Last Nights game had one of the best finishes in quite some time for the Bearcats. It's shot that I am 99% certain will wind up on the next version of this video if/when it gets made. It was a fantastically clutch shot from Sean Kilpatrick in a pressure environment that is the season defining win so far. That could change in a big way Monday, but more on that on another day. Still it is never enough for me to simply enjoy a win. I have always found just as much enjoyment in the process as the result. So why did UC win that game? Lets take a gander at the box score starting with the defense.
The dirty little secret about the Bearcats success over the last 11 games is that the interior defense, the strength of last years team, and probably the strength of the Bearcat defense since Mick Cronin brought Yancy Gates into the program. Defenses have been built from the inside out. But that has changed a lot since the Xavier game. Clearly the best lineup for the Bearcats offensively is Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon, Sean Kilpatrick, JaQuon Parker and Yancy Gates. But that is also the worst defensive lineup in the half court. I was concerned that the Huskies superior size* would be ruthlessly exploited by UConn's interior duo of Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond. Didn't happen. The two combined for 6 points on 3 of 16 shots with 12 rebounds, 1 block and three turnovers. Yancy Gates is the biggest reason why. He was excellent defensively again, though the stats don't show that with no blocks or steals. Still Yancy had more points and rebounds (13 and 12) than Drummond and Oriakhi combined (6 and 12). Just dominating inside.
*UConn's starters average 6'6" UC's went 6'4.5"
Another guy that derserves special mention for his defense is Sean Kilpatrick. He was the primary defender on Jeremy Lamb, though Dixon and Justin Jackson had Lamb at various intervals for the most part he was Kila's assignment. And he did well to make life difficult for Lamb, which is what a good defense sets out to do. I have been really stunned by Kilpatricks development as a defender. He has really progressed since last season.
The defense was great last night but the Bearcats won yet another game from the three point line. And that is true literally and figuratively. The Huskies aren't renowned for their ability to defend the arc. Not in the past and certainly not this year. I thought that three point shooting was the one area where the Bearcats would have a decisive advantage over UConn. Three point shooting is the biggest reason why UC was so successful at stemming the tide of the runs that the Huskies mounted in the second half. Timely threes from Cash, Dixon and Kila really prevented UConn's runs from every reaching the tipping point where the game got away from them.
As always you can find the most comprehensive box scores on the planet on state sheet.