That was hands down the weirdest game I have seen UC play in quite some time. This Bearcats team hasn't struck me to date as a team that can beat other teams playing the way that they want to play. As far back as the South Florida game I came to the conclusion that UC can really only play one way, the slow grind-house affair that has become Mick Cronin's calling card. Any deviation from that mean has usually spelled trouble for the Bearcats. Any failure to impose the teams collective will upon the opposition has usually resulted in losses.
The reason why I bring this up is that UC quite clearly played Providence's game. And it is not even that PC lured the Cats into playing at their pace, UC started out from the first possession playing the pace that Providence liked. UC didn't press at all this game, not even a little bit, and set up in the half court defense from the start. There is a good reason for that, or at least what I think suffices for a good reason, and that is the presence of Marshon Brooks who with his wide array of skills, is a one man press break. By not pressing UC was able to set the half court defense and allow Rashad Bishop to guard Brooks. While it was a good tactical for the defense not to press from the onset, it got UC out of the habit of valuing each and every possession. If you follow me on twitter you probably saw my constant allusions to the pace of the game favoring Providence. I am not gonna lie, I was genuinely worried that the pace would turn the game into a free for all with UC hoisting bad shot after bad shot and slowly but surely shooting themselves out of the game. A year ago that definitely would have happened, not a doubt in my mind, because both Deaunta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson would have relished a chance to play in that kind of game. However I might have underestimated the capacity for this team to keep their bearings in that sort of run and gun atmosphere.The reason I need not to despair about the pace was the play of Cashmere Wright. Yancy Gates might dominate the headlines, Sean Kilpatrick has become something of a freshman phenom this year, Justin Jackson has become a fan favorite and all of that is well and good, but this is Cash's team now. It isn't anything that he does on the court that makes you jump up out of your seat, he doesn't emphatically grab your attention with anything he does offensively or defensively. In fact what grabs my attention the most about Cash this year, particularly over the last month or so is how poorly run things are when he is not on the court. And that to my mind is what defines a great point guard. There was no clearer example of that then last nights game.
Wrights line for last night wasn't spectacular 11 points on 3 of 8 shooting, 0 of 2 from three and this from a guy who came off a 20 point performance in the Louisville game. None of that is particularly impressive but he grabbed 4 rebounds, dished out 11 assist against 3 turnovers and picked up a steal to boot. It is not often that UC has a point guard grab 11 assists, there usually aren't enough made shots for their to be 11 assists, but Wright played by far his best game as a Bearcat last night. He kept his head in the storm, he kept the offense organized and he kept everyone involved in the offense.
Last night the Bearcats hoisted 65 shots, by far the highest number of the season, and that is important for a couple of reasons. For the season UC has averaged 55 shot attempts per game in Big east play, and that is a pretty good indication of the slow pace that Cronin prefers. The interesting thing is that when you go back and look at the shot attempts per game there are two important trends. 1) UC's record in games where they shoot more than 55 times per game is terrible, just 1 and 5, with the one win being the kick off to Big East play against DePaul. When they are under that 55 marker UC is 8-1, the lone loss being to St. John's. 2) The more they shoot, the worse the percentages. That's partly the law of averages, and the basic premise that the more this team shoots, the more jump shots they will take. Still the numbers are pretty stark, before last night UC was shooting 38.7 per cent in Big East play when they were over that 55 attempt mark, when under 55 attempts the percentage jumps to 45.3 per cent. For the Bearcats the rule seems to be the more shots you take the lower the quality of those shots will be. Both of those trends were defied last night and shockingly, UC won the game and the biggest reason for that in my mind was the play of Cashmere Wright.