Bearcats all but lock up NCAA bid

Cincinnati almost assuredly will be part of the field of 68 when the brackets are revealed for the NCAA Tournament on March 11.

If there were any doubts about Cincinnati’s NCAA chances coming into the Big East Tournament, they had to be erased as the Bearcats overcame an 11-point deficit midway the second half to outlast No. 13 Georgetown 72-70 in double overtime in the quarterfinals Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

Cincinnati, which had a double-bye into the quarterfinals, improved to 23-9 with its third straight win and sixth in the last seven games. The Bearcats were ranked No. 69 in the RPI coming into the game.

Cincinnati moves on to the semifinals to meet No. 2 Syracuse on March 9. Syracuse rallied past Connecticut 58-55 in the quarterfinals.

Syracuse has won 11 straight games since its lone loss of the season Jan 21 at Notre Dame. Senior forward Kris Joseph is averaging a team-high 14.0 points and 5.0 rebounds a game and sophomore guard Dion Waiters is scoring 12.1 points a game.

Cincinnati has lost four straight games to Syracuse and six of the last seven, including 60-53 at home on Jan. 23 as Joseph led the Orange with 17 points, senior guard Scoop Jardine had 13 points and six assists and junior guard Brandon Triche finished with 11 points, four steals and three assists. Cincinnati was led by junior guard Cashmere Wright’s 17 points and senior forward Yancy Gates had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Cincinnati shot just 34 percent.

NOTES, QUOTES

–Senior G Dion Dixon, usually one of Cincinnati’s steadiest performers, had one of his worst games of the season but the Bearcats were still able to rally past No. 13 Georgetown 72-70 in double overtime in the Big East Conference Tournament quarterfinals Thursday. Dixon was 4-of-17 from the field, including 0-of-6 on 3-point attempts and 5-of-9 from the free-throw line as he finished with 13 points. He scored 22 points when Cincinnati won at Georgetown in the regular season on Jan. 9.

–Junior G Jaquon Parker pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds. He is coming on strong at the end of the season, averaging 16.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in his last three games to raise his season averages to 9.2 and 5.2.

BY THE NUMBERS: 12 — Cincinnati finished 12-6 in the Big East Conference, its most league victories since joining the Big East in 2005.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “When you’re watching all those good teams getting double-byes, you’re like, man, they must be fresh right now playing these teams that played three or four games. It’s a good feeling to know that we worked hard and finished the season the way we wanted to.” — UC senior F Yancy Gates, speaking to the Cincinnati Enquirer about earning a double-bye in the Big East tournament for the first time.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK’S GAMES:

–vs. Syracuse, Big East Conference semifinals, March 9

KEY MATCHUPS: Cincinnati draws the second-ranked team in the country, which has also won 11 games in a row and defeated the Bearcats four straight times. But the Orange struggled to put away Connecticut, 58-55, in its quarterfinal game Thursday. Orange senior F Kris Joseph is averaging a team-high 14.0 points and 5.0 rebounds a game and sophomore guard Dion Waiters is scoring 12.1 points a game.

STAR WATCH: Senior F Yancy Gates’ teammates were surprised he did not even make All-Big East third team earlier in the week when the conference announced its season awards. However, Gates showed what he is capable of doing against Georgetown as he scored a season-high 23 points to go along with eight rebounds and three steals. His previous top scoring effort this season was 18 twice, in a win over Northwestern State on Nov. 18 and a loss at Xavier on Dec. 10. He was one of the central figures in a benches-clearing melee with Xavier in the final seconds of that game and was suspended for the next six games by the university. Gates set his career scoring high in the Big East Tournament last season as he had 25 points in a win over South Florida.

FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore F Justin Jackson is an active force on defense for the Bearcats, when he’s healthy and not in foul trouble. Jackson’s playing time has been limited somewhat by back spasms. He played just 17 minutes before fouling out in Saturday’s game at Villanova. Last week in a big win over Marquette, Jackson had a career-high seven blocked shots, tied for 10th in UC’s single-game history. The athletic 6-foot-8 forward could be a key contributor in the postseason.

PLAYER NOTES

–Junior G Cashmere Wright did not start at Villanova, ending a streak of 53 consecutive starts. Mick Cronin wanted to limit the minutes for Wright, who’s had three surgeries on his left knee which he injured during a preseason workout causing him to miss his entire freshman season. Wright came off the bench against Villanova and had nine points, six assists and seven steals with no turnovers in 27 minutes.

–Sophomore F Justin Jackson, still battling back spasms, played just 17 minutes on Saturday. Jackson scored six points and had five rebounds before fouling out.

–Senior F Yancy Gates scored 16 points in the win over Villanova, giving him 1,403 career points and moving him into 15th place on UC’s all-time scoring list. Gates also eclipsed Kenyon Martin and Danny Fortson to move into 13th place on the school’s all-time rebounding list with 875. He scored a season-high 23 in the double-overtime win over Georgetown in the Big East Tournament.