Cincinnati started about as well as anyone could hope to against Kentucky. They legitimately, in my purely biased opinion, looked like the better team for about the first 10- or 15-minutes. I didn't think this was going to be pretty, but the Kentucky players gained confidence through the first half and quickly realized that the Cincinnati players were far from intimidated by them. Cincinnati shot a dismal 32% from the field, including just 14% from three, and still kept it competitive. Granted, Kentucky's defense and pure length had a lot to do with those numbers.
Kentucky started playing a little more like Kentucky toward the end of the first half and jumped out to a 7-point half-time lead. Cincinnati went into the half out-fouling the Wildcats 9-4. I'm not complaining, just stating facts. Kentucky shot 9-11 from the free throw line, while Cincinnati was 0-0 by halftime. Again, just stating facts. Ellis went into the locker room with about three minutes to go in the first half, after taking a shot to his lower back. He came back in the second half and seemed just fine. This was the peak of my confidence...
The second half started, and things got a little chippy, to say the least. Aaron Harrison was called for a technical foul and Ellis was involved in a handful of less-than-friendly exchanges, including a cheerleader grabbing him and not letting him get back into the game for a second of so. Cincinnati made a few small runs, but Kentucky just had too much size. Trey Lyles was huge for the Wildcats, racking up a double-double with 11-points and 11-rebounds.
Kentucky ended up shooting 28 free throws compared to Cincinnati's 14. Cincinnati actually out rebounded Kentucky 45-38 including an impressive 22 offensive rebounds. This was clearly a point of emphasis from the coaching staff. Troy Caupain was the starter with the fewest rebounds and even he had four (Ellis-10, Clark-9, Cobb-5, Thomas-5). On top of that, DeBerry came off the bench with six boards. Though they lost, nobody can argue that they weren't playing their hardest.
My heart, says that on a really good shooting night, Cincinnati could beat Kentucky - and I mean a really good shooting night. The one where Cobb scores 27 points off 8-8 three points shooting. I learned today, that Troy Caupain and Gary Clark can play against anybody. Troy Caupain ended with 13 points and Gary Clark ended with 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 points. Shaquille Thomas added 10 points. If he can harness and control his freakish athleticism, next year could be really fun. Ocvatius Ellis ended with 9-points and 10-rebounds. I defended him to everyone after the Purdue game, but today was the wildest I have ever seen him play. I was nervous he was going to do something foolish every minute he was on the floor. He has been through a lot, but has to get the anger under control.
Next season, half of Kentucky will leave for the NBA and all but Jermaine Sanders will stay for Cincinnati. With the success of this year's team, they may have just moved the bar for next year up to the Sweet Sixteen. Hopefully, we won't have to play the overall #1 seed so early next time. With the addition of Justin Jenifer, Jared Evans, Tre Scott, and an unknown replacement for GeLawn Guyn, I really like this team for next year. Remember, we also get that 5'7" kid back. Obviously, I'm talking about Mick Cronin. It will be interesting to see what happens with Larry Davis.
On a final related note - Cincinnati doesn't regularly play the Wildcats, which is a shame. I would love to see this be a regularly scheduled game. Cincinnati's perpetually great defense would be a great test for the Wildcats, and Kentucky would be a good barometer and SOS booster for the Bearcats. In reality, I see the annual Louisville matchup being much more likely to happen than this one, but what's wrong with hoping?
Remember, we just wanted this rebuilding team to make the tournament. They did that, and then some. Great year, for a great group of guys.
-Daniele "Da" Bologna