CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bearcats are heading into the final three-game stretch of the regular season knowing exactly what they need to fix. They’re having a lot of trouble scoring, and there’s no easy solution.
Lately, it’s been no points, no wins.
Cincinnati (19-9, 7-8 Big East) has lost three in a row and five of six, a slide that’s dropped them into a tie with Providence for 10th place in the league. The Bearcats are still in good position to get an NCAA tournament berth — for now.
If they don’t get the offense to come around soon, it’ll be time to squirm a bit.
“We’ve obviously had a tough stretch of games,” coach Mick Cronin said before practice on Thursday. “The Big East schedule is unbalanced and tough on us. That’s the way it shakes out. We’ve had a long stretch of grinding games that I think drained our gas tank. We’re using this week to try to get the guys rejuvenated.”
They really need their point guard to play well again.
Senior Cashmere Wright has struggled since he sprained his right knee during a win over DePaul on Jan. 15 that left the Bearcats at 14-3. He missed one game and returned even though the knee wasn’t healed. He hurt his left shoulder in a game two weeks later.
In the nine games since his return, Wright has shot only 24 percent from the field overall, gone 12 of 60 behind the arc, and been limited to single digits in scoring five times. He took only two shots, missed them both, and finished with no points during a 62-41 loss at Notre Dame last Sunday.
Before Wright got hurt, the Bearcats had two good scoring options outside. Wright was averaging 15.1 points per game. Sean Kilpatrick was averaging 17.3. Teams couldn’t leave either one alone. With Wright struggling, they can clamp onto Kilpatrick, who scored a season-low six points and went 3 of 13 from the field during the loss at Notre Dame.
“It seems I can’t put together a whole game,” Wright said. “I play a good half or a good spurt, but I can’t play a whole game. I have no idea why. We’ve got to figure out something.”
Wright said his injuries have gotten better, even though his shot has not.
“Actually, I’m getting way better,” he said. “Now it’s the mental part. It’s realizing you’re OK and realizing you’ll be all right once you move.”
The Bearcats have been off since the loss at Notre Dame, giving them time to regroup before hosting Connecticut (19-8, 9-6) on Saturday. They lost at UConn 73-66 in overtime on Feb. 21. Cincinnati finishes with games at No. 10 Louisville and at home against South Florida.
Cincinnati doesn’t have a consistent scoring threat on the front line, so it’s had to rely on its guards and its defense to generate points. It worked early in the year, when Cincinnati got a large percentage of points off turnovers.
It’s not working anymore.
“Better teams,” Wright said. “Teams are not going to allow you to just pressure them. There’s a lot of really good guards out here, and they control the game. The difference is that in those close games (earlier), we were making shots. We’re missing them now. That’s all it is.”
Big East opponents have avoided turnovers, taking away a main source of Cincinnati’s points. And with the Bearcats unable to make shots consistently, they’ve been unable to get into their pressure defense as much.
That’s been the focus for Cronin this week. He thinks the missed shots have been on his players’ minds, leading to costly defensive lapses. It doesn’t help that the home crowds have started to boo those missed shots.
“We need to make sure our guys are worried about one thing: defense,” Cronin said. “You can’t control if your shots go in, but you can control your effort and your energy and your hustle, and that’s what we need to do.
“We don’t need to have a nervous breakdown or for the crowd to have a nervous breakdown any time we miss a shot. That’s not going to help the situation.”