8:05 PM ET, January 10, 2004
Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio
CINCINNATI (AP) -- The welcome mat has been rolled up.Tony Bobbitt scored 19 points and Cincinnati (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) extended its best start in five years, beating DePaul 90-65 on Saturday night.The Bearcats (11-0, 2-0 Conference USA) turned to their two strengths -- depth and defense -- to wear down and stress out another opponent unaccustomed to their pressure.After losing their home-court edge last season during a 12-loss campaign, they've gotten it back with gritty defense."We will not lose here," Bobbitt said emphatically. "I'm not saying that in a boasting way, but I think when we get guys in this building, they're basically scared. We saw that tonight. One of their guys basically handed me the ball."Cincinnati's fullcourt press and halfcourt traps took DePaul (7-6, 0-2) completely out of its offense. The Blue Demons had 15 first-half turnovers and only 16 shots -- three were blocked -- as they fell behind by 21 points.DePaul finished with a season-high 24 turnovers, the latest team stripped bare by the Bearcats' swarming defense. Cincinnati is forcing an average of 23 turnovers, and is winning by an average of 26 points, best in Division I.Coach Bob Huggins has emphasized regaining the home-court advantage this season."He told us at the beginning of the season that he wants people to be afraid to come in here and play us," said Jason Maxiell added 18 points and blocked four shots.Delonte Holland had 29 points for DePaul, which has struggled without top rebounder and second-leading scorer Andre Brown. The Blue Demons are 2-3 without Brown, who is sidelined by a sore knee.DePaul has lost its last 13 games on the Bearcats' court and 24 of its last 27 overall against Cincinnati.Although the Bearcats would like to think they're frightening opponents into mistakes, DePaul coach Dave Leitao had a different term for it."I don't know if guys come in here scared to play," Leitao said. "Their style forces you to do one of two things. They're going to attack, and either you're going to attack back or get back on your heels. Teams this year have played on their heels."The Bearcats played without starting forward Armein Kirkland, who sprained his left knee in a 71-44 win over Tulane on Wednesday. James White made his first start and had the task of guarding Holland, the conference's stop scorer with a 19.6 average.White's best moment came as a result of his teammates' defense.DePaul had seven turnovers during a 12-point run that put Cincinnati ahead 17-5. In the middle of the run, Holland threw a pass to guard Sammy Mejia, saw a defender approaching and screamed, "Watch out! Watch out!"He didn't. Two Bearcats trapped Mejia against the halfcourt line. The flustered freshman passed the ball right to White, who finished the play with an emphatic two-handed dunk.The turnovers came in all varieties, and were equally discouraging to the Blue Demons.Leitao called a 30-second timeout after Chadd Moore had a steal and layup, gesturing emphatically toward the court as he urged his players to calm down and break the press.Three minutes later, Leitao stomped the floor and dropped his head after Holland kept dribbling the ball as the shot clock ran out for yet another turnover just before halftime.Cincinnati's pressure eased a bit in the second half, allowing DePaul to keep the lead between 16 and 19 points for the first 11 minutes. Holland scored eight of DePaul's first 13 in the half.Three-pointers by Nick Williams, Bobbitt and Field Williams helped Cincinnati build the lead to 29, and Huggins benched and screamed at his players for going soft down the stretch."We played about as hard as we can play for 20 minutes. We did not play intelligently," Huggins said. "Then we came in (the second half) and didn't play hard or smart. That's a bad combination."