(16) West Virginia 75

(20-9, 11-5 Big East)

Cincinnati 78

(19-11, 8-8 Big East)

12:00 PM ET, March 4, 2006

Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio

1 2 T
#16WVU 31 4475
CIN 37 4178

Top Performers

West Virginia: K. Pittsnogle 23 Pts, 9 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Blk

Cincinnati: D. Downey 16 Pts, 5 Reb, 10 Ast

Cincinnati gets win over W. Va. as Huggins looks on

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Muscular forward Eric Hicks wrapped his arms around his former coach, Bob Huggins. Cheek-to-cheek, they squeezed, talked and cried.

The tears were just starting to flow.

There were more embraces all around Saturday after Hicks scored 18 points and led Cincinnati to a nostalgic 78-75 victory over West Virginia (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 16 AP), one that could extend the Bearcats' streak of 14 NCAA tournament appearances.

"That was our Super Bowl," interim coach Andy Kennedy said.

It felt like a title game.

Ousted coach Huggins attended a game at the arena for the first time since he was forced out last August. He got a standing ovation and hugged the Bearcats' five seniors during pre-game festivities -- a surreal start to an important game.

The Bearcats (19-11, 8-8 Big East) felt they needed a high-profile win to strengthen their credentials for the NCAA tournament. A team that has been in turmoil since Huggins' departure in August earned it with big contributions from its seniors and two clinching free throws from its freshman point guard.

Devan Downey's two free throws with 1.3 seconds left clinched the win and completed his 16-point performance. Jihad Muhammad added 17.

"I just came out with energy," said Downey, who went 0-for-4 and failed to score in his last game. "We couldn't let the seniors go out with a loss."

West Virginia (20-9, 11-5 ) didn't have much at stake in its final regular-season game. The Mountaineers had already clinched third place in the Big East and were guaranteed a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

Coach John Beilein was pleased with the Mountaineers' grit under the circumstances, staying with the revved Bearcats right to the end.

"I think we proved out point, the fact that we handled it well and, believe it or not, should have momentum going into the tournament," Beilein said. "We might be the only team in the country to have momentum going into the tournament after a loss."

Kevin Pittsnogle led the Mountaineers with 23 points, and Mike Gansey went 5-of-6 from behind the 3-point arc while scoring 20.

The Bearcats' final home game showed they still haven't gotten beyond Huggins' ouster. He repeatedly got standing ovations from the capacity crowd of 13,176, which also chanted for school president Nancy Zimpher to give Kennedy a contract.

The program is still at a crossroads.

After Downey made his two clinching free throws, Hicks jumped into the student section and Kennedy got a hug from Huggins. Kennedy then thanked the fans for supporting the team through its tribulations, adding, "One last thing: Huggs, we love you, brother."

"I thought it took a lot of courage for coach to come," Kennedy said afterward. "It shows you what kind of man he is. It's a tribute to these seniors. They wanted him to come. I thought it was fitting going against his alma mater in a game that decided our season."

Huggins was invited by Hicks, one of the five seniors who received framed photographs of themselves at midcourt during a pre-game tribute. Huggins stood at an opposite end of the court while the seniors were introduced.

Hicks then led the seniors over to Huggins, who embraced each of them while the crowd exulted. Hicks wiped away tears with his white warmup shirt after the embrace. Huggins dabbed a tear from the corner of his right eye.

"I wanted to be here, but I didn't want to do anything they (the school) didn't want me to do," Huggins said.

While the two of them embraced, Hicks thought back to his three years under Huggins.

"Everything just came back and it was a very emotional moment," he said.

West Virginia tried to overcome the Bearcats' emotion by getting the ball inside to the 6-foot-11 Pittsnogle, who likes to shoot 3-pointers but could do more damage inside. Pittsnogle is 5 inches taller than anyone on the Bearcats' front line.

He shook loose from the 6-foot-6 Hicks and made a layup that started a 9-0 run and put the Mountaineers up 16-12 and got the crowd grumbling.

Cincinnati's tight man-to-man defense -- its trademark under Huggins -- started taking a toll, forcing the Mountaineers to rush their shots. The defense fueled a 15-2 spurt capped by Hicks' emphatic dunk, putting the Bearcats ahead to stay 33-23.

Muhammad hit a jumper and a pair of 3's during an 11-1 spurt that built the lead to 48-35 early in the second half.

A pair of 3's by Gansey cut it to 66-64 with 5:03 to go, setting a back-and-forth tone for the rest of the way. The Bearcats held on by going 3-of-5 from the free-throw line in the final 12 seconds.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Team Stat Comparison

Points 75 78
FG Made-Attempted 29-57 (.509) 29-54 (.537)
3P Made-Attempted 12-28 (.429) 7-17 (.412)
FT Made-Attempted 5-9 (.556) 13-15 (.867)
Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 15 (0/0) 12 (0/0)
Largest Lead 5 13

2005-06 Season

Feb 4, 2006 @WVU 66, CIN 57Recap
» Mar 4, 2006 @CIN 78, WVU 75Recap