earlier, 63-62, on a basket at the buzzer. Field Williams came off the bench to spark a sluggish offense with three 3-pointers midway through the first half. The Bearcats surprised Marquette with a seldom-used zone defense to recover from an 18-13 deficit and build a 31-24 halftime lead. Logan recovered from a first-half slump, in which he managed just five points, to score 21 in the second stanza as UC won, 77-63. The Bearcats seemed poised to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

Double OT Loss Ends Season
Cincinnati was rewarded for its fine season with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA West Regional. The Bearcats, behind Logan's 27 points, opened play with a 90-52 rout of Boston University. Next up was UCLA, which began the season with the nation's No. 3 ranking but had slumped to a No. 8 seed after suffering 11 losses. Sparked by Stokes' career-high 39 points, Cincinnati jumped out to a 13-point lead in the first half and led by 11 with 10:18 to play. UCLA overcame the deficit to send the game into overtime. McElroy and Little failed on last-shot attempts at the end of the first overtime. The Bruins turned a missed shot into a three-point play with 1:27 to play in the second overtime and eventually won, 105-101.

 

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