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Poor shooting sinks DePaul

3/13/2004

CINCINNATI (AP) -- An elbow flew, followed by a fist. Players
talked trash as they chased each other down the court. Finally, the
pep band struck up the theme from "Rocky."

This title game mimicked a prize fight, and once again,
Cincinnati was the last one standing.

Tony Bobbitt overcame a punch to the groin, returning to make
the decisive shots, and the Bearcats (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) won another
Conference USA tournament championship by beating DePaul 55-50 on
Saturday.

"It doesn't matter," said Bobbitt, wearing one of the nets
around his neck. "We got the win."

The Bearcats (24-6) survived a tumultuous second half -- a
technical foul, an ejection, a wild last minute -- to get their
fourth tournament title. They also won a share of the regular
season championship.

Bobbitt left the game after LeVar Seals hit him in the groin
with 8:22 left, drawing an ejection. When he recovered from the low
blow, Bobbitt made a pivotal 3-pointer and a driving lay-in that
clinched it.

Bobbitt ran down the court with his arms raised like a
championship fighter after his lay-in put Cincinnati up 52-45 with
39 seconds left. He was voted the tournament's MVP, finishing with
a team-high 17 points.

Seals evidently retaliated for Bobbitt -- the Bearcats' most
insatiable trash talker -- bending his ear after he hit a 3-pointer
on Cincinnati's previous possession.

"I had a couple of words to say. Wow," Bobbitt said. "That's
what we're known for, our toughness. We were both talking, and I'm
not going to shut my mouth."

DePaul (21-9) shot a season-low 35.3 percent from the field in
its second Conference USA tournament final. The Blue Demons lost to
Saint Louis in the 2000 game, and were glum after losing their
composure and another title game.

"They played pretty good defense," said Delonte Holland, who
had 17 points. "It was a real physical game. That's all I have to
say."

There were two technical fouls and Seals' ejection in a
hard-edged game played only 12 hours after the semifinals ended.
There was some recent history involved, of course.

The teams split their season series, with DePaul beating the
Bearcats in Chicago last week. That game cost Cincinnati a chance
to win the regular season championship outright, setting up a
five-way tie for first place.

"They ruined our chance for the outright title," said forward
Eric Hicks, who had 10 points, nine rebounds and a technical foul.
"We were looking for payback. Whoever wins the conference
tournament is the conference champion to me."

Just as it did during its semifinal win over Alabama-Birmingham,
DePaul came out lethargic and fell behind by double-digits. This
time, there would be no comeback.

There were plenty of nasty moments.

Field Williams hit a 3 and Bobbitt made three free throws for a
12-point lead late in the first half. The last free throw came off
a technical foul on Drake Diener, who lost his cool under tight
defensive coverage.

Diener and Williams jockeyed for position on an inbound play,
prompting referee Tim Higgins to step between them and lecture.
Diener later threw an elbow at Williams after he was fouled while
dribbling, drawing the technical. Diener finished 0-for-4 from
behind the arc with seven points.

The Bearcats gave DePaul a chance to get back into it by failing
to score for more than six minutes at the start of the second half.
Cincinnati missed its first five shots and had four turnovers.

Hicks, who hangs on the rim and showboats after dunks, did it
again after breaking the Bearcats' drought with an emphatic slam at
13:45. He drew a technical foul, and coach Bob Huggins walked onto
the court and screamed, "I told you!" at Hicks.

Holland's putback with 10:38 cut it to 39-34, but Bobbitt hit a
3-pointer to blunt the comeback, then was involved in the game's
defining moment.

Seals punched Bobbitt in the groin during a play, sending the
wiry 6-foot-4 guard to the floor in pain. Seals was ejected and
booed loudly as he walked off the floor.

DePaul coach Dave Leitao said there was a lot of trash talking
going on.

"We tried to get it stopped earlier in the game," Leitao said.
"A guy lost his cool that really shouldn't have. It just continued
and the guy made a stupid decision and he had to pay for it by
leaving the game."

Huggins held no grudge over the low blow.

"Dave runs a class program," Huggins said. "I don't see what
happened as in any way, shape or form a reflection on DePaul's
program."

DePaul couldn't get closer than five points, and Hicks' putback
made it 47-39 with 2:56 left. Bobbitt then hit a 3-pointer from the
right wing, and flexed his thin arms in a muscle pose as he ran
down the court.

During the next timeout, the DePaul pep band played the theme
from "Rocky."