If Pete Mickeal can light up a team on a bad day, it's scary to think what he can do on a good day.
Feeling sluggish because of the noon tipoff, Mickeal quickly worked his way through it and tied a career high with 28 points while leading No. 7 Cincinnati to a 76-56 victory over South Florida in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament on Thursday.
"I felt pretty tired out there, I guess because I had to get up at 7:30 this morning," Mickeal said. "So I never really felt like I might get hot or anything."
Mickeal hit his first seven shots from the field before missing his only two shots of the game.
"Yeah, I'm really mad at him for missing those two shots," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. "When Pete is very active, and when he rebounds the ball, he makes everybody else better."
Melvin Levett added 20 points for the top-seeded Bearcats (26-4), who advanced to the tournament semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.
South Florida (14-14) stuck with Cincinnati for most of the first half, but ultimately had no answer for Mickeal.
"Pete Mickeal was magnificent," said South Florida coach Seth Greenberg. "He cuts as hard as any player that I've ever seen, whether off picks or with the ball. He competes and he plays to win."
The 6-foot-6 junior college transfer was 13-of-15 from the field and made all five of his shots in the second half. He also led the Bearcats with nine rebounds and five assists.
"Pete scores like that all the time. He's been so consistent for us," Levett said. "It's not always 13-for-15 or 28 points, but it's always a consistent effort."
When Mickeal didn't take a shot over a four-minute stretch in the second haf, the crowd of Cincinnati fans began chanting "Give the ball to Pete!" Mickeal answered by muscling in a layup from under the basket that gave the Bearcats a 70-54 lead with 3:27 to play.
"When I'm on my game, I don't think anybody can stop me," Mickeal said. "After a slow start, I just wanted to heat it up out there."
Cincinnati trailed by six points in the first half before going on an 8-0 run to take a 20-18 lead with 10:11 left.
It was back and forth from there until Cincinnati turned up the pressure. With the Bearcats trailing 31-30 with 5:34 remaining, Mickeal started a 13-2 run with a dunk. Levett added to it by scoring seven consecutive points, followed by another Mickeal dunk, and the Bearcats had a 43-33 halftime lead.
"It was a couple of easy shots that I got during the run," Levett said. "It was get the ball to the open man, so I just planted my feet and luckily my shots fell down. We kind of got into a little groove out there."
South Florida, which shot 54 percent from the field in the first half, didn't make a basket in the final four minutes before the break. Things didn't get any better in the early minutes of the second half.
"I thought we lost our poise with about six minutes left in the first half," Greenberg said. "They picked up the defensive intensity and we basically forced some shots and took some bad ones."
B.B. Waldon hit a 3-pointer at the start of the second half to pull South Florida within 43-36, but Levett answered with his own 3-pointer.
After a jumper by Shaddrick Jenkins, South Florida missed its next 11 shots and went scoreless for almost six minutes. The Bulls shot only 32 percent in the second half and 43 percent for the game.
While nothing would fall for the Bulls, everything was falling for Mickeal. He started another 6-0 run with two quick layups that gave the Bearcats a 52-38 lead with 13:36 to go.
"We're not going to back off just because it's Cincinnati," Greenberg said. "If you do, they'll knock your head off. That's basically what they did to us over the final 24 minutes."
Artha Reeves led South Florida with 14 points. Jenkins added 11 and Waldon and Altron Jackson scored 10 each.
Kenyon Martin, the league's defensive player of the year, had 10 for Cincinnati.
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