Once upon a time, a 6'7" redshirt junior stumbled upon a late season transformation and brought a young Bearcat squad from the depths of disappointment to the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
The stuff fairytales are made of, right?
If Shaquille Thomas has his way, this story doesn't take place in Neverland. Instead, it's a hollowed out arena located on the campus of the University of Cincinnati.
- Game: Wednesday, February 25 @ 7:30pm ET
- Location: Fifth Third Arena; Cincinnati, OH
- TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network; 700 WLW
"We've gotta get more fast break opportunities and get open floor situations for Shaq..." A fairly poignant quote from interim head coach Larry Davis, huh? And after Thomas' performance this past weekend, he's certainly not wrong. A more assertive Shaq Thomas is exactly what the doctor ordered at this point in the season.
And what did Davis think about the 'Cats performance at Houston on Saturday night?
"They haven't given in. Certainly after two tough losses in a row, we could have gone to Houston, and - especially after getting down early - we could have folded up the ship and just gave in. And they didn't do that."
It'll take a similar effort to take care of the Central Florida Knights on Wednesday night. UCF's last 4 games consist of 3 wins and an overtime loss to Memphis, so they're obviously not tanking down the stretch.
In their last meeting, you probably remember the Bearcats topping the Knights by ten points down in Orlando - but did you remember the leading scorer that game was Kevin Johnson with 13? A nice contribution from the local kid would be an added side dish to the main course of Shaq Thomas and Octavius Ellis.
Yes, I'm bullish on number 3. And sorta lost on number 10. You know, the guy who's lost his swagger ever since he dominated UConn...
But what about UCF? What are we looking for as they visit Fifth Third Arena for the first time this year?
For starters, an improved backcourt. The young UCF guards are gaining experience and getting better and better each game. The Knights start a 3 guard lineup consisting of only freshman and sophomores, and all 3 guards lead UCF in scoring. One of those guards, B.J. Taylor, didn't see a ton of playing time in the first matchup in Orlando due to injury, but he's back and ready to unload his 13.3 points a game.
Surprisingly, though, he's not the player I'm most worried about. Senior forward Kasey Wilson came into the first contest averaging around 6 points a game. And in his last 5 games, he's averaging around 16 points a game. Yowzers.
What the 'Cats have to do to win:
- Focus on Defense. Seems vague, yes... but UCF has a pretty bad defense, so I'm not all that worried about the Bearcats finding points on Wednesday. If they play their normal lock-down defense, we'll all go to bed happy.
- Watch the Arc. I feel like I've brought this up nearly every game, but that's only because I think it's true. The Knights average 6.9 makes from downtown each game; that's 2 more than the Bearcats. Don't let 'em get hot from deep.
- Control the Line. In their last meeting, the Bearcats shot 18 free throws to UCF's 9. More of that, please...
FYI - Deshaun Morman's still inactive. Not a lot of word, officially, from UC regarding his suspension - but it sounds like he's a bit peeved regarding his playing time. Nonetheless, the Bearcats should be fine without him. It's still do or die time in Cincinnati, and the 'Cats pull this out: 63-52