USA TODAY Sports
UC runs its record to 17-4 (5-3) after 62-54 win over Rutgers
It wasn't pretty but in conference play it's not going to be pretty very often. As we head into February, the Bearcats stand 5-3 in the Big East and right in the thick of things. Come Saturday's 11:00 A.M. tip (what genius thought that was a good idea???) against Seton Hall, no one will know or care what last night's score was. And rightfully so. A win is a win no matter what time of year it is.
Universally, the most pleasant aspect of last night's win was the triumphant return of the man formerly known as Justin Jackson. Where in the world has that guy been? That is the Justin Jackson most people expected from the opening tip of the season. Yet, mysteriously he has gone largely unnoticed. Honestly, he kind of came out of nowhere last night. 20 games into the season, he showed zero signs of the high-energy player Bearcat Nation had grown to love. He's never going to score many points but stuffing the stat sheet like he did last night (7 points, 7 boards, 6 blocks!!) will go a long way toward a successful March run. You can just feel the energy in the building when he blocks a shot or dives out of bounds to save a ball. It's amazing and this team needs much more of that. Hopefully it's a sign of things to come.
Another positive from last night was the play of senior center Cheikh Mbodj. The big man was more active and stronger around the rim. Of course, Rutgers' big men aren't anything to write home about , but I'll take 10 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks (I swear he had more) in 24 minutes of play. Sure he had 4 fouls but I think we're all expecting that at this point. 24 minutes is not bad for him.
On the negative side (of course it can't be all rosy) this team continues to have terrible first halves of basketball. Ugly doesn't even begin to describe how bad they play first half basketball. With a team of veterans, to come out flat time after time is a bit frustrating. But let's turn this into a positive. Defense rarely slumps. Sure there are times when defense will suffer lulls. But with this team, as long as they're playing the stifling defense they're known for, they're not going to be blown out of any game. When your four losses are by 1 (New Mexico-ranked), 1 (St. John's-might be ranked soon), 2 (Syracuse-top 5), and 6 (Notre Dame-was ranked and on fire at the time), you're going to be in every game and that's a good sign.
So while this team is wholly unimpressive, they are 17-4 and 5-3 in America's most brutal conference. They're going to be in every game (barring a fluke) no matter who and where they're playing.
Bring on Seton Hall!! Again, who the hell thought 11:00 A.M. was a good idea to start a basketball game? Either way, the Bearcats will have to be ready for a battle.