With 7 games left in the regular season and the Cincinnati Bearcats’ hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth fading, head coach Mick Cronin needed to do something he has done only 8 times in his entire Cincinnati tenure: win on the road. With their backs against the wall the ‘Cats did just that, overwhelming the reeling Connecticut Huskies with strong defense and tremendous rebounding to pull out a 60-48 win.
UC (15-9 overall, 6-6 in the Big East) has now beaten Connecticut (14-11, 4-8) twice this year. The two victories over UConn along with victories against Maryland and Vanderbilt make up the relatively short tournament resume. If any postseason hopes remain, however, Saturday’s road game was certainly a must win.
[Box Score: UC at UConn]
The ‘Cats relied on their bread-and-butter – tough defense and strong rebounding – to pull out the victory in Hall of Fame coach John Calhoun’s first game back from illness after seven absences. UC shot only 37.5 percent from the field and made only 3 of 17 3-point shots, but out-rebounded the Huskies, 46-32, with 19 offensive rebounds, while limiting UConn to 34.6 percent shooting.
How good was Cincinnati’s defense? Connecticut’s 48 points was its lowest point total since 2002. Considering that the Huskies have been facing Big East competition that entire time, the Bearcats’ defensive showing is even more impressive. Calhoun said “I thought it was one of the worst performances I’ve had here at UConn in 24 years”
The star of the game was UC center Ibrahima Thomas, who turned in an 11 rebound, 10 points performance for his first double-double as a Bearcat. He was joined by freshman Lance Stephenson (14 points) and Deonta Vaughn (10 points) in leading the Bearcats to victory.
So where to the Bearcats go from here? The ‘Cats travel to a very dangerous South Florida on Tuesday before heading home to face former CUSA foes Marquette and DePaul. UC probably needs to win all three of those games.
The final three games are intimidating but will likely decide the Cincinnati season. On Feb. 27, the Bearcats travel to take on Bob Huggins and No. 5 West Virginia before heading back home to face No. 4 Villanova on March 2. Cincy finishes the regular season at No. 7 Georgetown.
If the Bearcats pull out a victory in one of these games and win the USF, MU and DePaul games, they have a legitimate shot at an NCAA Tourney bid. Anything short of that and the ‘Cats will once again fall short.
Follow Joshua on Twitter to stay up to date and subscribe at the top of the page for updates.