LEXINGTON, Ky. - For two hours, Damon Flint was more animated than a cartoon.
The gregarious Cincinnati guard held running commentary with the hometown radio crew, shook hands with TV's Billy Packer during a clock stoppage, and in his coup de grace, leaped gleefully into the arms of coach Bob Huggins.
In between all that, he ushered Georgia Tech out of the NCAA tournament and did everything but hail a cab for Stephon Marbury, limiting the Yellow Jackets' superb freshman to a 4-for-13 shooting night in the Bearcats' 87-70 win on Friday.
Of such stuff are legends born.
"I'm like that all the time," Flint said yesterday. "Whatever I need to do to make my teammates happy, that's the way I am."
On successive weekends in March Madness, Flint, a 6-foot-2 junior, has turned the Southeast Regional into his personal stage and delivered Cincinnati to the doorstep of the Final Four.
The second-seeded Bearcats (28-4) will try to cross the threshold today in the regional final against fifth seed Mississippi State (25-7). It's a game that promises to reverberate with picks and screens, if not blocks and tackles.
Under Huggins, the Bearcats have carved a well-deserved reputation as one of the country's most physical teams. They win with defense and a punishing inside game that features 6-7 Danny Fortson and 6-9 Art Long.
On those occasions when the Bearcats get production out of their backcourt of Flint and point guard Keith LeGree, they can be unbeatable.
In three NCAA tournament games, Flint has averaged 19.3 points and 5.3 assists, shooting 47.6 from the field. Although he's had something of an erratic career at Cincinnati, he remains the Bearcats' most versatile player. He can play either guard spot or small forward.
"He has played extremely well," Huggins said. "We talked all year about people stepping up when you have to step up."
Flint took a giant step down the stretch of Cincinnati's title run in Conference USA. He scored in double figures in 17 of the team's last 22 games.
His offense notwithstanding, Flint is better known for his defensive artistry, his long arms and his ability to walk the walk.
"Damon is built for basketball," Fortson said. "He has the longest arms I've ever seen."
Flint doesn't know how long, only that it's a problem when he goes to a clothing store. "I've never measured, but they're pretty long," he said. "I need a special store for me. They'll have my [jacket] size, but the arms are too short."
The peculiarity is a blessing, though, on defense, where Flint uses his long reach to disrupt opposing offenses. He physically wore down Marbury in Cincinnati's win on Friday. For his next assignment, he gets Mississippi State's Darryl Wilson, who threw in seven three-pointers in a 60-55 upset of Connecticut.
"He was focused and made a lot of threes," Flint said of Wilson. "[But] I did the job on Stephon, and I know I'm going to do the job on him as well."
Flint had another message for Mississippi State yesterday. Asked how he viewed a comment by UConn coach Jim Calhoun that opposing teams need "helmets and shoulder pads" when they play Cincinnati, he responded with this challenge:
"That's a compliment because we know we're a tough team. If you're not going to play tough with us, you don't need to be on the court."
The Bulldogs, who have beaten Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference tournament and UConn in the past two weeks, weren't amused.
Mississippi State's Russell Walters said, "If they watched film, they'd see how we did in the SEC. We don't back down from anybody and we've played like this all season. Most of our guys would rather play a physical game because, if you look at us, that's what we are physical players."
Flint said his teammates haven't tried to harness his freewheeling tongue, despite incendiary statements.
"Whatever I say, I can back up," he said. "I'm just going to go out and do whatever I have to do."
Perhaps that's why Flint fits in so nicely with the big, bad Bearcats.
"Damon deserves everything he's getting," Fortson said. "He's just like me. We have the same kind of attitude. We don't fear anybody."
Pub Date: 3/24/96