That was an absolutely monumental win for Cincinnati. I try not to bend in the general direction of overwhelmingly positive or negative hyperbole. I like to think I am pretty good when it comes to keeping a level head about the team or the program. But it is very hard to keep a level head about this win. I don't think it is stretch at all to call this win the best of the Mick Cronin era. The stakes were as high as they have been since the dismissal of Bob Huggins. The Bearcats were desperate for a meaningful win in a way that hasn't been common of recent.
The best part about it was that UC didn't play scared in this game, that is a big change, just from Sunday the change was astronomical. In the St. John's game everyone, and I do mean everyone, was playing and coaching scared. They come out worried about the stakes, worried more about the negative fall out of losing. It is never a good thing to go into a game with losing on your mind, and it was. It was written on the face on each and every one of the players. The end result was wholly expected and registered pretty high on the soul crushing scale. UC made a late run and took a brief lead late in the game, and for a few minutes it felt like an old school UC atmosphere. Fifth Third was rocking and rolling and then Malik Booth sank a free throw for the Johnies to take the lead for good and the bubble was popped, just like that and to make matters worse the loss placed UC firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble.
I have to be honest I was deeply, deeply concerned about this game. I had no expectation of a win and at tip off I was thinking 60/40 Louisville. I worried that the crowd would check out, that the magnitude of the moment would adversely affect the team. When UC trotted out a completely fresh starting five those issues ratcheted up a notch or two. But Cashmere Wright came out ready to play on offense, determined to take it to Peyton Siva on the offensive end.
The one thing that generated worry for me was the three point shooting of the Cardinals. Terrence Jennings is the only post player on the Cardinals roster who could cause even an ounce of worry to UC's interior defense. But they have so many gifted shooters from three point land that it makes defending the three point line paramount. UC's defense overall is great, but they haven't always been great defending the three, currently ranking 96th in 3 point percentage defense. The issue is with consistency, they will defend the line well for 30 minutes, but in the 10 minutes they don't the opposition will absolutely reign threes. The prospect of having a 10 minute lull in three point defense against a team that shoots and makes more threes than anyone else in the Big East was a clear and present danger to my mental health
But all the worry and the concern was for naught, UC defended the three point line for 40 full minutes. Louisville was 4 of 17 from three on the game, and they can't really win games shooting that kind of percentage. That was the most complete game the Bearcats have put on display since the Crosstown Blowout and it came at the most important point in the season. This was a monumental performance for this Bearcats team and it is high time to bask in the reflected glory of a big win against a big rival. The offensive breakouts of Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick are going to get the majority of publicity in the media over the next 24 hours, and that is expected, and justified. But 63 points is a normal output for this offense, UC wasn't exceptional on offense often, and for short intervals when they were at all. But the defense was exquisite for 40 full minutes, and that is why UC won this game.
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