It was the textbook definition of "team win" Sunday. Their defensive stopper and heart of the team goes down early in the first half with an ankle injury (although at the time you could not convince Bearcat Nation that he wasn't dead in the locker room) and everyone says "oh **** here we go again!!" They are already woefully thin across the front line, they can't possibly win without perhaps the most valuable player in the entire conference can they? Well, they had to hold on for dear life after racing to a 19-point lead in the second half but they did it. 19-2, 8-0 in the AAC and on to the showdown in Louisville Thursday.
Their streak of holding opponents under 70 points came to an end thanks to the unconscious Dalton Pepper, but their win streak did not. At the end of the day, the latter is the most important of the streaks.
What I Liked:
- 80 points?!?!?! I don't think many people have mentioned this part. Sure they gave up more than 70 for the first time in ages, but they SCORED 80!! Without Jackson. And a very impressive 54% shooting for the game. Not often do we see Bearcat teams shooting over 45% let alone 54%.
- It helped that the Sean Kilpatrick of old returned. In fairness, he's been back for a few games and boy did they need every one of his 29 points. For a stretch in the first half he could. not. miss. That was extremely important because it was right after JJ went down and UC needed a big pick-me-up. SK provided that for sure. But it wasn't until his 2 free throws with 7 seconds on the clock that regained the lead once and for all.
- Well hello, Shaquille Thomas!!! THAT is the guy we all hoped we would be seeing this whole season. 7-9 from the field. Attacking the glass, making big shots, a thunderous throw-down on a great pass from Titus Rubles on (gasp!) a fast break?!?! He played with confidence, he played with aggression, he was outstanding at a time they had to have him.
- Jermaine Sanders was Johnny on the spot. A man not known for his athleticism, he was in the perfect place at the perfect time when he blocked Josh Brown's shot attempt with 2 seconds remaining. He only scored 4 points in the game, but he didn't let that affect his defense and provided the biggest play of the afternoon.
- Troy Caupain. Wow is this kid going to be good!!! At one point he had 8 assists and no turnovers. He ended with 2 turnovers, but he totaled 9 assists and 8 points and played near flawless basketball on the day.
- David Nyarsuk played 20 minutes. He HAD to. I'm sure Big Dave slept mighty soundly on the return trip from Philly last night. He earned his nap. 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks in his time and held things down as best he could. Hopefully we don't need to see him play 20 minutes a game, but it's nice to know he can do it in spurts.
- Titus Rubles: unsung hero. 9 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and only 3 fouls in 34 minutes. They were desperate for T-Rub to play more and stay out of foul trouble. Thankfully, in a game where the refs were blowing whistles for sheer entertainment, Rubles was able to stay out of it for the most part. Titus still takes his "WTF?!?!" jumper each game, but thankfully it's only one, but seemingly every other thing he does during the game is positive.
- Kevin Johnson started his career by not being able to make a shot. Yesterday in just 9 minutes (SK was on fire so no need for KJ to play much), Kevin made all 4 of his shots. One three, a tough shot over a bigger defender on the block, and two huge free throws to seal the deal. You can certainly see why Mick and his staff liked what they saw of Kevin Johnson in high school. This is a tough kid who can score even inside.
What I Didn't Like:
- Getting outrebounded 32-31 but with your biggest/best rebounder and defender playing just 6 minutes, I hardly think that's a huge negative.
- Dalton Pepper scored 27 second half points. 27. Second. Half. Points. A Xavier-like 7-of-9 from three point range. To be fair, they could have put 12 guys on him and he was going to make shots apparently. Again, hardly something to be upset over.
Seriously, anything else in this would be nitpicking. There really wasn't much to dislike about yesterday's gutty performance. That's as much of a team win as I've ever seen. No one could be blamed for thinking bad thoughts when JJ went down. It's just how things seam to go for Bearcat fans. So thinking they were going to lose was probably on everyone's mind. They played great at times and if not for Pepper's shenanigans they would have rolled to an easy win. But nothing's ever easy for the Bearcats. And maybe that's just how they like it.