Bold Michigan, Cincinnati to see who has final word


MINNEAPOLIS -- Terry Nelson, aspiring comedian and senior power forward for the Cincinnati basketball team, already has tried out a few of his one-liners about today's NCAA semifinal matchup with Michigan.

Did you hear the one about laying out Wolverines power forward Chris Webber if the precocious freshman tried to dunk?

"I said jokingly, I'll put Webber on the ground before I let him dunk on me,' " Nelson recalled yesterday of a statement he made earlier this week. "I don't want him to be taken out in an ambulance, with everybody booing me. But I don't want him to dunk on me, either."

Did you hear the one about Nelson calling Michigan's starting lineup "the fumbling Fab Five"?

"I didn't call them that," Nelson said. "It must have been Nicky [Van Exel] or Anthony [Buford]. They can talk pretty good, too."

The Wolverines, who like the Bearcats let their words speak as loudly as their actions, are ready for the first official trash-a-thon in Final Four history. What Cincinnati did to Michigan State two weeks ago in Dayton, what Michigan did to Ohio State Sunday in Lexington, was merely a warm-up for today.

Listen to Webber.

"I'm going to let them do all the talking," said Webber. "But maybe I'll take some of the press clippings on the court and read them when I'm shooting free throws."

If you believe Webber will remain silent, you might also believe a team that starts five freshmen doesn't have a chance to win an NCAA championship. These young Wolverines have talked all season about "shocking the world," and if Michigan (24-8) can beat Cincinnati (29-4), they could be one game away from doing it.

The Bearcats are expecting a repeat of their game against Michigan State, when both teams took a break from their talking to play a little basketball. They watched Michigan -- Webber in particular -- verbally demoralize the Buckeyes in the Southeast Regional final at Rupp Arena.

"Did you see Webber after he dunked on [Lawrence] Funderburke?" Nelson asked. "He was talking into his ear the whole way down the court. They all talk. Jalen [Rose] talks a lot, too. But it seems to motivate them."

Said Michigan backup center Eric Riley, "They like to talk, but we're trash talkers, too."

Even when the talk turned to basketball yesterday, there seemed to be an edge to the words. The Wolverines are tired of hearing that they won't be able to handle Cincinnati's defensive pressure. The Bearcats are tired of hearing that they aren't tall enough to match Michigan inside.

Listen to Rose, Michigan's 6-7 freshman point guard. Asked about Cincinnati's press and the problems it has caused other teams in the tournament, Rose said, "A lot of teams in the Big Ten play good defense, so that's nothing new to us."

Listen to Buford, Cincinnati's 6-3 senior point guard. Asked about the Bearcats' lack of size aside from 6-10 center Corie Blount, Buford said, "They still must dribble the ball. It doesn't matter how tall he is."

Neither coach seemed very interested in discussing that aspect. Cincinnati's Bob Huggins has spent the whole season trying to defuse comments by his players, especially Nelson. Michigan's Steve Fisher has completely dismissed it.

But it could set the tone, with digs being just as important as dunks, verbal jabs just as vital as jumpers. In-your-face might not be as important as out-of-your-mouth. Cincinnati has more experience, and Michigan has more talent.

Question: Which team talks better?

"I think," said Nelson, "that we both do that pretty good."

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