CINCINNATI (AP) -- The Conference USA race ended in gridlock.
Tony Bobbitt made a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws in the
final 36 seconds Saturday, sending Cincinnati (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) to an 83-79
victory over Memphis (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) that left first place a crowded place.
When the day was done, five of the conference's 14 teams shared
its regular-season title.
"We're like the NFL," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said.
"We've achieved parity."
The Bearcats (21-6, 12-4) earned a share of their eighth such
championship by knocking off the conference's hottest team, one
that could have won it outright. Memphis (21-6, 12-4) opened the
day a game ahead of Cincinnati, DePaul, Alabama-Birmingham and
Cincinnati's victory amounted to a come-on-down invitation for
others to join the co-championship. The other three teams also won
their games, setting up the five-way tie.
DePaul won the last game of the day, beating South Florida to
earn the top seed in the conference tournament next week in
Cincinnati. There are four first-round byes, so Charlotte will wind
up playing an extra game -- it came up on the short end of the
Four of the teams were delighted to get a little piece of the
title. Not Memphis, which had won 12 of its last 13 games and
needed one more victory to hoist the trophy all by itself.
"If you're a basketball fan and you watched that game, you've
got a great feeling," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "If
you're a Cincinnati fan, you're ecstatic. If you're a Memphis fan,
One shot by a disparaged player made the difference.
Bobbitt, who was harshly criticized by Huggins for his mindless
play and disrespectful manner in a loss at DePaul on Thursday
night, wound up hitting Cincinnati's biggest shots of the season.
He almost threw the ball away -- Field Williams had to leap to
catch his ill-advised pass -- then got it back and made a 3-pointer
from the right wing that put Cincinnati ahead 81-79 with 36 seconds
Bobbitt, one of three seniors honored before the final home
game, felt he needed to do something special after his ugly showing
two nights ago. Bobbitt twice fouled a DePaul player shooting a 3,
and exchanged words with Huggins.
"My teammates got in my face," said Bobbitt, who finished with
20 points. "They told me, 'T, just shut up and play.' I have never
in my life talked back to a coach like that."
After Bobbitt's 3 put the Bearcats ahead, Sean Banks missed a
3-pointer and Bobbitt got the rebound and was fouled. He made both
free throws with 19.7 seconds left.
Memphis missed three rushed 3-point attempts in the closing
Afterward, Banks sat in his locker with his legs stretched out,
a blank look on his face. Guard Antonio Burks sat glumly on a
folding chair, his chin in his hand. It was no consolation that
they finished with a fraction of first.
"We can't look at it like that right now," said Burks, who had
16 points. "We had the game and we let it go at the end. We could
have had more."
Banks scored 28 points -- one shy of his career high -- in a
back-and-forth game that featured eight ties and 21 lead changes.
Neither team could gain a toehold in a rapid-fire game of
contrasting styles. Memphis held the biggest lead -- 29-21 with 7:20
left in the first half.
Memphis leads the conference in 3-point shots and fired away
against a defense that tried just about everything. Huggins sent
one defender after another after Banks, to no avail. The 6-foot-8
freshman finished 10-of-17 from the field.
The Tigers made 12 of their 29 shots from beyond the arc, the
most allowed by the Bearcats this season.
Cincinnati took a different approach, working the ball inside
the Tigers' man-to-man defense for close-up shots. Jason Maxiell
finished with 19 points and a game-high nine rebounds as Cincinnati
Neither team led by more than five points in the second half.
Bobbitt came off a screen and hit a 3-pointer from the top of the
key that put the Bearcats up 53-51 -- their first lead since midway
through the first half -- and set up a pulsating finish. There were
five ties and 13 lead changes down the stretch.
The Bearcats hugged and waved towels on the court when the
buzzer sounded. They won outright or shared the conference's first
seven regular season championships, but missed out last year for
the first time.
The seniors didn't want to be the first to go out empty-handed
two years in a row.
"It's my last one," said Williams, a senior guard who had 16
points. "You always want to leave on top. If we didn't win this
one, it wouldn't have felt right."