Gates focusing on defense since return

Gates focusing on defense since return

Published Jan. 16, 2012 11:04 a.m. ET

Yancy Gates returned from his six-game suspension with renewed purpose. He rejoined a Bearcats team that is playing some of its best basketball to date, largely due to a guard-oriented approach necessitated by the suspensions of Gates, Cheikh Mbodj, and Octavius Ellis in the wake of the brawl with Xavier.

So now the pressure is off Gates to score. He's become more focused on his interior defense, but when he does post-up, UC's perimeter shooting surge has given him more freedom to maneuver.

"Every time I touched the ball someone was digging or someone was coming over to double," Gates said. "Now ... they are so worried about the guards driving and making threes that once I do touch it down there, it is a one-on-one. It makes it easier to score."

Gates was averaging 12.3 points per game entering the week, but just eight points in the first three games since being reinstated. But it's the 6-foot-9 forward's defensive performance that has drawn raves from head coach Mick Cronin.

"If you were to say, 'What are you asking him to do most?' It's to be a great defender," Cronin said.

Gates, who's been maligned at times during his UC career for a perceived lack of effort, was at the forefront of the brawl for punching Xavier center Kenny Frease in the eye. Gates served a six-game suspension and publicly apologized for the incident. Now Gates is back, leading a Bearcats team that started 4-1 in the Big East Conference for the first time since joining the league.

There will be days when the 3-point shots aren't falling, as evidenced by a 57-55 loss to St. John's on Jan. 7. So Cronin isn't completely pulling in the reins on Gates' offensive production. As the season progresses, there will be games in which Gates will need to increase his scoring output.

"Everybody is more on the same page," said Gates of the resurgent Bearcats. "It's definitely a different feeling."


Bearcats off to best Big East start

--Cincinnati started 4-1 in the Big East Conference for the first time since joining the league in the 2005-06 season. The Bearcats had won nine of their past 11 Big East games at that point.

--The Bearcats tied a school record by committing just three turnovers in last week's win over Villanova, matched three times previously (Ohio State on Mar. 25, 1961 in the NCAA championship game, Louisville on Jan. 24, 1985, and vs. Boston University on Mar. 15, 2002 in the NCAA Tournament).

--Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis served six-game suspensions for their roles in a brawl with crosstown rival Xavier on Dec. 10. Guard Ge'Lawn Guyn was suspended one game for his role in the fight. Gates, Mbodj and Ellis returned for the Jan. 4 win over Notre Dame.

BY THE NUMBERS: 177 -- Number of turnovers the Bearcats forced in their previous 10 games entering this week.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm proud of our guys. Anytime your team is able to respond to adversity, which our team really has for the last month, you've got to be proud." -- UC head coach Mick Cronin on his team rallying for a 4-1 start in the Big East Conference.



--at Connecticut, Jan. 18

KEY MATCHUPS: Jeremy Lamb was averaging 18.6 points per game entering the week. He and Shabazz Napier led the Huskies in scoring but they also had provided the defensive presence with 56 steals between them at that point. UConn allowed opponents to shoot 35 percent from 3-point range, so the Bearcats were looking for a big shooting day from their guards.

--at West Virginia, Jan. 21

KEY MATCHUPS: Former Cincinnati head coach Bob Huggins faces his old team, and former assistant Mick Cronin. The Bearcats will have to contain Kevin Jones, who averaged 20.1 points through 18 games. Darryl "Truck" Bryant is the Mountaineers sparkplug averaging 17.8 points with 50 assists. The Mountaineers are prone to turnovers which could play into the Bearcats' hands.

FUTURES MARKET: Dion Dixon was doing what seniors are expected to do at this point of the season. The Bearcats' dynamic guard matched a season-high in consecutive games, scoring 22 points in wins at Georgetown and against Villanova. Dixon scored in double-figures in 16 of the Bearcats' first 18 games. He entered this week tied for 43rd on the school's all-time scoring list.


--Freshman G Ge'Lawn Guyn left the Jan. 9 win over Georgetown with a head injury and did not play against Villanova. His status for this week's games was not determined as of Sunday. With Guyn out, freshman G Jeremiah Davis III played 13 minutes and scored four points.

--Sophomore G Sean Kilpatrick scored in double-figures in 16 of the first 18 games this season. He entered the week on a 17-game streak in which he hit at least one 3-pointer.

--Highly touted four-star recruit Shaq Thomas was ruled ineligible due to alleged academic discrepancies at NIA Prep in New Jersey. Thomas, a 6-foot-7 forward, was practicing with the team.