Losses can come at you quickly and that’s just what happened on Sunday for the Cincinnati Bearcats. After being locked in a tightly contested matchup with the Houston Cougars for quite some time, a game that had American Athletic Conference title implications turned into a simple rout by the final buzzer.
It all started when a timeout was called following a Keith Williams layup with 13:33 to play that gave the Bearcats a 47-41 advantage. To that point, the two best teams in the AAC had been sparring on even footing and it appeared like the hosting Bearcats were going to have enough to pull off a win.
After the timeout, however, the momentum shifted dramatically. Starting with a layup from Corey Davis Jr., who very well may have cemented his status as conference player of the year on Sunday, the Cougars ripped off an 11-0 run that pushed them ahead for good. The five-point advantage that run yielded them wasn’t enough, however. The Cougars ended up scoring 44 points in that last 13 minutes and change, compared with only 22 from the Bearcats. Defensive breakdowns are not something we are used to seeing from a Mick Cronin team but that’s just what happened down the stretch.
The defensive deficiency that hurt them the most was the likeliest of culprits. The Bearcats have had trouble defending the three-point shot all season and they failed in that area once again. Houston made eight three-pointers in the second half alone and went 12-of-23 overall. It wasn’t as if UC didn’t try to keep up, taking 21 shots from distance but only making six. Jarron Cumberland was the only Bearcat to make more than one triple, while Justin Jenifer (0-for-3) and Cane Broome (1-for-6) both went ice cold on their seniors days. It was an unfortunate way to say goodbye to the two guards, especially since Jenifer has been efficient from three all season (43.9 percent) and Broome had rediscovered his shot in the last few weeks (47.8 percent in the previous seven games). Jenifer actually missed all five of his overall field goal tries and finished with two points. Broome had seven points and five assists, but connected on just 2-of-11 from the field. Both senior guards have had far more impressive games than poor ones, so this won’t be the lasting image we have of them. It is just too bad that their final home game went so wrong.
The entire loss can’t be laid at the feet of Jenifer and Broome, however. The Bearcats came up short in plenty of other areas besides three-point shooting. They were absolutely crushed on the boards (42-28), even suffering a major disadvantage on the offensive glass (18-9). As we’ve discussed plenty of times before, the Bearcats are a team that emphasizes attacking the glass on offense. When that’s not working, they are in trouble. In addition to rebounding might, the Cougars also cashed in on plenty of UC’s mistakes, netting 22 points off of turnovers. This was especially damaging when the Bearcats were desperately trying to keep the score within striking distance in the later stages of the second half. In the final 20 minutes, the Cougars had 13 points from turnovers, while the Bearcats managed just one.
Whether it was from home cooking or just the way Houston’s defense was playing, the Bearcats did get themselves to the free throw line fairly often. In a way, that’s what kept the game close for as long as it was. The Bearcats made 25 foul shots on 33 attempts, far exceeding the production of the Cougars (13-for-18). However, Houston took and made far more field goal attempts (30-for-65) than the Bearcats (19-for-50) and those buckets weighed more heavily than the ones UC tallied at the charity stripe.
So there will be no back-to-back regular season AAC titles for the Bearcats this season, shared or otherwise. That doesn’t mean there can’t be back-to-back league tournament titles, however. UC still has a chance at one of those as it starts play in the conference tournament this week.
Best Individual Stat Line - Nysier Brooks
Not only was Brooks one of the few Bearcats to consistently make shots (16 points on 6-of-8 shooting), he also had six rebounds and two blocks while managing a positive number in plus/minus. He was the only Bearcat who played more than 10 minutes to accomplish that last feat.