While the Cincinnati Bearcats finally got the mini-monkey of their back last season, ending a three-game losing streak to Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout, it didn’t end their drought in the rivalry on the road. It’s easier to win at home than away, which is an easy (and obvious) thing to remember, but the Bearcats have not managed to claim a victory over the Musketeers in Norwood since the 2001-02 season.
In that game, which was played on Dec. 14, 2001, the Bearcats rolled to a 75-55 victory en route to a 31-4 finish and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It was a strong offensive game for the Bearcats, who shot 53.4 percent from the floor to claim their largest margin of victory against Xavier since the 60s.
For the newer Bearcat fans out there, that team may be unfamiliar to you. And, for those who have been ride or die for longer, the names on the roster will likely build a nice garden of nostalgia in your heart. So let’s take a look back at that 2001-02 team, which did not fail when it came to playing Xavier at the Cintas Center.
First of all, the Bearcats were still being coached by Bob Huggins at the time. Huggins, of course, is the most successful coach in program history, having won 526 games as the leader of the Bearcats. That’s a mark Mick Cronin may get to one day, but it will be a day far in the future, since he has 379 wins currently.
Huggins’ floor general out there was Steve Logan, a wickedly talented scorer and distributor from Cleveland. Logan was named the Conference USA Player of the Year (oh yeah, the Bearcats were still in the C-USA then) in 2000-01 and he earned the honor yet again during the 2001-02 season. He helped his candidacy with 22 points against Xavier. Coincidentally, he averaged exactly 22 points per game that season and also set career-highs in assists (5.3) and rebounds (3.1) while being more efficient than ever, shooting .457/.374/.873 and posting the highest effective field goal percentage of his career (.537).
Logan’s right-hand man was junior guard Leonard Stokes, a 6’6’ swingman from Buffalo, New York. Stokes would go on to have the best year in terms of counting of his career in 2002-03, but he was an excellent second option for a deeper Bearcats team in 2001-02. He averaged 12.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game despite failing to shoot very well from three-point range (.298). However, he made 52.4 percent of his two-point field goals while setting a personal best mark in effective field goal percentage (.505) and win shares (5.2). Stokes was an excellent defender as well, tallying 3.1 of his 8.0 career defensive win shares during the 2001-02 season.
With Logan and Stokes at the height of their powers, this squad also featured the senior year stylings of Immanuel McElroy, who had 14 points and nine rebounds against Xavier. That was a big-time performance from McElroy, who averaged a more serviceable 9.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a senior.
While Logan, Stokes and McElroy made up UC’s version of a big three, there was plenty of talent elsewhere. This team featured Jason Maxiell as a freshman and Field Williams as a sophomore, as well as consistent performers like Jamaal Davis and Donald Little, who never got the limelight but were important pieces in terms of depth.
There is an argument to be made that, all together, this version of the Bearcats was the best in program history. No team has ever matched its 31 wins, although the 2016-17 unit came very close. Of course, a disappointingly early exit in the NCAA Tournament soured things quite a bit. UC lost to No. 8 seed UCLA in the second round, which was the same time No. 7 seed Xavier lost to No. 2 seed Oklahoma.
Even if their seasons ended in the same round, the Bearcats and Musketeers decided which team was better earlier in the campaign. It was the Bearcats. On Saturday a similar result would go a long way, at least based on what history has taught us.
Look at it this way. The last 3 UC teams to win at Xavier...— Jeff Gentil (@jgent15) November 29, 2017
1992 4 seed Final Four
1996 2 seed Elite 8
2002 1 seed knocked out by NBA errr UCLA in OT
Winning in Cintas will be a HUGE task but if they can pull it off you know this could be a very special year
If a win at Xavier equals an incredibly successful season then the Bearcats should be trying to emulate that 2001 team at the Cintas Center.