Bearcats begin crucial week in Big East race
Bearcats coach Mick Cronin was preparing yet another post-game diatribe on Saturday when his team trailed DePaul with less than five minutes remaining at Fifth Third Arena. But unlike the three previous games where UC faded down the stretch, the Bearcats rose up and closed the game on a 12-2 run, avoiding their first four-game losing streak in four years.
As encouraging as the victory itself were the offensive contributions Cronin got from several players — including Justin Jackson, who did not start but delivered a career-high 14 points off the bench. Five players scored in double figures — including Cashmere Wright, who scored 7 of his 11 points in the game-clinching run and had four assists and three steals.
But there weren’t any Champagne corks flying around the UC locker room after a narrow win over the Blue Demons, who fell to 11-11, 2-8 in the Big East. With their NCAA tournament projections on the brink of the bubble, this was a game the Bearcats could ill afford to lose.
“A lot of things weren’t going our way,” Cronin said. “We were missing layups, not shooting well from the perimeter. But I was really happy with our composure … as happy as I’ve been in a while. The guys stayed calm throughout everything that was going on.”
Cronin said earlier in the week that he would not answer questions about the NCAA tournament, undoubtedly in an effort to keep his players focused on the task at hand. He shook up the lineup on Saturday, returning to a four-guard starting five for the first time in three weeks.
A crucial two-game road trip begins Wednesday night at St. John’s, a team that beat UC on a buzzer-beating tip-in on Jan. 7 at Fifth Third Arena. Cincinnati goes to Marquette on Saturday.
“People keep coming in here and asking about tournament chances,” Cronin said. “I just want the team to play smart, act like a team, practice like a team, play with composure, and the rest takes care of itself.”
Four-game skid avoided
–Saturday’s victory over DePaul helped UC avoid its first four-game losing streak since the final four games of the 2008-09 season. Prior to the three-game skid, UC had won 10 of 11 games — including five of six in the Big East Conference.
–Yancy Gates scored 11 points on Saturday, moving him past Damon Flint and Leonard Stokes into 19th place on UC’s career scoring list with 1,321 points.
–The Bearcats were just 3 of 15 from 3-point range on Saturday. They entered the game averaging 8.0 3-pointers per game, putting them on pace to finish with 248 3-pointers, just shy of the school record of 253 established during the 1993-94 season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s good to get the monkey off our back. But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.” — Bearcats G Sean Kilpatrick on ending a three-game losing streak.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK’S GAMES:
–at St. John’s, Feb. 8
KEY MATCHUPS: In the last meeting on Jan. 7 the Bearcats overcame a dismal shooting night to tie the score with seconds remaining, but a tip-in at the buzzer by Moe Harkless lifted St. John’s to a 57-55 victory. Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison both average better than 16 points per game. St. John’s allows 70 points per game, so UC is hoping for a better offensive showing this time around.
–at Marquette, Feb. 11
KEY MATCHUPS: The Bearcats face a stern road test at Marquette, which hasn’t lost at home since December. Marquette is led by the dynamic duo of Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, who account for nearly half the team’s points. The Golden Eagles are 12-1 this season at Bradley Center.
FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore F Justin Jackson came off the bench Saturday and scored a career-high 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting. It was just the third double-figure scoring game this season for Jackson, who had scored 11 points twice previously. After starting the previous five games, Jackson appeared comfortable coming off the bench. He also had two blocked shots to increase his season total to 34.
–Junior G JaQuon Parker returned to the starting lineup, replacing Justin Jackson as Mick Cronin went back to a four-guard starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 9.
–Sophomore G Sean Kilpatrick slowly but surely is getting healthy. He suffered a groin injury on Jan. 14 against Villanova and then a hip pointer on Jan. 21 at West Virginia, but Kilpatrick appeared to be at full strength Saturday, hitting two 3-pointers and scoring 16 points in the win over DePaul.
–G Cashmere Wright, who was averaging a team-leading 14.4 points in a four-game stretch, scored seven of his 11 points in the final seven minutes to lift the Bearcats past DePaul. Wright has scored in double figures in five of the past six games.