Bearcats hope to avoid letdown vs. Nittany Lions
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin clearly wasn't pleased with his players after the No. 24 Bearcats lost to No. 21 URI in Saturday's second semifinal game of the Naismith Hall of Fame Tipoff in Connecticut.
But Cronin, who recognizes the concerns he has about his team, also knows, “It's early.”
And he also knows he has to get his team ready quickly for what likely will be a bit of a letdown game against Penn State in Sunday's consolation game at Mohegan Sun Casino Arena.
It's rare that the third-place game is played after the championship, but that's the way it is in this preseason tournament — and while the Bearcats had to be thinking about a date with No. 1 Duke in the final, what they have is a meeting with the 2-2 Nittany Lions, who lost to Duke by 10 in the first game Saturday.
“We just wanted to win. We wanted to win today,” Cronin snapped when asked if his team was thinking about Duke.
The Nittany Lions fell to 0-14 all-time when facing the No. 1 team in the nation, but coach Patrick Chambers saw the positives in the way his team played.
“We took another step today,” he said. “We got better. And that's our goal Just keep getting better. It's a process that's going to take some time, but we're going to eventually get there.”
Cronin, who lost a coaching battle to personal friend Dan Hurley and URI, hopes his guys learned a lesson.
“They taught us a lot about ourselves today and our deficiencies were physical and mental toughness,” he said. “We got what we deserved. Rebounding's about heart and toughness.
Asked about both, Cronin said, “It's been our weakness with this particular team since practice started.”
He went on to say his players could be relying on “what it says on our chest,” and have to put in the work to get better.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose injury battered team moved onto the final, gave a nod to Penn State, saying, “We really prepared hard for Penn State. We think they're good and we prepared that way and it helped.”
Said Chambers, who got 20 points out of Tony Carr Saturday: “There's so much more basketball to go. That's what's so exciting for me.
“Our focus is on Penn State and making Penn State better. Whoever we're playing Sunday, trying to get better that day. … We need to get there hopefully by Big Ten season.”
Cincinnati started the season just barely on the outside of the rankings, at No. 26. The Bearcats won a game and moved up to 24 and need a win Sunday if they are to have any chance of staying in the Top 25.
“They were the tougher team. I thought they wanted it more,” Cronin said of Rhode Island.