CINCINNATI - Police arrested Mississippi men's basketball coach Andy Kennedy early yesterday after a cab driver said the coach punched him while calling him "bin Laden" and other racial insults.

A pretrial hearing was set for Jan. 16.

Kennedy was charged with a misdemeanor, first-degree assault, which would carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail for conviction.

Kennedy denied the allegations, and his attorney, Mike Allen, entered a written plea of not guilty yesterday in Hamilton County Municipal Court.

Kennedy, a former assistant and interim head coach at Cincinnati, coached the Rebels against Louisville last night. They lost.

"I regret this situation," Kennedy said of the accusations in a statement released by Ole Miss.

"The focus should be on the players and the game, not on me. I vehemently deny the charges levied against me, and am completely confident that I will be fully exonerated of all charges."

The complaint, filed in Municipal Court, alleges that Kennedy assaulted Mohamed Moctar Ould Jiddou and punched him "with a closed fist while shouting racial slurs." Kennedy, 40, was arrested at 1:15 a.m., police documents say.

"I just don't think it passes the smell test," Allen said. He said Kennedy did not hit or slur anyone.

Police subsequently arrested Bill Armstrong, director of operations for the basketball team, on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Armstong, 31, was intoxicated and had been ejected from the Lodge Bar Cincinnati downtown, and had continued taunting the taxi driver, the police report said. Allen entered a not-guilty plea for him, and his pretrial hearing was also set for Jan. 16.

Jiddou, a 25-year-old native of the northwest African country of Mauritania, told reporters that the altercation broke out after Kennedy hailed him and then asked him to pick up his friends.

When four other people tried to get in, Jiddou said, he told them he couldn't take that many because he only had four seat belts.

Jiddou said Kennedy then began yelling, cursing him and calling him "bin Laden, Saddam Hussein," and hit him in the face.

Police said the left side of Jiddou's face was swollen.

At his home more than 12 hours later, he said he wasn't hurt physically but was upset to be compared to the terrorist leader.

Osama bin Laden "killed 3,000 people in this country," Jiddou said. "I never hurt no one. How can he tell me that? I'm working hard. I don't want to hear anything like that."