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UB sophs have to go a long way

When UB got off to a quick start, I heard some muttering about this year's four-man sophomore class being potentially better than the senior class of 2005, the Turner Battle-led group that carried its school to basketball prominence and came within an eyelash of the NCAA Tournament.

Well, you might want to tone down those comparisons for now. The Bulls' sophs are a promising group, and might one day accomplish big things. But if Wednesday night's 69-56 home loss to Kent State is any indication, the kids -- and really, the entire UB squad -- could be in for a long year.

Kent State has always been a good measuring stick. The Flashes are the standard in the MAC, having strung together eight straight 20-win seasons. They're down a bit, but they walked into Alumni Arena and had their way with a young, rebuilding UB team.

Watching the Bulls struggle in all phases, it was hard to believe they nearly upset Pittsburgh a month ago. UB has been shaky since then, losing three of five and averaging 22 turnovers a game. They're 8-7, but off to an 0-2 start in the MAC. They have the look of a team that lacks self-belief and will be fortunate to equal last year's 8-10 conference record.

Coach Reggie Witherspoon questioned his team's energy. The Bulls didn't play with any notable fire. But their main problem isn't desire, it's an offense that lacks sufficient scoring options and lacks experience at point guard.

Sorry if I'm living in the past. But every time I see the Bulls play, the more I appreciate Battle, the brilliant point guard who lifted the program to prominence from 2001-05. UB has not had a pure point guard since Battle departed.

Eric Moore has made strides as a scorer in his sophomore year. Moore scored 35 points and made a school record 11 three-pointers in Sunday's loss at Bowling Green. But he has a lot to learn about running a Division I team at the point.

Moore came quickly back to Earth against Kent State. He scored seven points and shot 2-for-15. Moore had five of UB's 26 turnovers. They had 17 turnovers in an unsightly first half, forcing countless passes into traffic. The Bulls started four sophomores (Moore, Andy Robinson, Greg Gamble and Vadim Fedotov) and they combined for just 23 points and nine rebounds.

At times, it seemed Moore was preoccupied with his shooting woes. That's never a good thing for a point guard. Battle could score, but shooting was secondary. He was preoccupied with running the team, playing tough defense and making his teammates better -- being a leader.

"I didn't think [Moore] was going to turn into Turner because he had a 35-point game," Witherspoon said. "I see him every day. I certainly knew he had a couple of games in him like he played tonight, because I see those in practice. And along the way, a lot of guys have had nights like that."

The problem is, he's getting some of them from veterans. Parnell Smith, a senior forward, has been a huge disappointment this season. He came off the bench for the first time all year against Kent State. Smith played only 22 minutes, but turned the ball over six times.

UB isn't getting enough leadership from Smith and Yassin Idbihi, the senior center from Morocco. Smith and Idbihi aren't natural leaders. That's a problem when a team is struggling to develop leadership and command in its backcourt.

Keep in mind, the Battle group went 5-23 in its sophomore season. The whole thing began to turn around the next year. So it takes time and patience, and a few forgettable nights like Wednesday along the way.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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