4:00 PM ET, February 1, 2003
Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio
CINCINNATI (AP) -- The first two times he got the ball, Robert Jackson found his mark and sent a message: Cincinnati is no longer the toughest team in Conference USA.Jackson had 21 points, underscoring Marquette's front-line dominance, and the Golden Eagles (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) never trailed Saturday as they beat the seven-time conference champions 82-76 on their home floor. "Everybody is shooting for Cincinnati,'' said Dwayne Wade, who was limited to 16 points. "Cincinnati is the champion still. I'm not taking anything from them. But it's very tough to get a win on their home floor.'' Marquette (15-3, 7-1) made it look easy for most of the game, building a 22-point lead and holding on against a team that lost its heart and, probably, its chance at an eighth straight regular-season title. The Bearcats (13-5, 6-2) have lost consecutive games for the first time in two years, faltering behind a front line that has trouble rebounding and scoring. That wasn't the only glaring problem on Saturday. "I've been watching Cincinnati basketball since I was a kid,'' said Tony Bobbitt, who led a late comeback. "This isn't Cincinnati basketball. Basically, we quit. The whole game came down to rebounding, and they manhandled us.'' The Golden Eagles led by 22 points midway through the second half, before Bobbitt hit two long-range shot that cut it to 75-67 with 2:22 left. Wade hit a pair of free throws that blunted the comeback. Wade, the conference's leading scorer at 23.2 points per game, scored 14 in the second half. Marquette shot 48 percent from the field against the conference's stingiest defense, letting its front line get the easy baskets to open up the perimeter. "I tried to get established early and set the tempo,'' said Jackson, who scored twice over center Kareem Johnson as Marquette opened with a 10-3 run. He set the tempo, and showed the Bearcats what they're missing. "Anytime you throw a guy in there that can score, it makes a difference,'' Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. "I know what it's like to have guys in there that can't score.'' Field Williams led Cincinnati with 22 points, as the Bearcats were limited to scoring from the perimeter. Marquette dominated in rebounds 37-22, and the Bearcats' assortment of centers and power forwards combined for only four baskets and eight rebounds. A telling statistic: point guard Taron Barker led Cincinnati in rebounds with four. "It's a lot of different things,'' senior guard Leonard Stokes said. "We've got to find it quick or we're going to look up, it's going to be the end of the season and we're not in the (NCAA) tournament.'' The teams split their regular-season games last year, but Cincinnati won the conference tournament by going to a zone defense that befuddled the Golden Eagles. With their man-to-man defense faltering, the Bearcats went to a zone again Saturday out of desperation. Even with Wade on the bench, the Bearcats couldn't stop Marquette. Wade picked up two quick fouls and was limited to nine minutes and two free throws in the first half. Marquette took control by exploiting the Bearcats' front line at the outset. Huggins, who had a massive heart attack on Sept. 28, became so enraged at his team's lack of hustle that he substituted all five players only three minutes into the game. "There's no reason you don't play hard,'' Huggins said, his face still red after the game. "There's no excuse for that.'' He raged at his players as well as the referees, switched to a zone defense and tried full-court pressure, but nothing worked for very long. The Golden Eagles kept their poise, made five of their first six shots, and led by as many as 13 in the first half. Wade made four baskets in a 15-3 run that built the lead to 56-35 with 14 minutes remaining, essentially finishing off the Bearcats.