Cronin hopes Crosstown win is launching pad
DEC 19, 2012 10:11p ET
For Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, those reasons pertain less to last year's fight and more to what lies ahead. His Bearcats, 11-0 and ranked 11th nationally, have bigger goals and bigger games ahead. Burying any remaining demons from last year's loss to Xavier — and the brawl that made headlines — and winning a December non-conference game Wednesday were among things the Bearcats had to do in order to get to those loftier goals, and they did both.
Trailing by two at halftime, the Bearcats finally got some shots to drop and turned up the defense en route to beating Xavier, 60-45, in a game that ended with hugs, handshakes and Cincinnati steadily pulling away.
If you wanted fireworks, you were 53 weeks late.
Cronin said the atmosphere in U.S. Bank Arena was "off the charts," and for much of the game he was right. But the celebration was tempered afterwards, and Cronin's postgame message to his team focused on improvement. He said his team isn't currently good enough offensively to win the Big East and the big games that lie beyond that, and though he's fully aware of what the annual Xavier-Cincinnati game means to the city and the 14,528 who came out to see it, in an on-court postgame interview he called it "the most overrated game in history."
His team is worthy of its ranking and its lofty goals. If any college basketball fans outside the region will remember anything from this carefully-named and neutrally-placed 2012 Crosstown Classic, it's that the Bearcats have a very talented team, one that's gifted enough to play at a breakneck pace and mature enough to win ugly. Superior athleticism certainly helps the cause, too.
The fight of 2011, its main perpetrators and what it did to both programs are now officially in the past.
"I knew it would be played in a clean manner," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "The atmosphere was great. Both teams were well represented, but down the stretch I felt like I was playing an away game."
Cronin said he hopes it remains a neutral-site game, that last year's incident stemmed from "three years...of hatred that gets spewed in the on-campus environment." He said both teams having fans alternately cheering their players and booing the others in pregame warmups reminded him of the Final Four, and he's glad to have his team move forward from this game and on to other, bigger games ahead, like next week's battle of unbeatens back on campus with New Mexico and the Dec. 31 Big East opener at Pitt.
"We obviously are trying to compete for a Big East championship," Cronin said. "We have to be more efficient offensively to do that."
Cincinnati shot 9 of 36 in the first half Wednesday. The Bearcats are athletic enough and good enough on the glass to get away with shooting more wild shots than most teams, but making one only every few minutes or so kept them from establishing a flow or their trademark defensive pressure. It's that pressure that made Wednesday's result all but certain just a few minutes into the second half, as the Bearcats finally made a few shots and Xavier (7-3) lost its two primary ballhandlers to cramps in the second half.
Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick led everybody with 25 points; he scored 18 in the second half. Cincinnati owned a 47-37 rebounding edge, got 20 offensive rebounds and swung the momentum with defensive pressure that led to 15 Xavier turnovers.
"Once they got one turnover, it seemed like they kept coming at us harder and harder," Xavier guard Brad Redford said. "There's a reason they haven't lost a game yet."
The Bearcats had eight players score, had eight players play 10 minutes or more and were the aggressors at both ends throughout the second half. Xavier owned the paint early in the game, but as it went on the Bearcats not only created easy baskets but were more patient and unselfish when they needed to work for them. Cashmere Wright (15) and JaQuon Parker (11) joined Kilpatrick in double figures, and it's that kind of leadership that the Bearcats will need to reach their ceiling from here.
In the postgame locker room, Cronin preached better execution, better shot selection, better decision-making and everything better it's going to take for Cincinnati to create a dream season.
"We really have a lot of talent," Cronin said.
A year removed from the fight and a dominant victory by a Xavier team that was No. 8 in the country at the time, Cincinnati has completely turned things around. At 32-8 since last Dec. 10 with one Sweet 16 appearance and now one sweet, if less than memorable, victory over Xavier in its pocket, that point is indisputable.
But there's a lot of season to go, and there are no trophies awarded for being one of last eight teams in the country without a loss. Cronin is so insistent that his players not focus on how far they've come because he knows they're capable of some really big things ahead, things that really would give Cincinnati fans something to talk about.
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