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November 2009 Archives

THE OFFICIAL UNOFFICIAL BIG EAST TITLE GAME

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DATE OF CONTEST: Saturday, December 5th

VENUE: Heinz Field

ADVERTISED START TIME: 12 noon

THE SERIES: Pitt leads 7-1

LAST TILT: UC notched their first win over the Panthers 28-21 on 11/22/08


      Although the Big East does not have a championship game, this is essentially it and a wise schedule maker somewhere anticipated this whole thing. The conference benefits the most here as the two best teams (in the league) will duke it out to see who gets the BCS bid.

      While Pitt comes into the game with a loss at North Carolina State and a league loss at West Virginia, they could still earn the Big East bid with a win over UC.

      Doesn't quite seem fair (and technically UC has clinched the co-championship). However, as Brian Kelly said this week, "We don't play for co-championships."

      The math is simple. UC wins and they're off to another big bowl. Possibly, with some help from Nebraska and some computer quirks, that game could be the BCS championship game. More than likely, it would be one of the big New Year's games.

      The downside?

      A Pitt win would give the Panthers the edge since they would've beaten UC head-to-head. That would then leave UC at the mercy of the bowl committees. Strong lobbying could maybe land them a BCS bid, but despite Brian Kelly's political savvy, you don't want to rely on that.

You have to play the hand your dealt and that states that the UC Bearcats must travel to Pittsburgh and beat Dave Wannstedt's crew on their home field (well actually, the Steelers home field).

      Really, this isn't an insurmountable task. Sure, this Pitt team is having their best season since 1982 when Dan Marino was QB, but this Cincinnati team is having its best season EVER.

      I recall as a lad watching UC play at Pitt against Dan Marino and the Panthers throttled the Bearcats 38-7. As memory serves me, a defensive back named Freddie Logan picked off Marino for UC's lone score on that Mike Gottfried-led team. (Trivial minutia that proves nothing more than I've followed the 'Cats for a long time.)

      This is no longer the 80s. Sure, Cheap Trick, Kiss and the Boss are still touring, but the college football landscape has changed dramatically.

      For the first time, you can sense that when a team faces a Brian Kelly squad, there's some trepidation and uncertainty. No longer can a team come in and assume the Bearcats will be in awe of their past. Now they are somewhat in awe of the present.

      Now, is the time for the "perfect present"--the continuation of the "perfect storm/season".


UC's offense vs. Pitt's defense


The Bearcats come in to this game as a known, and an unknown. Dave Wannstedt knows UC will throw the ball, they always do. Tony Pike has returned as the starter and is coming off a game where he threw six touchdown passes and took Big East Offensive Player of the Week honors. Mardy Gilyard is a threat once he walks on the field. So is Armon Binns and D.J. Woods. Should, you cover them all, TE Ben Guidugli will expose you out of nowhere. Then there's the UC that can run the ball. That team wasn't on the field vs. Illinois but did rip through West Virginia with Isaiah Pead racking up 175 yards. And, while Pike surely will start, there's the UC "Collaros" version. Might there be a situation for Zach? Heck, maybe they'll "dust off" the Bearcat formation with Travis Kelce. The key is, while Wannstedt knows what Brian Kelly does, he may not be sure of what he will DO. The Panthers should have DB Aaron Berry back to help in the secondary that Tony Pike torched last year with a 26-32 showing for 309 yards and three touchdowns. Big DB Dom DeCicco is their leading tackler and your lone Tri-State connection is also a DB in Jovani Chappel from Trotwood-Madison. Mick Williams, a DL built in the Terrill Byrd mode (6-1, 280) leads the Panthers in TFL with 15. Greg Romeus is the sack leader with 8.


NOD: Pitt will certainly be playing with some "edge" as they're at home. Unless it's a blizzard, I don't see weather stopping the passing game as both squads are full of kids from the northern regions. I would guess Pitt would be bringing the house trying to stop Pike (which they were unable to do last year). If UC can get some quick, short hitters and pull off a few runs, everything opens up. If Pike gets in sync, it all opens up anyway. As long as UC can keep the tempo up, I don't think Pitt can stop the pass. Somehow a 5-7 NC State team put 38 on the scoreboard against them.


Pitt offense vs. UC defense


The Pitt offense is all about "balance". The "Wannstache" says he wants to run the football and be balanced. Translation? He's a defensive-minded guy who wants to get a lead and then chew the clock up on the ground. Thing is, for the most part, they've been able to do that as Dion Lewis has been incredible as a freshman running back. Of Pitt's 11 games, he's only missed the century mark three times. However, don't assume Pitt is "run only". Bill Stull can hit a man and particularly has hit tall WR (6-5) Jonathan Baldwin and TE Dorin Dickerson numerous times. Stull can be inconsistent at times though. Wannstedt made the senior re-earn his job in the spring and Stull's parents won't sit in the stands at Heinz Field because of the comments the Pitt fans have thrown out. UC's defense has been disrespected all year despite the undefeated record. This could be a game where they could earn some serious BCS fans if they're able to stop Dion Lewis. It's not easy, but it's not like Pitt is hiding anything they're going to be doing.


NOD: Lewis probably gets his yards, because he's going to get his attempts. Should the Bearcats execute long scoring drives, that could change, but that's not Brian Kelly's MO. If they can hold Lewis to between 80-100 and keep Baldwin and Dickerson out of the endzone, it should be a successful game. I would expect a similar close game as last year's. (Although, UC did lead 28-7 in that one early in the fourth quarter).


Special Teams


Jake Rogers has kicked the ball consistently through the uprights and on punts the last couple of weeks. More importantly, his kickoffs have been strong and have kept the opponents from major returns. Dan Hutchins is Pitt's guy and (like Rogers) handles punts and field goals. He's adequate and similar to Rogers in his success numbers. Overall, Rogers has the stronger leg. Cameron Saddler is Pitt's main return guy, but he's no Mardy Gilyard. Gilyard is a threat every time the ball is in his hands and I wouldn't be shocked to see the Panthers kick away from him. If they do so on kickoffs, they still have to deal with Darrin Williams who has that "spurtability" to break one (and has against Southeast Missouri State).


NOD: On a crunch-time kick, you go with Hutchins at home due to his familiarity. This is a game where a Rogers field goal might come in handy as Wannstedt's crew can be pretty stout on defense. It could be the type of game where it's better to settle for three rather than risk a 4th and 3 around the 30 and come up empty. But, that's not near as fun, is it?


Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks


Wannstedt and Pitt will pull out all of the stops to win this and they have a great advantage in that it's a home game. However, some of those tickets have gone to folks who favor red and black. Also, with the Bengals sweep of the Steelers, perhaps this is the year Cincinnati has Pittsburgh's number all the way around. It won't be easy. Pitt will pound and pound Lewis at you and then try to hit you long with Baldwin and Dickerson. You can nearly take that to the bank. What you don't know is exactly what Brian Kelly will do. He's won with the pass, with the run, with both, and with multiple quarterbacks. Watching the West Virginia game, I saw a decent Pitt team, but certainly not an unbeatable juggernaut. Again though, that was in Morgantown and this will be a far more fired up Pitt squad with a BCS bid on the line. The trophy for this is for the River City Rivalry. It may all come down to who's the bigger "river city gambler". I know who my money's on.

UC bball enters top-25

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Freshman guard Cashmere Wright wasn't aware of the news before he took the dais for Monday's media availability. So, when the question came - how does it feel to be ranked No. 22 in the nation? - he was confused.

 

"Who's ranked?" he asked.

 

You are.

 

Big smile across his face: "Oh. Well." And then, his voice squeaked: "It feels good."

 

It surely must. Especially for a guy like senior guard Deonta Vaughn, who's been a member of some struggling Bearcats squads and is the one player who's been here all four years of the Mick Cronin era as the coach has tried to rebuild the program.

 

"What can I say?" Vaughn said. "We earned it, showing we can play with some of the top teams in the nation. It's good we're getting some respect. It took four years to do it."

 

He said he was surprised it happened this week, particularly after losing the Maui Invitational finals to Gonzaga, then unranked and now No. 17. But the strength of UC's victories against Vanderbilt and Maryland were enough to impress the AP voters.

 

"I'm very happy for the guys," said Cronin, whose squad will play host to Texas Southern on Tuesday at 5/3. "Being in the top-25 gets your highlights on ESPN and helps with recruiting and ticket sales. But you're a loss away from dropping out of the top-25. This needs to be commonplace for us."

 

You also probably don't have to worry about this going to the collective head of the Bearcats. Rashad Bishop knows Cronin won't let that happen.

 

"It's still early in the season," Bishop said. "We still want to get to the NCAA tournament. Winning four games isn't going to do it."

 

--Former UC cornerback Mike Mickens was signed to the Bengals practice squad today. He was drafted by Dallas, and Tampa Bay then signed him to its 53-man roster Nov. 4. He was inactive for three games before the Bucs released him last Wednesday. Now, he'll have his chance with the Cincinnati.

 

--Got a Bearcats Rising book signing Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in Westchester. Come on out. Hang with me. We'll chill.

Big Chance for UC Women's Volleyball

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Say you want a UC-Ohio State matchup? Well, you've got it!

In volleyball, that is...

For the second season in a row, the UC women's volleyball team heads to the NCAA tournament. After a 25-10 record, 12-2 in the BIG EAST, the Bearcats were one of 33 at-large selections for the tournament.

So, that means the Bearcats will play the Buckeyes in the opening round in Columbus on Friday at 8 p.m. at St. John arena. The Buckeyes are 24-9 overall, 12-8 Big Ten, and ended conference play tied for fourth. It's the Buckeyes' 16th appearance in post-season play.

Last year UC beat Western Kentucky in the opening round, before falling to another Big Ten team, Illinois, in the second round. This year the winner of UC-OSU will play the winner of California-Lipscomb. The winner out of Columbus will head to Gainsville for the regional semifinals. The volleyball finals, by the way, will be played in Tampa.

It's just another step in the direction of growing a program. This is a team that finished the season 12-0 at home, to go with its 14-0 record at home last season. Overall, the home win streak now is at 28, the second longest in a country.

Props to longtime volleyball coach Reed Sunahara for building the program, but also for seeing the great high school talent that's right outside his front door. Remember what we mentioned regarding women's soccer here? Well, this area has just as good of volleyball talent--all you have to do is see Ursuline Academy's state championship this year, following last year's runner-up title. And that's just one school. Volleyball talent here comes from both sides of the river:

Lindsay Upton's from Mount Notre Dame; Stephanie Niemer is from St. Henry; Missy Harpenau went to Mother of Mercy; Julie Guenther attended Hamilton Badin; and Jamie Frey went to Roger Bacon, solid high school programs all.

The allure of being able to play BIG EAST talent in your home town is a strong pull for these volleyball players, but the ability to get into the NCAA tournament and build the program for future teams is quite another. These players get the best of both worlds, playing top-level talent in front of family and friends.

If you have the chance, on the way to the UC-Pitt game this weekend, leave a little early and stop by Columbus to watch the U.C. women play Ohio State. They deserve our support as they solidify the foundation for success to come.

Have anything (or anyone) you'd like me to write about? Drop me a note at bross@gamedaypr.com. I'd love to hear your suggestions!

PITT-I-FULL

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Here it is; here it comes. Nothing left for Pitt to play for but beating us. The Steelers didn't with 2 cracks and now the only chance the Steel City has to win a football game against any Cincinnati team will be this weekend.

I am confident of one thing: This will be one head banger of a game but I expect UC to win because of Coach K. I don't think there are too many coaches that prepare a team for big conference games like him. So expect UC to be ready and expect Zach to possibly play to really confuse the Panthers. Unless Dan Marino and Hugh Green are coming back UC should be able to leave with a "dub" (victory). If they don't, please don't start that crying game about our season being lost. UC football has been on prime time more than ever and that means more exposure to top talent who love the style of play, that they're winning and the uniforms aren't too shabby either. Being on in prime time means a live audition in front of millions of people who didn't know you or how you "get down" (play).

So while we expect UC to beat Pitt, remember they have players and play makers too. They have something to play for too; but in the end it will be a pitt-i-full year for football in Pittsburgh as it relates to playing against teams from the 'Nati. 

I'm not scared to say it now: Congratulations UC football for an undefeated regular season in the Big East!

That's the way I see it sitting in the Box seat...

The Rumor Mill

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So ESPN's Mark May says that Brian Kelly is "campaigning for the Notre Dame job harder than Barack Obama."  His definition of campaigning is apparently not pulling out of a race before it has started.

 

The Chicago Tribune says that Kelly would "crawl on hands and knees over broken glass for the job."  Is that the same glass that Les Miles crawled over to get to his supposed dream job at Michigan or the shards that Greg Schiano had to cross before his widely rumored return to the University of Miami?

 

Then you have Matt Hayes of The Sporting News who since November 5th of last year has written about the possibility of Brian Kelly leaving Cincinnati for Tennessee, Washington, Florida State, Texas A & M and Notre Dame.  That's 5 down . . . only 114 FBS programs to go.

 

You know what I say?  Thank God it's almost over.

 

In the very near future, Notre Dame is going to fire Charlie Weis and chances are they'll call Brian Kelly to gauge his interest.  He may not be on the top of their list, but he's certainly on it.

 

If you were him, wouldn't you listen to what they have to say?  It's Notre Freaking Dame, and while it's not the job that it once was, it's still one of the most storied programs in college football history.  Plus, it's a school that gave Weis a huge 10-year contract extension after he had coached all of seven games at South Bend.  Imagine the loot that they're going to offer to the guy who is hired to clean up the mess.

 

Brian Kelly is a great coach and a very smart man who knows there's no harm in considering his options.  As much as UC fans would love for him to publically state that he has no interest in Notre Dame or any other jobs, I'd rather have him avoid the subject than pull a Thad Matta and lie about about it.  Ask Xavier fans how that felt.

 

As for the suggestion that this is going to distract the team before the Pitt game, I don't buy it.  Playing for an outright Big East championship, a BCS bowl bid, and a perfect regular season trumps any and all job rumors - especially since the players have heard it all before.

 

I don't pretend to know what Brian Kelly is going to do, but I do know that he's very happy at Cincinnati.  The school has generously boosted the salaries of Brian and his assistants and will continue to do so within its means.  His personal appeals to boosters have helped get the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex off the ground and the team will have the option of practicing in an indoor bubble at this time next year.  Hopefully, the Bearcats will be getting ready for their third straight appearance in a BCS bowl game.  With players like Zach Collaros, Armon Binns, D.J. Woods, Isaiah Pead, J.K. Schaffer, Walter Stewart, and Drew Frey coming back, a national championship run is not out of the question.  Especially if he sticks around.

 

If BK does meet with Notre Dame, we're going to experience severe anxiety about what would happen to UC if he leaves.  But think about the best-case scenario - what would happen if he turned it down?  Not only would Brian's popularity soar to record heights in Cincinnati, but the UC program would get a huge credibility boost nationally.  Anyone who hasn't been paying attention to what the Bearcats have accomplished over the last three years would certainly have to think differently about the program if its coach turned down the Fighting Irish to stay at Cincinnati.

 

Shoot, Matt Hayes might even have to find another name to toss in the ring for every available job.

 

I hope Brian Kelly will stay. 

 

I think it's a realistic possibility.

 

And I know I'll be happy when it's over.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

UC-Illinois Rock 'N Roll Party

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Before the final game of his career at Nippert Stadium, UC senior receiver Mardy Gilyard thought back to the past five years - the loss of his scholarship, the weeks he was homeless and had to sleep in his car, the scholarship he earned back, the ups and downs of learning how to play his position.

 

He thought about all the people who had helped make the journey possible. And he thanked them.

 

"It was all going through my head," said Gilyard, who finished with 102 yards and two touchdowns (and another on a kickoff return) on seven catches while setting the school record with his 24th career scoring reception. "I just watched myself over the years grow into the man and player I am now. I was just thinking about all that. I went to my mom and told her thank you. I went to the seniors and told them thank you for the best five years of my life."

He couldn't have done it today without the contributions of Tony Pike, who showed again why, if he hadn't been injured, he would have been a legit Heisman Trophy candidate. How special was it to Pike to throw a school-record six touchdown passes (surpassing Gino Guidugli's five tosses) on Senior Day?

 

"It's indescribable, just because of the journey the seniors have been on," Pike said. "To come out the last game at Nippert and to throw six touchdowns and get this guy (Gilyard) over 100 yards and get him involved early, it's amazing. Words can't describe how amazing this feels, to be able to share this with the team."

 

He wasn't at a loss for words, though, when he looked to his right and saw Ben Guidugli (seven catches, 149 yards, two touchdowns) at the postgame presser.

 

"I thought it was nice that Ben helped me take (the record) from his brother," Pike said to laughter.

 

Pike, with his first significant playing time since reinjuring his left arm in the South Florida game, said he was mentally prepared - not just physically ready - to play today. It showed.

 

"Awesome to be back," Pike said. "It makes it a little easier when you have a guy like Zach (Collaros) step in for us and be able to know mentally that you're all right. The way he played helped out a ton. When you have weapons like we do on offense, it makes it a little easier. ... Sitting for so long, you just want to go out there and start playing. You know getting hit is one of the things that come with it. (The arm) feels great right now."

 

--Yeah, the defense allowed 476 yards (307 passing and 169 rushing), surrendered 36 points and continued to give UC critics ammunition. Brian Kelly will tell you that because the offense is so quick-strike, the defense has to be on the field for so much longer, and he's right.

 

But every week, the defensive players talk about it just being a matter of missing some assignments or just a few broken plays. I'm not sure I buy it.

 

"They are who they are," Kelly said. "They battle. We have a lot of inexperienced players, and losing Drew Frey today (a concussion though Kelly guesses he'll be back next week) didn't help us. We're playing as hard as we can play. We don't help our defense very much on offense. If I wanted to put lipstick on it, I could make it look a little bit better, but we just want to win. We have an offense. Let them go. It doesn't paint a great picture when we try to win that way."

 

Said J.K. Shaffer, who recorded a career-high 14 tackles today and extended to four games his streak of consecutive eight-plus tackle performances: "For the most part, we did a pretty good job, especially on third down and on sudden change on the short field. The thing that really hurt us the most was a couple broken plays that ended up resulting in big gains for them. We knew coming in that they had a ton of very skilled offensive weapons. We know they would get some, but I felt we did a pretty good job aside from the missed assignments and broken plays."

 

--Sophomore Isaiah Pead, who just two weeks ago recorded 175 rushing yards, got only four carries and finished with minus-5 yards rushing. He dropped a third-down pass, and you didn't see him much in the second half.

 

"Yeah, he's OK," Kelly said. "He's been a little nicked up, and I just didn't get a good feel for him today. I just didn't get that connection today. (John) Goebel is really assignment correct in terms of pass protection with Jake (Ramsey) being out. It just wasn't Pead's kind of game. It just didn't materialize that way."

 

Although the Bearcats rushed for only 21 yards on 15 carries, they got two first-down runs late in the game to seal it. Besides, the gameplan coming in was to throw the ball.

 

"Historically, you think about a Big Ten team, and it's going to be a power running conference," Pike said. "We knew Illinois is a team that's built to stop the run. We felt we could exploit some things in the passing game and use that to open up our running game. The way things were going, we had to stick with the pass."

 

--I asked Kelly if he was resigned to the thought that, assuming Texas wins the Big 12 title and Florida and Alabama met in next week's SEC championship game with undefeated records, the Bearcats would be left out of the national title game.

 

"Yes," he said.

 

So, there's nothing you can do about that?

 

"I think Nebraska is going to beat Texas and we're going to beat Pittsburgh. That's just the way I'm wired."

 

UC-Illinois LIVE blog

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Well, it's cold and overcast and a little bit gray. It's a pretty good day to watch football.

According to Tommy G. (and confirmed by KatzontheCats), running back Darrin Williams is wearing No. 10 today. It's his third number of the season. Why? No idea.

Senior Day: Nice to see Alex Daniels showcasing the freshly-saved mohawk. He didn't have that three days ago.

Captains are special team specialists long snapper Mike Windt and Charley Howard.

First Quarter

Illinois wins the toss and defers to the second half. UC to start with the ball.

The Illini kick to Darrin Williams, and he makes them pay. Darrin Williams returns it to the Illinois 49. First play of the game, Gilyard with the straight drop. Pike hits Binns to bring up third and 3. Hand off to Pead and he loses five yards. Three and out after obtaining such nice field postion. An uninspired start.

Juice Williams with the eight-yard run and then he completes a pass to Arrelious Benn for the first down. I expect to see plenty of running from Illinois, but its last two attempts have gained a combined two yards. Third and 8 from the Illinois 31. And that's the problem Juice represents. He takes the ball up the middle for a 17-yard gain. A nice block by OL Jon Asamoah on LB Dorian Davis. The Illini are really getting some nice downfield blocks that's allowing them to spring for long gains. First and 10 from the UC 18. Two runs knock back Illinois a combined three yards. Third and 13 from the UC 21. And a nice throw from Juice Williams to Fred Sykes on a corner route for the 21-yard TD pass. Illinois' running backs didn't do much that drive, but Juice Williams certainly did.

Illinois 7, UC 0 (7:38 to go)

I suppose that's why Illinois didn't want to kick to Mardy Gilyard in the first place. He takes the kick off 90 yards for the touchdown. That's the third return TD in his career. Just an electric run by Gilyard. I'm not too impressed with Illinois' kickoff coverage so far.

UC 7, Illinois 7 (7:25 to go)

Nice job by Dominique Battle smacking the ball out of Benn's hands to bring up third and 11 from the Illinois 19. Juice to Chris Duvalt but he's hammered short of the first down marker. Illinois to punt.

UC starts with good field position, on its own 41. Well, you don't get a whole lot more wide open than that. Pike scrambles and finds Ben Guidugli running by himself. They connect for the 59-yard TD. Two plays = 14 points. Yes, Pike still has a strong, strong throwing arm.

UC 14, Illinois 7 (5:56 to go)

Juice is incomplete to bring up third down, but Illinois is called for a chopblock. The Illini move back to the 12. Second and 19. Juice tries to scramble but Curtis Young says, "No sir." Loss of one. Third and 20 form the 11. Juice overthrows Jack Ramsey (the longlost brother of Jake Ramsey) by about five yards. Illinois to punt.

More good field position for UC, starting on its own 42. Two quick passes by Pike bring up third and 1 from the Illinois 49. Interesting call there. The shovel pass to Guidugli. UC doesn't run the shovel pass to its tight ends. Usually to a wide receiver or running back. Pead misses a block on Clay Nurse, and Pike takes his first hit of the game. The play was incomplete to Binns. Well, they're reviewing it now. Looks like his left foot landed before his right foot went out of bounds. Looks like it'll be a first down for UC. Yep, it is. Incompletion is overturned. Ball is on the Illinois 18. Sam Griffin called for the false start. Then, D.J. Woods. First and 20 now. Perhaps the Illini should think about covering Guidugli. A 22-yard pass to him makes it first and goal from the 6. That's four catches for 102 yards. After the pump fake, Pike finds Woods in the back of the end zone for the 6-yard TD pass. Or not. Under review. The play happened right in front of the backjudge. Hard to tell if he was bobbling it. It's confirmed. TD is good.

UC 21, Illinois 7 (1:50 to go)

On third and eight, Juice tries the option keeper. It doesn't fool Demetrius Jones who tackles him after a one-yard gain. Three and out.

UC will start at the Illini 47. More good field position. Third false start of the quarter. This time, it's Guidugli. That shouldn't be happening for a home game.

Second Quarter

In the first quarter, the Bearcats ran the ball exactly once. Just one time for minus-5 yards. Interesting.

This is unbelievable. First Pike hits Guidugli for a 40-yard gain to bring it to the 2-yard line. Then, on the play-action, he finds Guidugli in the back of the end zone for the 2-yard TD pass. Ridiculous.

UC 28, Illinois 7 (14:28 to go)

Wow, really nice catch by Benn. He turned around, the ball was in his face and he caught it for a 43-yard gain. Ball on the UC 24. A couple runs brings up third and five on the 19. Juice to Duvalt for the 19-yard TD. The problem there was that Dominique Battle came off the edge on a corner blitz, and he let Duvalt go by. Aaron Webster was supposed to pick him up, but he didn't get there in time. Nice pass from Juice to a wide-open Duvalt, and Battle never got near either.

UC 28, Illinois 14 (11:21 to go)

Another strong kickoff return by Mardy Gilyard. He takes it 41 yards and UC will start on its 46. UC tries its second run of the day, and Pead is knocked back for no gain. Maybe Guidugli should run the ball. It'll be third and five from the Illinois 49. PIke to Gilyard but he's short by a few inches. Shotgun, Pike scrambles and finds Pead, who promptly drops the ball. Turnover on downs.

Illinois to start on its own 44. Benn on the reverse runs a long way to gain five yards to the 50. On the last two plays, the Illini have gone outside the tackles and gained a total of 13 yards. Better success there than running between the tackles. Drew Frey is down. Looks like he went helmet to helmet with Eddie McGee and got the worst of it. And now Daniel Dufrene runs up the middle for 15 yards. After Juice hits Duvalt for the first down, Benn is called for the personal foul. Ball is back to the UC 23. It'll be third and nine from the 22. Juice has a little too much, uh, juice on his pass to Duvalt. Incomplete. Derek Dimke on for the 39-yard FG, and it's good. Still, as Marvin Lewis would say, Benn's selfish penalty cost the Illini.

UC 28, Illinois 17 (6:01 to go)

UC starts at the 46. The Bearcats still haven't begun a drive inside their 40-yard line. Gilyard almost made a fantastic catch on a Pike pass but, at the last second, LB Ian Thomas breaks it up. Pike looks for Guidugli again, but the pass is out of his reach. Pike to John Goebel, and it'll be fourth and 1. UC will go for it, and Pead is not in the game. Pike hits Gilyard for the first down. Pike to Woods for 18-yard gain. Ball is on the Illinois 11. That looked pretty easy. Pike to Gilyard for 11-yard TD. Zach who?

UC 35, Illinois 17 (4:04 to go)

Without Drew Frey in the game, Wes Richardson is at the free safety spot. After a Juice rush, it'll be third and three from the UC 49. Juice on a late-breaking option play pitches to Justin Green who's met at the first-down marker by Richardson. Officials will measure. About a link or two short. Illini, of course, will go for it. Ford doesn't gain much, but it's enough. Now, it'll be third and 13 from the UC 48. 58 seconds to go and Illinois takes a timeout. Juice to Mikel Leshoure for the seven-yard gain. Fourth and 6 from the 41, but the clock is still running. Again, Juice to Leshoure for the first. Five seconds to go and the ball at the 31. Dimke will attempt a 48-yard FG as the clock expires. And. It. Just. Sneaks. Over. The. Goal. Post.

UC 35, Illinois 20 (half)

BTW, Mardy Gilyard, with that last score, breaks the school record for career TD catches.

According to Tommy G., Drew Frey is done for the day with a head injury.

After a first down, Leshoure is crushed for a four-yard loss. After a holding call, it'll be second and 24 from the Illinois 21. Incomplete pass. Juice scrambles, but he'll be well short of the first down. Illinois to punt.

UC with its worst staring position of the day. At its own 25. Third and 2 from the 33. Handoff to Pead loses a yard and somebody boos. Are you kidding me?

Yikes, Duvalt was wide open (and when I say wide open, there was nobody within 10 yards of him) for what could have been a 73-yard TD catch. But Duvalt can't handle the pass. It'll be third and nine at the Illinois 28. Big pressure by Dan Giordano and Juice is complete. The Illini to punt.

Pike nearly intercepted by Tavon Wilson on that one. Then a drop by Binns makes it third and 10 from the 36. Pike to Binns will be a few yards short, and UC will punt again. In less than four minutes, there have been four different drives.

Suddenly, everybody is conservative on offense. Two runs for Illinois and it'll be third and six from the 16. Andre Revels breaks up a juice pass, and the Illini will have to punt. In the last 4:07, there have been five changes of possession with four 3-and-outs. Scintillating stuff.

And there's some excitement. Pike to Gilyard for a 45-yard gain. Great job by Gilyard who never gave an indication to the CB that the ball was coming his way. First and goal from the 5. Coming off the timeout, Binns forgot to come out on the field. Pike has to wati. Incomplete because of pressure from DB Garrett Edwards. Two incompletions from Pike. Third and goal. Trickeration. Pike to Woods, who laterals it to Goebel. It gains a yard, but the Illini are hit with a late hit penalty. First and goal from the 2. Colin Lozier - a redshirt freshman FB - is called for the false start. Pike to Woods loses two yards. It'll be third and goal from the 9. Pike threads the needle and hits Binns for the 10-yard TD. That's five on the day for Pike and ties a school record for TDs in a game with Gino Guidugli.

UC 42, Illinois 20 (4:43 to go)

Leshoure takes the carry, and he stays on the ground. He's lying next to Alex Daniels. His right leg is being flexed by trainer Bob Mangine. He's up, and he runs off the field. It'll be third and six from the UC 47. A run, and Illinois will punt. Mardy Gilyard muffs the punt, and Illinois recovers on the UC 12 yard line. Illinois runs up the middle twice, and it loses them a combined a 1-yard line. Nice defense by the Bearcats. Juice is incomplete. Dimke to attempt a 30-yard FG, and it's good. Wasted opportunity for Illinois to really cut into this lead.

UC 42, Illinois 23 (1:38 to go)

Pike nearly picked again. Looked like it should be reviewed, and it will be. To the naked eye, it looked like Terry Hawthorne intercepted it. We shall see. OK, review confirms it was incomplete. Third and 10 from the 35. Pike's pass is complete to Woods, but he's about a yard short. UC will punt.

As Juice completes a 12-yard pass to Duvalt, the third quarter ends.

The official attendance is 35,106 - another school record. I'm convinced we've seen larger crowds, though.

Fourth Quarter

A 19-yard run by Juice. On third and two, the Illini hand off to Green, and John Hughes makes him lose two yards. Option pitch to Green gains nine yards. Juice to Jarred Fayson for the first down. First and 10 from the 21. Juice incomplete to Fayson, but Battle is called for pass interference. I actually think that might have been a TD catch. Instead, it's first and goal from the 6. Dufrene gains a yard. Dufrene again, and he gains three yards to the 2. Juice with the option keeper sneaks into the end zone for a 2-yard TD. Illinois just keeps hanging around.

UC 42, Illinois 30 (10:03 to go)

UC struggling with kick returns. Darrin Williams just muffed one, and UC starts at the 19. Guiugli absolutely tagged by Tavon Wilson on his five-yard catch. A run by Goebel brings up third and 1 from the 28. Pike to Binns for the first down. UC gets into positive rushing yards, and the crowd cheers. Pike drops the snap and he has to fall on it. Back to minus-1 rushing. Pike to Woods on the inside screen for the first down. The ball at the Illinois 46. Pike to Kazeem Alli for the first down. Goebel gains two, and UC is back to positive yardage. Crowd cheers. Pike for a short gain, and it'll be third and 5 from the 30. Pike, on the inside screen, gets a first down. Sure, just make a one-hand catch. That's what Gilyard just did on a 21-yard post route TD. He couldn't have looked any more casual doing that. OK, under review. Looks like this might come back. Not sure he had control. Apparently, that's not what the replay officials saw. TD is good. That's a new record for passing TDs in a game with six. Pike is 32 of 46 for 399 yards and six TDs.

UC 49, Illinois 30 (4:19 to go)

Juice to Fayson for a 55-yard completion. Ball is at the UC 25. 14 yards to Duvalt brings the ball to the 11. Juice, under pressure, throws incomplete. Third and six from the 7. Juice throws it between Revels' hands and into Sykes' grasp for the 7-yard TD. Two-point conversion fails.The Illini are still alive, though.

UC 49, Illinois 36 (2:54 to go)

Onside kick hits Marcus Barnett, but Brad Jones recovers it. UC ball on the Illinois 40. Zach Collaros in the game. He immediately rushes for three yards. Goebel takes the pitch and gains seven yards for the first down. This game is just about over. Collaros with the eight-yard gain for the first down. With the Illini out of timeouts, this game, I feel safe in saying, is done. Victory formation. Pike comes back in to kneel for the final time at Nippert Stadium.

UC 49, Illinois 36 (final)

Good exposure for UC in Northeast Ohio

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Nice UC football story in Cleveland Plain Dealer. Good exposure for Bearcats up north. http://tinyurl.com/y87orru. Written by UC alum and former News Record staff member Branson Wright.

Also, Enquirer's Cliff Peale writes today about need for upgrade in Nippert Stadium. http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20091126/SPT0101/911270314/

Should the crowds remain sold out, this is going to become a bigger and bigger issue. It is a challenging experience going to concession stands and bathrooms right now (not to mention just getting to your seats). Especially with little kids in tow. Great quote from Athletic Director Mike Thomas: "I tell people we have more contact on the concourse than we do down on the field." Made me laugh out loud.

The practice is facility is huge for Brian Kelly and his program. Nippert improvements will be important for the fan experience.

UC-Illinois preview

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Mardy Gilyard has been dreading Friday for the past few years. It's Senior Day, and he's not looking forward to it in the slightest.

 

"We thought we'd never leave," Gilyard said. "We thought that day would never come. It sucks, man. I'm down about it."

 

Gilyard, along with 15 other Bearcats seniors, will play their last game at Nippert Stadium on Friday when they face Illinois at noon. And it makes Gilyard a sad panda.

 

"I love the city, I love the school," he said. "Win, lose or draw, this city has always had our back. That's what is special about the community. They've just showed us so much love. It sucks to know that I'm leaving."

 

Gilyard, after last season, thought about not coming back at all. He was thinking about skipping his senior season and declaring for the NFL Draft. He thought long and hard about it. He talked to his mom, who wanted him to continue completing his education. He talked to his father, who said he knew Gilyard wanted to take care of the family but assured him the finances would be fine for another year. He thought about it some more.

 

"It also played in the fact where I would be (picked)," Gilyard said. "(Michael) Crabtree was coming out and Kenny Britt. I thought I had a better chance of making more money by staying, helping the team, developing myself more, being more football sound and being more prepared for the next level."

 

Brian Kelly will miss this class - who were sophomores when he took over the UC job - as well.

 

"They've meant so much to our program," Kelly said. "Obviously, three consecutive 10-plus seasons for this senior class. It obviously puts them in a select group.

 

"What they've done more than anything else, is shown a consistency in their approach to handling being a championship program and raising the bar. If they did not do the things on the day to day basis, they wouldn't be here where we are. They're a group of sophomores that did the right things. The means a lot to stability and continuity to the program. To win a championship, you have to have that focus every day. This group gives us that."

 

--Remember two years ago when Marcus Barnett was a freshman All-American and set a school record with 13 touchdown catches. Now, you don't see him much. He switched to cornerback for the Fresno State game earlier this season and performed rather well. But when Dominique Battle returned from his injury, Barnett went back to offense.

 

He caught six passes for 57 yards vs. Miami, but he made one catch against Louisville, accumulated zero stats against Syracuse and did not play in the South Florida, Connecticut and West Virginia games. Overall this season, he's got 10 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.

 

I asked Gilyard about Barnett.

 

"That's my little brother," Gilyard said. "We spend a lot of time together off the field. I spend a lot of time talking to him, making sure his head is on right. I know what he's going through. I went from being a starter in 2007 to not playing a lick later in the season. I know how it feels to go from being hot to being cold. His head is OK. Marcus isn't worrying about nothing. He's enjoying himself. He's a joy to be around. He's gone from being an All American to not catching too many balls. But he's taking care of business."

 

--Senior DL Alex Daniels will look across the line of scrimmage Friday and see an old buddy. Illinois tight end Jeff Cumberland and Daniels played together in little league and won a state championship together at Brookhaven High in Columbus.

 

The fact Daniels will get to play a Big Ten opponent is also a wonderful feeling for the former Minnesota Golden Gopher.

 

"Playing a Big Ten team will be joyful for me," Daniels said. "It's coming full circle. I just feel like it will be a great experience."

 

-- Brian Kelly says you can't know anything about Illinois if you just look at the 3-7 record.

 

"Everybody looks at their record and if you haven't watched them on film, you'd say this is not a very good football team," Kelly said. "They're two years removed from a Rose Bowl berth, and they have a great depth at the running back position. Just a good football team. It will be a great challenge for our football team."

 

--<b>Prediction:</b> Well, I haven't watched film of Illinois, and I'd go on record as saying that the Illini are not a good football team. They had a nice win vs. Michigan and at Minnesota, but a home loss to Northwestern last week can't sit well. With Senior Day and the national implications of this game, UC won't overlook Illinois. Say, UC 38, Illinois 17.

Maui Invitational post-tournament thoughts

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The Bearcats, simply put, didn't deserve to win the championship game vs. Gonzaga on Wednesday night. They missed 10 of their final 11 three-point shots. They missed five free throws in overtime. They made 1 of 6 shots in the extra period. Their final shot came from a freshman in Cashmere Wright who hasn't shown the ability to finish his drives in the lane with a ball in the bucket.

So yeah, they didn't deserve to beat Gonzaga, particularly when the Bulldogs did such a nice job charging back into the game in the second half.

But all of that is OK. During the tournament, the Bearcats showed how tough their defense is going to be this year. By beating Vanderbilt and Maryland, two ranked teams, they showed their talent and their desire to win. They fell short in the final Wednesday night, but if I'm Mick Cronin, I feel pretty good about how my team performed in Hawaii.

But in his postgame remarks, Cronin didn't sound too pleased.


In particular, he wasn't happy about giving up the 3-foot jumper to Zags center Robert Sacre that tied the game in regulation with about 14 seconds to play.

"We're up two, and you have to get a stop when you're up two," Cronin said on his postgame radio show. "We get a little soft on our pick and roll defense. They hit the roll guy, and he hits the 3-footer. That hurts. That's all we went over, to make them throw it back to their point guard, who's not going to shot it. That part of it is tough to swallow. If they would have made the shot on a tougher shot, I woud have understood."


Still, if you're a UC basketball fan, don't you have to feel better about the Bearcats after their three-game swing in Hawaii? I would imagine so.


The DuJuan Blair Project

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As a freshman, Yancy Gates spent a bunch of time watching DVDs.  But they weren't the latest releases from Blockbuster Video.

 

The coaching staff forced him to watch DVDs of Pitt bruiser DeJuan Blair in action.

 

The message was obvious.  The staff wanted Yancy to use his strength much like the Pitt All-American did, and based on the first two games of the Maui Invitational, the Bearcat sophomore was paying attention.  Last year, Blair averaged 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds.  So far in Maui, Gates has averaged 16.5 points and 11.5 boards in leading UC to the championship game.

 

"He's in better shape, he's older, and he's coachable," Coach Cronin told me.  "And we spent all season explaining to him that power forwards are power forwards - not skilled forwards.  And if you're a power player - which you had better be at 270 pounds - you have to rebound and impose your will on the game.  He wants to be a great player and for him to get everything he wants out of basketball, he has to dominate people physically.  He's done that in the first two games and we won both of them by around double figures.  If he continues to do that, we have a chance to be a great team because he can be an all-Big East type player."

 

"There aren't many centers in the country as big and quick as what Cincinnati has in Gates," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "When you have an inside player like that, it changes the situation with Cincinnati."

 

While Gates has been UC's standout so far, back-to-back wins over Top-25 opponents have required a total team effort - especially on defense.  Cincinnati has been especially dominant on "D" in the first half of both games, holding Vandy to 24 points and Maryland to 18 points on a combined 29 % shooting.  Coach Cronin says that's not a coincidence.

 

"When the opponent is in front of our bench in the first half of games and you have the voices of teammates and assistant coaches calling out the other team's plays, that's when you should be a great defensive team," Mick said.  "It's much tougher in the second half when you're away from the voices on your bench.  You have to be able to come out and play great first half defense and that's a big part of what we're trying to do."

 

That's a key reason while the Bearcats will play for the Maui Invitational championship against a Gonzaga team that's just outside of the Top 25 (26th AP poll, 28th ESPN/USA Today poll).

 

"To be honest with you, we've been saying for more than a month that we're not flying all the way over here to get beat on ESPN," Coach Cronin said.  "You can't become champions if you don't make it to the title fight and we've got a chance now.  It hasn't been pretty, but you can see that our guys have a commitment to winning.  They've put so much work in that they're ready to reap the reward."

 

The bell sounds at 10 pm Cincinnati time.  

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Can you believe it's been 20 years since The Shoe debut?

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     Steve Sanders was a wide receiver from Cleveland, Ohio, who played four years for the University of Cincinnati football team. But that's not how he will be remembered on the UC campus.

 

     This is what made Sanders part of Bearcat basketball history: It was his 3-pointer from the corner as time ran out that gave Cincinnati a 66-64 victory over Minnesota in the first game ever at Shoemaker Center - and the first game of the Bob Huggins era.

 

     That was 20 years ago this week.

 

     Here is what led up to Nov. 25, 1989 ...

 

     Sanders' last football season was 1988. He knew he was coming back to UC for a fifth year to try and complete requirements for his degree. In the spring of 1989, Sanders was playing intramural basketball and caught the eye of new assistant basketball coach Larry Harrison. Harrison, who was on the lookout for players, asked News Record reporter Branson Wright about Sanders and another football player, Roosevelt Mukes. Wright was friends with Sanders, who played pickup games every off-season with UC basketball players, felt he held his own and often wondered whether he could play Division I basketball.

 

     The next fall, Sanders joined the basketball team for preseason conditioning, then had second thoughts.

 

     "That was the hardest thing I ever did in my life," Sanders said. "I talked to Coach Harrison and said, 'I don't know if I can do this.' We just ran so much. I actually stopped for about two weeks."

 

     When practices officially started, UC held walk-on tryouts. Sanders and Mukes both showed up.

 

     "Coming in, I didn't really expect to play a lot," Sanders said. "I thought maybe I could play five or 10 minutes a game and just enjoy the experience. But as time went on, I started feeling more and more comfortable. I thought to myself, 'I could play a lot.' "

 

     Huggins was beginning to assert himself as the Bearcats coach and certainly grabbed the attention of the players.

 

     "He was a maniac," Sanders said. "The yelling and the screaming didn't bother me. I came from a football background, and that's all football coaches do is yell and scream. But it was something to go through, just the hard work. Practice was so intense for 3½ hours. He never let us cheat ourselves. I was in the best shape of my life playing basketball."

 

     By the first game, the 6-foot-2 Sanders was in the starting backcourt with Andre Tate.

 

     "The whole time leading up to the Minnesota game, he never let us think that we weren't good enough to win," Sanders said of Huggins. "We had an awful lot of confidence, which he gave us. And the coaching staff did a great job with the scouting report. Everything he said that they would do during the game, they did."

 

     Sanders, who would average 7.0 points and 2.5 rebounds for the season, had four points all game. Until the very end.

 

     In the final seconds, Kevin Lynch of Minnesota tried to save a ball from going out of bounds and throw it off the leg of UC's Keith Starks. He missed, and the ball bounced down the court and went out of bounds right under the UC basket. Eight-tenths of a second remained on the clock.

 

     Huggins called a timeout. The first thing he said was, "You guys are going to win this basketball game."

 

     The play designed called for Tate to inbound the ball and lob it toward the basket for either Starks, Levertis Robinson or Lou Banks, all great leapers. As the huddle broke, Huggins grabbed Sanders by the arm and said, "Steve, if they can't get it inside, you have to break around because Andre's going to throw you the ball."

 

     Sure enough, Tate couldn't get the ball where he wanted. Sanders broke toward the ball, faked back, then went to the corner in front of the UC bench. Tate delivered a perfect pass. Sanders caught it and shot it, his first 3-point attempt of the night.

 

     "It felt perfect," Sanders said. "It felt like I just placed the ball into the basket. It had to go in. I saw it and when it went in, I was so happy. There was so much energy flowing through my body I cannot explain. I jumped up and down and ran, and they chased me and caught me. They dived on top of me. They picked me and then I got down and ran across the court and up into the stands. Everybody was off the court but me. I'm still running around in the stands. Then I run down back through the court again. When I finally got in the locker room, I was so hyped and excited, I just had to go lay down on the floor in the shower. ... It was truly amazing."

 

   It's now 2009. Sanders laughs when he gets the call for this story.

 

   "When you say it's been 20 years, my first thought is, Wow, I'm getting old," he said laughing. "My second thought is, I always go back to a conversation I had with Coach Harrison right after the game. He told me I would go down in UC history, and I told him that in two weeks nobody would remember that shot. So here we are 20 years later and we're talking about it.

 

   "What I see now is that it was the beginning of the resurgence of Cincinnati basketball. I know what it was before I played, and I see how it is now."

 

   Sanders, whose daughter Brianna was a star at Princeton and now is on Ohio State's women's basketball team, remains in Cincinnati. He is a senior program director for the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati working at the Carl H. Lindner YMCA in the West End. He's worked with the YMCA for 17½ years, including stops at branches in Lincoln Heights and Madisonville.

 

   "It just feels like it gives me a chance to give back to a community that's similar to where I grew up (in East Cleveland) - a lot of single-parent homes, families that are not as fortunate as they would like to be," Sanders said. 

 

   "We're in a $10 million state-of-the-art facility. The kids have a chance to feel good about where they're going and what we're doing for them. I just love what I am doing."

 

 

UC 69, Maryland 57 (final) thoughts

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Yet another miss by Cashmere Wright. Misses a layup. But on the same possession, Bishop rebounds a missed Vaughn 3, sticks it back and takes the foul.                                                       
Wright picks up his third foul with 17:42 to go. And then immediately, Jaquon Parker picks up his third.

Not a great first 3 minutes for UC. Misses 6 of 7 shots, commits three fouls, a couple turnovers.

But Dixon again to the rescue. Tips in a missed Vaughn shot, then drills an 18 footer.

UC 39, Maryland 26 (14:47 to go)

Maryland's full-court pressure is beginning to bother UC. That's at least two bad turnovers from the Bearcats.

UC certainly isn't shy about fouling. 6:57 into the second half, and the Bearcats have been whistled for six fouls.

Looks like Stephenson took a shot in the jaw from Padgett with his elbow.                            

UC 46, Maryland 35 (11:18 to go)

Wright picks up his fourth foul on 10:06 on a stupid reach-in from the backside. Not what you'd call a smart foul.

Luckily for UC, Maryland is shooting about 50 percent from the foul line.

Gates is heating up. Probably because his teammates are feeding him the ball in the post.

Maryland has to call time out, down by 16 with 9:15 to go.

UC 55, Maryland 42 (7:31 to go)

Nice hustle by Stephenson. With the shot clock running down, Vaughn fires up a 3 and misses. But the frehsman is there to grab the offensive rebound. Then, a few seconds later, Wright misses one and Gates gets the rebound.

I think Bishop just picked up his fourth foul.

UC 62, Maryland 48 (3:22 to go)

Maryland closes to within 10, but the Terps can't get any closer.

Maryland tests out Cashmere Wright's late-game nerves, but he hits 3 of 4 free throws.

What's been impressive about UC these past two games is its ability to keep a lead. The Bearcats have lead by double-digits the past two games, and their opponents have made runs of their own. But it seems like whenever they draw to within seven, the Bearcats tighten their defense and start scoring more points. It's a game of runs, and UC has done a really nice job blunting its opponents chances.

One problem, though. For the second game in a row, the Bearcats were outshot handily in free throws. They simply aren't drawing enough fouls.

Still, another good win.

UC 69, Maryland 57 (final)

UC 31, Maryland 18 (half) thoughts

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Starting lineup: Deonta Vaughn, Rashad Bishop, Cashmere Wright, Lance Stephenson and Yancy Gates.

On the first offensive play, Gates with an offensive rebound. Then, Vaughn feeds him a nice bounce pass and he slams it home.

You know how bad Wright was yesterday when driving to the lane and taking shots? Well, he just drove the lane, passed it back outside, the ball got moved to Stephenson, who nailed a 3.

UC 9, Maryland 7 (15:09 to go)

Wright picks up his second foul with about 14 minutes to go. Yesterday, it was Vaughn in early foul trouble. What is it with the guards in Hawaii?

Man, Maryland's defense is just swarming.

Lot of turnovers this season from Darnell Wilks on his passes. He might want to consider taking some heat off of them.

UC 9, Maryland 9 (11:43 to go)

UC has manages just one field goal in about 7 1/2 minutes. Still, Vaughn retakes the lead with a 3-pointer.

Padgett gives UC a taste of its own medicine. He rebounds a miss and slams it home.

UC 16, Maryland 14 (7:29 to go)

Vaughn hits a 3 in transition to put UC up by five. He's got eight points so far.

I don't remember, though, the last time the Bearcats tried to get the ball to Gates in the post.

Not like it matters. Maryland is brutal on offense so far. The Terps have gone 6 minutes without scoring, allowing UC to go on a 14-0 run.

Toyloy misses a dunk. That makes one for him this year to go with Gates' and Stephenson's missed jams.

UC 25, Maryland 14 (3:13 to go)

Toyloy starting to make an impact as Gates takes a breather.

Wow, I was about to write: UC called a timeout with 35 seconds left to run that non-play and to get that terrible shot from Stephenson. Instead, I'll write: Wow, great play by Dixon to take the air-ball from Stephenson and throw it in as time expired on the half.

Vaughn leads the way with 10 points. Stephenson has eight. Maryland is shooting 28 percent from the floor and 11 percent from the 3. Another strong defensive effort from the Bearcats so far.

UC 31, Maryland 18 (half)


The Wright Stuff

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I've never been so excited about a player who missed 11 out of 13 shots.

 

In Monday's 67-58 win over Vanderbilt, freshman Cashmere Wright had a case of "Hrycaniuk-itis" at times as he repeatedly missed shots from close range.

 

But after watching the Bearcats struggle to dribble-drive with no true point guard on the roster last year, it was great to see Wright repeatedly take the ball to the basket against the Commodores.

 

"He missed a lot of his shots, but his drives broke their defense down," Coach Cronin said.  "That's why we got so many offensive rebounds - because we were driving the ball to the basket."

 

Cincinnati outrebounded Vandy 53 to 32, and 23 of the Bearcats' rebounds came on the offense end.  That led to 20 second-chance points against a Vanderbilt team with three players 6'7"-or-taller in the starting lineup.

 

Wright did not face high-level competition at Urban Christian Academy, so when he drove past his defender he had a clear path to the hoop for easy baskets.  At Cincinnati, he'll need to think pass when he beats his man and collapses the defense near the basket.

 

"That's what we talked about when we recruited him," Cronin said.  "When you have a guy like Cashmere who is super-quick, you have to do two things:  Number one, you have to try to teach him how to use his quickness and number two, you've got to know that he's going to make mistakes.  You can't tell him not to drive the ball - then why did you recruit him?  We'll reap the benefits if we let him play through it and learn on the run.  He just got going so fast against Vandy that he was diving away from the basket instead of jumping up at the rim." 

 

It was exciting to watch his relentless attacks on the basket on Monday.

 

Imagine how fun it will be when he actually makes a shot.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

I thought you might enjoy a couple of photos from the team hotel in  Maui.

 

pool.jpg

 

sunset.jpg

Quick Tony Pike update

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For the first time since his non-throwing arm injury, Tony Pike took direct snaps at practice today. Afterward, he said he felt no pain.

 

"As far as I'm concerned," Pike said, "it's back to full health."

 

The bye week certainly helped, as did the few snaps he took during the West Virginia game. But he and the coaching staff were surprised by how quickly he's rediscovered the continuity.

 

"That was what we were most amazed about," Pike said. "It really came back quick. A few days out of surgery, I came out here and threw a little bit. Staying in tune with the guys really helped out a lot."

The Collaros to Pike transformation is almost complete

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Tony Pike is the starting quarterback for the Bearcats. That much is clear. But for those thinking that Pike and backup Zach Collaros - who has been so good during Pike's arm injury absence - would split snaps or switch off offensive series, think again.

 

It sounds like Brian Kelly has no interest in platooning two of the top quarterbacks in the Big East when UC faces Illinois on Friday at noon. It'll be a main course of Tony Pike with maybe a little side helping of Collaros.

 

"I would say honestly that Zach looks to be more situational more so than saying, 'He's coming in this quarter,'" Kelly said. "He's more situational, because he can do a little more in the running game. If we don't need to call on him, beautiful."

 

Pike will wear a brace on his non-throwing arm that Kelly compared to Kevlar. Which means it's heavy, and Pike's left arm slips low when he's trying to throw, meaning he can't get the same torque on his passes as usual. During practices Sunday and Monday, the coaching staff has tried to make sure he keeps that arm elevated when he's throwing.  

 

Pike also is struggling with direct snaps - not a major part of the Bearcats offense, but a part nonetheless - so look for even more shotgun formations Friday.

 

"The biggest thing was getting Tony Pike back under center and getting him some contuinity," Kelly said. You're transitioning out from Zach who's been leading our first team and all of the things that go with communications, cadence, the way he checks. I know you guys don't think about these things every day, but I spend most of my days thinking about this stuff. That's been a good transition. Yesterday was the first day where there was a smooth contunity with Tony back out here. You could see the little things coming back out to where he was before he was injured."

 

With so much talk about how Collaros makes defensive coordinators have to work that much harder, I asked Mardy Gilyard why Pike should even be starting.*

 

*For the record, I think Pike should get back his job, though I can understand why some think Collaros is more dangerous.

 

"He's the general," Gilyard said. "He laid the ground work for us. Everybody knows that. Zach respects that."

 

--And this wouldn't be a late November news conference at UC without some Brian-Kelly-to-insert-job-opening-here talk.

 

Kelly's gag today was that he couldn't take a job unless Skyline Chili and Graeter's were prevalent in that city. Which means he could take over the South Florida and Louisville jobs and maybe that's about it.

 

But seriously ...

 

"I can only be honest with (the team)," Kelly said. "This is the silly season. This is not new ground for our players. The truth is this happens every year. Nobody thinks Cincinnati is a destination job."

 

C. Trent, of course, brought up the fact he's interviewed for other jobs since he's been here, as reported in Bearcats Rising.**

 

"The process is: after the season, after you're done," Kelly said. "It's always about looking at what's the best opportunity for you, your family and your program. It comes back to the same thing. Cincinnati is."

 

**Next book signing at the Barnes & Noble in Westchester. Put it on your calendar now.

 

Mardy Gilyard believes his coach.

 

"Bossman ain't going nowhere," he said. "He loves the city, and the city loves him. He's put a foundation down. Coach is the kind of guy who's going to straight-talk it to you. He shot it straight to me when he didn't even know me."

 

Yeah, but Mark Dantonio also told his team he wasn't leaving before he, you know, left for Michigan State.

 

"This is the second or third time this has come up (for Kelly)," Gilyard said. "When it came up with Coach Dantonio the first time, he dipped. He looked us in the face and lied to us and was out of here. Coach Kelly, when it came up, I went to him, just like I did coach Dantonio, and I said, 'What's the deal?' He said not to worry about anything, that he wasn't going anywhere. It's just one of those gut feelings."

 

--Ran into Haruki Nakamura today after the presser, shaved head and with a cast covering his right leg. The latter was due to the broken ankle he suffered two Sundays ago with the Baltimore Ravens. The former was because he was tired of his hair.

 

He'll be at UC for the time being, rehabbing his leg. In doing so, he's living in the basement of trainer Bob Mangine's house.

AHHH THE NAME IS BOOTSY BOBBA'!

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Well I knew this was going to happen eventually; Bootsy has now penned a fight/support song for UC sports. No surprise to me, having worked with him and his "By your side" wife Patti and knowing their love for all things Cincinnati. William Bootsy Collins has represented the 'Nati around the world doing songs for the Bengals and Reds; and now UC is part of his evolution revolution that showcases his talent pool as much as himself. 

UC sports of late has brought many people to the forefront of Catsville, but guys like Bootsy, Eric Davis and others have always had a fondness for the University and its sports program. I know the rumor mill is hot with whether Coach K is going to be courted by NO-Tre Dame (see my previous blog) but the hotness right now is the Rubber Band effect being laid down by one of the original Funkateers riding beats like Paul Revere. 

Bootsy has a restaurant, BootsyRubys, Millions of Gold records and CD's, Signature glasses and more guest appearances than Nick Lachey. But one thing he can't get enough of is his hometown. He lives here, flies people here to record, encourages people to love it here and then gives them reasons why. 

His new reason is UC sports, football and basketball specifically, but we must remember there's a Gold and Silver medalist among us; College basketball's greatest player among us and plenty of NFL and NBA players among us and so much more. UC sports has a rich history and its getting better. Why just last night UC  beat a ranked Vandy Team in Maui and BCS talk continually dominates our water cooler.

So here's to Bootsy and to you; whether you write a song, come up with a slogan, saying or you just cheer. UC or any athletic program is only as good as its fan base and its space bass. And we're funkin' on Bobba' in the key of C, UC!

UC 67, Vandy 58 (final) thoughts

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UC is shooting 43 percent from the floor and 11 percent from the 3. Vandy is 29 and 28, respectively. 

First play of second half, Taylor blows right by Stephenson, misses the shot, gets the rebound, makes the layup and gets fouled.

Cashmere Wright has been driving and getting to the rim, but he's not been a good finisher today.

UC 36, Vandy 29 (18:12 to go)

Nice tip by Dixon off a Gates miss to send the teams to the 16 minute official timeout. He got fouled and will take the foul shot.

UC 42, Vandy 31 (15:52 to go)

Deonta Vaughn. Three fouls. Zero shots.

Vanderbilt has 20 FTs. UC has five.

UC 45, Vandy 36 (11:57 to go)

'Dores block three-straight UC shots, including one where Ogilvy tracked Wright down from behind on a breakaway and swatted it away.

Just before the timeout, Gates commits his fourth foul.

UC 52, Vandy 39 (7:21 to go)

UC in foul trouble. Gates and Bishop have four fouls. Vaughn and Dixon have three.

UC letting Vandy hang around. Committing turnovers and fouls.

UC 60, Vandy 52 (3:21 to go)

Gates back in the game with four fouls.

Not a great sequence from Vaughn. He misses a free throw and then gets stripped of the ball at half-court and then is called for the intentional foul.

As the game winds down, Wright is not in the game and Vaughn is playing the point. He feeds a nice pass to Toyloy, who misses the short jumper.

UC 61, Vandy 53 (1:59 to go)

UC 65, Vandy 56 (1:15 to go)

And the big dunk by Gates likely will punctuate this thing. And loks like Vandy is conceding the game. 'Dores not fouling.

Gates leads the way with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Dixon with 12 points, nine assists. Bishop with nine points, five rebounds. Stephenson eight points, five rebounds.

UC 67, Vandy 58 (final)

 

UC 36, Vandy 24 (first half thoughts)

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Starting lineup: Cashmere Wright, Deonta Vaughn, Lance Stephenson, Yancy Gates and Rashad Bishop.

Disappointed not to see Mick Cronin in a Hawaiian shirt. And neither is Kevin Stallings. Maybe Sean Miller will do it?

Rashad Bishop continues to be aggressive. He hits an 18-footer from the top of the key. Then, a layup.

Vaughn picks up two fouls early, and he's out of the game. Larry Davis replaces him.

A bad-looking shot from Stephenson.

Everybody not named Rashad Bishop is 0 for 6 so far until Dion Dixon banks one in.

UC 6, Vandy 4 (15:40 to go)

Vandy has a penchant so  far for grabbing offensive rebounds. Fortunately for UC, Vandy isn't shooting the ball well. One of 8 so far for the 'Dores.

Excellent rebounded dunk by Bishop.

Stephenson has been a bit sloppy lately. But Gates bails him out with a rebounded dunk.

Vandy goes a little less than 6 minutes without scoring a point. During that time, the 'Dores missed seven shots and two FTs.

Ogilve picks up his second foul with 12 minutes to play. That's not a good thing for Vandy.

To make matters worse, Gates nails a long jumper just inside the 3-point line.

UC 18, Vandy 6 (10:45 to go)

Vandy starts 1 for 13 from the floor.

Bishop picks up his second foul with 9:39 to play.

Ogilve will have to be careful. UC's guards have been driving for shots, and now that he's got two fouls and he's back in the game, he can't afford to be too physical.

UC 27, Vandy 13 (7:30 to go)

Dion Dixon picks up his second foul with 7:15 to go.

Vandy goes with a little 1-2-2 zone, and UC has had trouble running its offense the last couple trips down the court. But the Bearcats defense continues to impress. The hustle of Wright and Dixon is helping as well.

The lead is slowly evaporating.

UC 31, Vandy 24 (3:30 to go)

Nice job by Larry Davis to take that offensive foul on Taylor. Vandy had a ton of momentum, but Davis helped blunt that. That's Vandy's 11th turnover.

Bad shots the ricochet hard off the rim allows UC to pull down a couple offensive rebounds.

That zone defense by Vandy has been really good, but Dixon hits a 3 to make the lead 10. Then, Vandy goes back to man defense and Wright hits a short jumper with 4 seconds to play.

Gates leads the way with 12 points, eight rebounds. Dixon nine points, three rebounds.

UC 36, Vandy 24 (half)

Just in case you were wondering ...

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... yes, Tony Pike will start at quarterback for the Bearcats this Friday vs. Illinois. So said Brian Kelly on the Big East teleconference this morning.

"The six weeks since the injury has allowed the bone to heal properly to the point that we've minimized the risk of putting him out there," Kelly said. "He's excited by the chance to play on Friday."

He was asked about Pike's progress the past few weeks.

"It's confidence more than anything else. Obviously he understands the game's not played in a vacuum. It's not flag football. He's going to get hit. One thing about Tony is he's got escapability. He's going to get on the perimeter. ... I'm sure he's going to have some moments on Friday where he goes, "Oh, OK, here it comes," that he's got to take care of himself.

BLACK FRIDAY

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DATE OF THE CONTEST: Black Friday, November 27, 2009

VENUE: Nippert (finale of the three-game homestand)

BE IN YOUR SEAT: 12 noon (you don't want to miss Senior Day)

THE SERIES: Starts Friday.

LAST GAMES: UC won 24-21 over West Virginia 11/13; Illinois lost to Northwestern 21-16 on 11/14


      These two teams have never played. Actually, at the time this deal was struck, it was believed this game would've been at Paul Brown Stadium to accommodate the crowd a Big Ten school normally commands.

      For whatever reason, that deal never transpired, but that's not all bad. UC now gets to say goodbye to their departing seniors at their familiar, beloved Nippert Stadium. And, Nippert has proved to be a decided home field advantage of late for Kelly's 'Cats.

      Both teams will be coming in after bye weeks, meaning either both will be rusty, or both will be rested. Or both.

      The Bearcats have started Zach Collaros at QB the last four games, but Tony Pike did return against the Mountaineers to throw a couple TD passes. The Illini have the elusive Juice Williams who's been out injured, but lately they have played redshirt freshman Jacob Charest.

      The fans of the Fighting Illini normally travel well, but this is a disappointing 3-7 team, so that remains to be seen. Still, it's another sell-out for UC and it's a chance for fans to send off 16 deserving seniors in style.

      Naturally, there's the Pitt game and a bowl game yet to go, but Pike, Gilyard, Webster, Jurek, Alli, Revels, Daniels, Waugh, Mathews, Linkenbach, Carey, Young, Windt, Howard, Brad Jones and Ramsey all deserve your finest applause on this day.

      Let's see how it all shakes out, shall we?


UC Offense vs. Illinois Defense


The quarterback question will be the big issue again. Tony Pike's scoring passes in the West Virginia game show why he's an important part of the offense. On the other hand, Zach Collaros hasn't done much to warrant being yanked other than the fact that he's an underclassman and this is Senior Day.

I would suspect the hand would tilt toward Pike these last couple of games, and Brian Kelly has confirmed that Pike is "tracking" to be the Senior Day starter. You just never know for sure until gameday as all coaches like to employ their "chess games" up until the last possible minute. The running game's really coming around with Isaiah Pead (175 yards vs. WVU) and Kelly has stressed the importance of being able to run the ball late in the year when conditions sometimes aren't conducive to throwing.

On the other hand, you know the Bearcats are going to throw it repeatedly and no one in the Big 10 really plays this style of offense. Brian Kelly has made note of Illinois DL Clay Nurse, as he's capable of being a disruptive force. However the more balance the Bearcat offense has will make it difficult for guys like Nurse to get to the QB, regardless of who's playing. The Illini have a decent DB in Donsay Hardeman, who recently suffered a neck injury. That could play a part in their pass defense.


NOD: While I think UC would like to get Pike and the passing game working again, I feel like this game could be more about who runs the best. If Pead cuts loose again, it'll open everything up and the Bearcats should be rewarded for their Senior Day efforts.


Illinois Offense vs. UC Defense


Juice Williams is obviously a multi-dimensional QB who's led Illinois to some glorious victories over his career. However, his success has been mixed this year and injury has caused him to miss snaps in favor of Jacob Charest. The injury bug has also struck WR Arrelious Benn. With nearly two weeks off though, I would suspect both would be ready to go. The Illini did show the ability to pound the ball some in their last game with RBs Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford, both healthy 225-230-pound guys.

This could come into play as UC (while trying to shut down Noel Devine on 11/13) didn't do a great job on the bigger Ryan Clarke who had several impressive bursts. Then there's the issue of the giving up late fourth-quarter points. Both Connecticut and West Virginia staged furious comebacks that kept everyone in their seats at Nippert 'til the very end. Well, don't look now, but behind QB Jacob Charest, the Illini scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to come back on Northwestern (eventually falling short). Based on the last couple of nail-biters, you have to figure Brian Kelly has put a big emphasis on the defense FINISHING games. Overall, this "no-name" bunch of guys have played with a chip on their shoulder all year. While they're deserving of great respect and admiration, I'm all for getting them P.O.'d again!


NOD: Just like UC, the offense of Illinois comes in with some uncertainty at the QB position which is always tough to prepare for. UC can hope that perhaps they're not at their mental best having spent Thanksgiving out of town in a season that's been extremely disappointing.


SPECIAL TEAMS


It seems to be the same story for UC: if Jake Rogers is ON, you're in good shape. He's your kicker and your punter and if he's in a groove, he's as good as anybody. The return game has been strong all year with Mardy Gilyard typically gaining more yards than most in both his punt and kickoff returns. I'm sure on Senior Day, Mardy would like to return one as a "gift" to his many supporters in the student section. The Illini's top receiver (just like UC) is also their top returner in Arrelious Benn. The Illinois kicking game? Not the best in terms of field goals, Matt Eller's been inconsistent and has given way to Derek Dimke, the kickoff guy.


NOD: The obvious Senior Day home field advantage comes into play here. The Bearcats are due to break a return.


THROW IT OUT AND SEE WHERE IT STICKS


This game has some concerns, since in some ways it's not "necessary" to win the Big East. However, it's equally important in my book as a loss would just give the naysayers more ammunition in saying the Big East isn't up to the Big 10's standards. For that reason alone, and for the outside shot of playing in a BCS championship game, I think it's vital for UC to come out inspired and invigorated to get back to the precision machine that was rolling over opponents and spitting them out. At 3-7, Illinois can be upset-minded and they do have talented, scholarship players. They're every bit as talented as any of the teams that UC's hosted here. The key here is jumping out early as it's very easy for a losing team to kick into that "here we go again" mode. It's more national exposure and it's a chance to make another Big East statement. True, the guys aren't fond of the noon kickoffs, but if they look at it in terms of having an "open" Friday night, they might respond.


Mick Has The Touch In Maui

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The next time a UC player steps to the line to attempt two key free throws, he can expect to hear how easy it is from Coach Cronin.

 

Mick FT.jpg 

Mick was one of three coaches who drained both of his attempts at a temporary court at the Westin Maui Resort.  The head coaches' free throw contest on Sunday morning helped raise money for local schools.

 

"I was the only coach wearing slacks and dress shoes," Mick said with a laugh.  "I've bragged to the guys that for years that I could make two in dress clothes - it's not that hard.  It was a lot harder than I thought with the sun shining in my Irish eyes, so I had to look down until I let the ball go."

 

Each of the eight coaches was paired with a local youngster and Mick and his partner - Kekoa Paschola - tied for second overall by going 3-for-4.  Arizona's Sean Miller and his young teammate made all four of their shots to win the title.   

 

The coaches will reunite at 7:00 pm for a Tip-Off Luau, but Sunday is obviously a key day of preparation as the tournament gets underway with Colorado facing Gonzaga on Monday at 3:00 pm (10:00 am in Hawaii).  Cincinnati and Vanderbilt meet in the second game at 5:30 pm (12:30 pm local).  In other words, sun and fun will have to wait.

 

"We talked about it on Saturday after practice and I said, 'If you're going to get in the ocean, now is the time,' Coach Cronin said.  "I told them if they go out in the sun to only go out for one hour.  I was sitting in the shade where everybody knows I belong, and they were coming back from the beach and pool early.  It was hotter than I anticipated so I didn't have to enforce that rule.  We're not leaving until the red-eye flight on Thursday so they'll have 24 hours to have fun after we play our final game on Wednesday."

 

Surf boards.jpg 

When I saw all eight coaches posing for a picture on Sunday morning, it really struck me how deep the field is at this event.  In ESPN The Magazine's College Basketball Preview issue, six of the eight teams that are here in Maui are picked to go to the NCAA tourney (UC, Maryland, Vanderbilt, Gonzaga, Arizona, and Wisconsin).  Colorado and Chaminade are the only exceptions.

 

"I have to do two things as a coach," Mick told me.  "Obviously, we're here to win the tournament.  But at the same time, we have to understand that if we don't win the tournament, we're here to get better.  We're trying to get better as a team, and the competition is going to allow us to do that and get a realistic view of who we are as a team."

 

Mick Hawaii.jpg 

With 16 teams in the conference, the Big East wouldn't have sent Cincinnati to the Maui Invitational if league officials didn't think the Bearcats could make a strong showing. 

 

"For all of the preseason tournaments, it's hard to get into a really good one because the Big East is so deep and these things are planned out so far in advance," Cronin said.  "The Big East provides us with a layout of all of these tournaments and where there are gaps and openings to get your team in.  Fortunately, we were able to slide in here when Louisville slid out.  When I took the job, I let the Big East office know that we would love to get into Maui if we could.  Fortunately, they gave us an opportunity to come and I've already shared with them that we would love to come back.  It's a coup to be here.  For everything that goes on in college basketball that doesn't have to do with March Madness, this tournament associates us with class programs from around the country.  When you turn on the Maui Invitational, and you see the EA Sports logo on ESPN, it's a great showcase for your program and it's where we belong.  You can only do it every four years, but I'm trying to make sure that we can continue to stay in the rotation."

 

He won't have to twist my arm to come back.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

'Cats Lose To Vanderbilt . . . Sorta

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So the Bearcats are not off to a great start at the Maui Invitational.

 

They were swept by Vanderbilt in an Xbox tournament at the EA Sports Players Party at the Sheraton Maui Resort.

 

players party.jpg 

Each of the eight teams had two players compete in EA Sports' NCAA Basketball game against an opponent they will face for real on Monday.

 

UC was represented by Deonta Vaughn (the team's senior leader) and Darnell Wilks (supposedly the Bearcats best video gamer).

 

Unfortunately, Deonta lost to Vanderbilt's Darshawn McClellan 23-15 and Darnell was defeated by the Commodores' Andre Walker 27-23.

 

Let's hope the Bearcats fare better when it counts on Monday at 5:30.

 

xbox re.jpg 

By the way, if video games had been that realistic when I was a kid, I would have never left the house.  One of the UC players was playing a home game at Fifth Third Arena and the attention to detail was so incredible that the only thing missing was my bald head on press row. 

 

The player's party was quite the shindig.  I sat at a table with Gonzaga coach Mark Few and within minutes he was asking about the likelihood of Brian Kelly going to Notre Dame.

 

(Silly me.  I thought if we traveled 4,437 miles from Cincinnati we might be able to avoid that discussion for a few days.)

 

I also had a chance to visit with Arizona coach Sean Miller for a few minutes.  The Wildcats face Wisconsin in the first round on Monday at midnight.

 

The festivities continue on Sunday.  The head coaches compete in a free throw shooting contest at 8:30 in the morning and there's a Hawaiian Luau featuring remarks by all eight coaches that will be emceed by ESPN's Bill Raftery on Sunday night. 

 

I'll have all of the details from paradise.

 

Palm tree re.jpg 

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Women's Sports Opportunities are Limitless

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As someone who came around a little too early to take advantage of Title IX, I am more than just a little jealous at the options girls and young women have these days to play sports. In fact, all you have to do is look around the UC campus this weekend to see how those opportunities have paid off:

UC's women's basketball team won their second straight home game Saturday and now head to Alaska for a brief, but important holiday tournament.

At the same time, the Bearcat volleyball team is in the finals of the BIG EAST tournament, with the game televised nationally on ESPNU Sunday.

So what brings about this surge of nostalgia? After Saturday's women's basketball game, the team held a brief reception for VIP and Pride Program ticket holders. I was sitting with one of the UC alumnae who played basketball for the Bearcats and she asked me if I had played basketball growing up.

Well, the immediate answer is, yes, of course, since I'm from Indiana and you're born with basketball knowledge in your blood and you just pray your school's coach knows as much about the game as you do. The secondary answer is, not really, because our version of basketball was the half-court, three on three that you played in phys ed class. Back in the day they still didn't think it was healthy for girls and young women to run full court.

Which brings me to today. I hope these players understand, realize and appreciate the opportunities they have been afforded to play the game they love at a high level. They have received these opportunities on the backs of hundreds of women who had to wash out their own uniforms, travel by van and play in front of family and friends--and sometimes even the friends didn't bother to show up.

I know that I, and a lot of my friends, would have given important body parts to have the chance to play on a real court, in a real gym, in front of fans. I didn't have that chance, so I do the next best thing by announcing at the games, calling play by play when I have the chance and being around these players who have unlimited opportunities to pursue their hoop dreams.

Don't take those opportunities for granted. Don't look back five years from now and wonder what happened to those years on the court. Play your hardest, thank those who went before you, and build a foundation for the next generation of young players. Because, just like you years ago, there are little girls in the bleachers watching your every move. Give them a good example to follow.

 

 

 

 

Hawaii Here We Come

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Aloha . . . and greetings from somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.  I'm about three hours into a 6 hour and 23 minute flight between Salt Lake City and Honolulu where I will eventually catch a quick flight to Maui for the upcoming Maui Invitational.

 

It certainly beats working for a living.

 

This event brings back great memories for me.  In 1990, I did the play-by-play of the Maui Invitational on the Syracuse University radio network even though my job as the time was to host the pre and post-game shows.  Fortunately for me, there was also a Syracuse football game that weekend and the school elected to have play-by-play man Doug Logan stay home to do football while sending me to Hawaii to do basketball.

 

I don't think Doug was too pleased.

 

Syracuse won the Maui Invitational that year by beating Indiana (featuring highly-touted freshman Damon Bailey) in a great championship game.  It was only 3 ½ years after the Hoosiers defeated the Orange for the 1987 National Championship on Keith Smart's last second jumper, so it was sweet revenge for this 'Cuse grad.

 

The tournament has come a long way since 1990.  Back then, the games were not even televised.  Now it's probably the premier early-season event in college hoops with a Who's Who field that includes Cincinnati, Vanderbilt, Maryland, Gonzaga, Arizona, and Wisconsin.  It's going to be a tremendous test for the Bearcats.

 

Conferences are not permitted to send more than one team to the Maui Invitational, so with 16 teams in the Big East, it's meaningful that UC was selected to represent the conference.  It's a sure sign that league officials expect Cincinnati to be good this year.

 

The 'Cats can begin proving them right on Monday against Vandy.

 

* * * * *

 

By now you've probably heard or read that freshman Sean Kilpatrick is a candidate to redshirt this season (that's why he did not play in the first two games of the season).  

 

I asked Mick Cronin if he had to twist Sean's arm to get him to agree to sit out the season.

 

"I told him to think about it and it's something he goes back-and-forth on in his head every day," Mick told me.  "He loves it here and the best thing for his career is to redshirt.  When you think about guys like Melvin Levett, Bobby Brannen, and Ryan Fletcher who didn't play much as freshman and were good as seniors - if they just would have had that extra year they could have definitely played their way into better pro contracts and they definitely would have helped the Bearcats.  Hopefully Sean will elect to do it.  I don't believe in telling guys that they have to do that.  He's going to be a great player for us someday, but it's a numbers game for us right now.  We're pretty deep on the perimeter and it's hard to get all of those guys' minutes."

 

* * * * *

 

Cincinnati inked a pair of big guys in the early signing period:  6'10" Kelvin Gaines and 6'8" Justin Jackson.  Here's Mick's scouting report on each player.

 

"Kelvin Gaines is a great shot-blocker and it's hard to find 6'10" high school guys that can run and jump and have a skill that can impact the game.  His mobility as a big man is something that's hard to find.  He's quick off his feet and has a natural gift for blocking shots.  He can change the game that way.  He's also a very intelligent guy.  He's got a nice jump-hook but he understands that he has to improve offensively." 

 

"Justin Jackson is a relentless competitor much like Eric Hicks.  Just a relentless, fearless warrior.  He's got a nice 15-foot jumper and will even shoot some threes, but his calling card is rebounding.  He loves to mix it up.  He's a gregarious guy with an engaging personality.  He calls guys on this year's team to make sure they're working hard.  He's a happy person and a guy who wakes everybody up."   

 

"Whenever you can get quality young big guys it's exciting because trust me - there aren't a lot of them out there.  There's a premium on mobile, athletic big guys that can impact your program so it was a great early signing period for us.  Both of those guys are more mobile than any of the big guys that we have right now."

 

* * * * *

 

What did Cashmere Wright learn from the too-close-for-comfort season-opening win over Prairie View A & M?  To turn off his iPod before tipoff.

 

"In the locker room, nobody is going to listen to music anymore before the game - we're just going to focus," Cashmere said.  "If you focus on the small things, they become big things.  Lack of focus becomes a loss, and if you lose enough you won't get to the NCAA Tournament."

 

"Whatever a guy has to do to get ready to play I'm all for," Coach Cronin said.  "Whether you listen to music or brush your teeth seven times before tipoff.  Guys have a lot of weird idiosyncrasies and I don't care what you do to get ready to play, but you've got to respect your opponent." 

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Heading to Hawaii ...

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... But before the Bearcats basketball team lands in the Aloha State to compete in the Maui Invitational, there are a few things UC needs to continue to develop. As the Bearcats kicked off the season facing Prairie View A&M and Toledo, they could afford to make mistakes and still win the games fairly comfortably.

 

However, playing Vanderbilt on Monday, potentially Maryland on Tuesday, and, assuming they win one of those games, one final team on Wednesday (either Gonzaga, Arizona, Colorado or Wisconsin), they'd do well to clean up some aspects of their game.

 

First and foremost, the perimeter defense. After allowing Prairie View to make 41.4 percent of its 3-point shots last Monday, Toledo's long-range shooters had a field day on Wednesday, connecting on 52.4 percent from beyond the arc.

 

Part of the problem, Mick Cronin said, is the coaching staff hasn't spent much time working on a basic man-to-man defense. Instead, it's been more involved in implementing more complicated looks. Also, there's still some inexperience on this squad.

 

"Two things: we're a young team," he said. "We have some new pieces, and because we're subbing and playing a deep rotation, you don't have the cohesiveness defensively. It's something we're going to have to get used to every time as we change lineups. Make sure we know you don't have to help Rashad Bishop because he doesn't get beat. You don't get that feel and that flow as you're changing units all the time, and the defensive cohesiveness is not there yet.

 

"We've put a lot of things in early and spent a lot of time on a lot of things. We've got (defensive) presses in, and we've got things we haven't showed yet. We just haven't spent time on our team on man-to-man, half-court defense. It shows a little bit. But you can't just play basic man defense."

 

Plus, two of the team's starters - Lance Stephenson and Cashmere Wright - are freshmen who have never had to worry so much about playing on-ball defense.

 

"Lance is young and whenever you have youth, they're still figuring out how to play defense," Toledo coach Gene Cross said. "He's going to be a great player when it's all said and done, but he's still learning. Whenever you have young guys who are trying to figure it out all, they make defensive errors. Cashmere made some errors the other day (in the PVAM game), and he didn't make as many today. He's getting better."

 

--This shouldn't be much of a concern next week in Hawaii - unless the Bearcats end up facing Chaminade on Tuesday - but Cronin also talked about respecting the opponent in relation to following the coaching staff's game plan.

 

"Every game is different in college basketball," Cronin said. "The only difference between mid-major teams and high-major teams is size. Mid-major teams can shoot it and pass it. With the three-point shot, everybody is dangerous. You have to approach every game with a gameplan and scouting report, knowing what we have to do to win this game. If they don't, we are going to lose."

 

He talked about that because he was disappointed UC allowed Toledo's two best shooters to connect on 8 of 13 three-point shots, especially after telling the team that the only way the Rockets could beat the Bearcats was if they allowed Toledo's Stephen Albrecht and Jake Barnett to make long-range shots. 

 

--One positive for the Bearcats last Wednesday was the play of sophomore forward Yancy Gates. Not just his statistical production, though that was pretty good in the Toledo game (14 points, three rebounds, three assists). But it was also what he accomplished when he didn't have possession of the basketball.

 

"It was, by far, the best Yancy has ever moved without the ball in the zone offense," Cronin said.

 

Said Gates: "Just trying to be more active. I watched film with the coaches and they were talking that I needed to be more active on offense, moving without the ball. When (Toledo) went to zone, I tried to be more active."

BYE WEEK BONUS

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     What it is, is a bye week.

     The thing about bye weeks is it leaves the guy that writes the weekly game previews with not much material.

      Sure, I could preview the Illinois game, but it's really kind of early for that. Or, I could just leave the West Virginia preview up, but that's just sheer laziness.

      After seeing my mug on the scoreboard at Fifth Third Arena and Nippert Stadium, I feel obligated to put something here for those of you that my click on my caricature.

      So, we'll give you some stuff about the Illinois game briefly and then just talk about what the Bearcats have done up to this point in their very impressive 10-0 season.

(Again, you'll see this next week but....)


DATE OF CONTEST: Friday, November 27th, a/k/a "Black Friday"

VENUE: "The Nipp" (Game three of the homestand)

BE IN YOUR SEAT: High Noon

THE SERIES: This is the start of it


      Since we have no game to dissect this weekend (unless you want me to breakdown Anderson/Elder at Nippert Saturday night) let's just look at what the Bearcats have done in each phase of the game:


UC's Offense


Well, it's pretty good isn't it? At times it shreds defenses so quickly and so precision-like it's scary. And, they don't need much time. Tony Pike zipped the 'Cats on a number of one to two-minute drives against Fresno State on a day when the Bulldogs were chewing up the clock behind RB Ryan Mathews. While Pike's presence is made with the passing game, when Tony went down and Zach Collaros came in, it was all about the "art of surprise". At first, Zach was considered a runner when he went 75 yards on USF for a TD and finished with 132 on the ground. But then against Connecticut, Collaros THREW for 480 yards as the 'Cats put a ridiculous 711 yards on the Huskies. The receivers have all made defenses pay. Mardy Gilyard is always a threat and is usually double-teamed, but still shares the team lead in TDs with 10 and has 68 grabs and a team-high average of 180 all-purpose yards per game. When Gilyard's been doubled, Armon Binns has shined and has 44 receptions and eight scoring catches. D.J. Woods has 33 catches and a lot of times makes the catches most receivers shy away from. Then there's the running game. With John Goebel out, Jacob Ramsey has been counted on and has responded with big runs and probably bigger blocks. However, Isaiah Pead has really started to blossom as evidenced by the West Virginia game when Pead whizzed by the Mountaineers for 175 yards and a controversial TD (not here--ball crossed white line--light up the toteboard!).


THE VERDICT: They average 38 points a game, 314 through the air and 164 on the ground. It's fun to watch and they win. Brian Kelly can and will beat you in multiple ways.


UC's Defense


Easily, the biggest surprise of the season to the outsiders, but the guys have been believers all along. Losing 10 of 11 starters hasn't phased them in the least and the "next men in" have been effective across the board. Linebackers Andre Revels and J.K. Schaffer are UC's top tacklers. After that, things get pretty even. Senior Aaron Webster and Schaffer have the interception lead with three each. On the sack list, D-lineman Alex Daniels, Walter Stewart and Derrick Wolfe have the lead and many others have hurried or nailed the opposing QB. Senior Curtis Young missed a few games due to injury, otherwise he'd be among the team leaders in sacks also. Promising for the future is that redshirt freshmen Drew Frey and Dominique Battle are making key contributions in the secondary and both have three more years of eligibility. The 'Cats D is giving up 17 points a game. Take away the 45 that UConn scored in the wild affair on ABC and no one's scored more than three touchdowns on them.


THE VERDICT: While we'd all sure like to see the game-ending coverage tighten up a bit after last minute scares from UConn and WVU, the defense has been a pleasant surprise. Guys that bided their team here have been rewarded and are now responding.


Special Teams


Mardy Gilyard has returned a punt for a score and a kickoff 75 yards. Darrin Williams has gone 100 yards on a kickoff return. Gilyard usually gets the Bearcats offense great field position. In the kicking game, Jake Rogers is 11-16 on field goals--not bad-- but not exactly where you'd want to be. However, when Jake's on he has a rocket leg and he has had a four FG game. Punting is another issue with Jake's average around 41 yards. Patrick O'Donnell's had a few kicks but his average is about 38. Both of those are several yards off of what Kevin Huber did here, but there's a reason Huber was a 5th round NFL draft pick.


THE VERDICT: If Gilyard has the ball on the run, he always has a chance. Kicking-wise, you'd like to have more accuracy and reliability, but just when you get down on Jake Rogers, he nails several field goals or booms a key kick-off. For the future, the punting has to get more consistent. Kick coverage has been OK, but there was the TD by Robert McClain of UConn that turned a rout into a game.


Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks


Football games are about momentum and UC usually has had it. Against Rutgers, the momentum was so strong, the Scarlet Knights didn't know what hit them. As it turns out, Rutgers is not a bad team.

Likewise, UC rallied behind Zach Collaros to change the momentum of the USF game. Once the offense separated, the defense then started finding and frustrating B.J Daniels and the Bearcats recorded an impressive road win in Tampa. Conversely, UC had comfortable leads in the UConn and WVU games, but both teams were able to respond and reverse the energy their way. Up 37-17 on the Huskies and 24-14 on the Mountaineers, those games needed to be finished and finished emphatically. While it may be good to have experience in pressure cooker games and in onside kicks, it's not good for the disposition of the coach. As they says in the "rasslin'" circles, the Bearcats need a "finishing move". All in all though, critiquing a 10-0 start is quite a luxury.

New president's childhood sports hero? How about the Big O?

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Make no mistake; the University of Cincinnati's new president is a sports fan. Gregory Williams checks out ESPN, loves to watch the Super Bowl and Final Four and enjoys watching college football and following coaches with whom he has crossed paths at previous stops.

 

He's witnessed big-time college athletics during years as a student or administrator at Maryland, Ohio State and Iowa, where he served on the Board in Control of Athletics. During his tenure as City College of New York president, the Division III school added baseball, and Williams talks about attending volleyball games where the announcer spoke Spanish because of the school's diverse student body. He also enjoys pointing out that CCNY is the only school to have won men's basketball NCAA and NIT titles in the same year (1950).

 

Williams discussed a wide range of topics in close to an hour and skillfully handled questions about the college football playoff debate, the money and attention lavished on college sports and, of course, whether Cincinnati and Ohio State should play every year in men's basketball and football (I had to ask, right?)

 

On Ohio State, he said, smiling, "I'm going to leave that up to the athletic directors and coaches. (Ohio State) President (Gordon) Gee is a good friend of mine, but I don't think neither he nor I will be scheduling games."

 

Here are questions and answers from the session related to sports.

 

In the context of higher education, how do you view college athletics?

 

"I think college athletics have an important role to play in an institution. Obviously it's an opportunity for the school (and) the alumni to really come together and show pride. A common purpose and a common goal can be a great unifying factor and bring prestige and recognition to the institution in a way that is very hard to emulate in other things that you might be doing."

 

Impressions of athletics here at UC?

 

"From what I've seen so far it certainly is a unifying factor, not only on the campus but in the entire city, and throughout Southwest Ohio folks are very supportive of UC athletics. That's obviously quite gratifying."

You have many priorities. Where do sports fit in? When do you start to think about your goals for athletics here?

 

"I think sports play a big role. Obviously it's hard to figure out where they are on the priority list. No. 1 the university is an academic institution. The No. 1 priority is to be the best we can be academically - that means in the classroom, in the programs that we offer students, in the research that we do and that the faculty is engaged in. We want to be a complete university, and part of that is the opportunity for students to participate in athletics, as well as for students to be involved and engaged in following the teams and being supportive of the teams."

 

Do you have goals in mind for UC's athletic program?

 

"I want us to be the best we can be."

 

Are you familiar with the drive for the indoor facility and potential stadium expansion?

 

"I have some familiarity with that." (He laughs)

 

How do you view that need and where that fits into things?

 

"There are certainly needs that we're going to try to address. A number of those are being addressed right now. I would anticipate we'll be able to move fairly quickly on addressing the most urgent needs. I want to emphasize that Athletics is pursuing private dollars for these needs so that the financial burden does not fall back on the University's general fund."

 

There's always the debate about college athletes - that coaches get huge salaries and there is a disproportionate amount of attention paid to athletics. How do you view where athletics is, the priority it gets and the money spent?

 

"The priorities, of course, are clear. As I said earlier, we are an academic institution. That's what we are and that's what we always will be. In fact, we don't call them 'athletes,' we call them 'student-athletes.' Ultimately they're going to graduate and go onto a number of different professions, and we want to be supportive of that."

 

Will you be visible? What kinds of sporting events will people see you at?

 

"I try to attend as many sporting events as I can. You might see me wearing my Bearcats jacket."

 

What kind of relationship will you have with Athletic Director Mike Thomas?

 

"We're very fortunate to have a great athletic director. As the president, I have responsibility for everything. While I am not a micromanager, I expect to be informed as to what's going on, and Mike has done a tremendous job in keeping me informed and abreast of what's happening."

 

Will you have face-time with UC student-athletes? Will you meet them? Will you be available to them?

 

"The basketball coach wants me to speak to the team, and I look forward to that. I've already had the chance to meet some of the football players. I enjoy meeting athletes. Every place I've ever been I've had the chance to interact with athletes. That's always a fun experience to hear about the challenges they're facing and talk about their goals and aspirations."

 

What advice or thoughts do you share with them?

"Student-athletes really face great challenges. When I was on the Board in Control of Athletics at the University of Iowa, we did a study on what time it took to be a student-athlete. For instance - this was a long time ago; I don't remember this exactly - but in a week that the football team would have an away game, we found that students were spending over 48 hours that week on things related to athletics and football. Obviously they aren't practicing all that time. It was like having a full-time job. You really have to have your priorities in order. I think athletes that are successful learn to establish those priorities and learn how to negotiate that. It is very difficult and it requires a single-mindedness if you're going to be successful both in the classroom and in the field."

 

As time goes on, what are people going to learn about you as a person?

 

"I think they're going to learn that I'm a very hard worker. I'm very dedicated. I'm focused. I am competitive, and I think that comes from my own time as a student-athlete. From my own background, I understand many of the struggles that our students have in terms of facing financial and other obstacles to pursuing their education."

 

How was attending the Big East meetings on your first day on the job (Nov. 1)?

 

"It was great. The reception was very warm from my fellow presidents. I knew a couple of them and had had good relationships with them before I started. They were very excited to a person about the great things that are happening with UC football right now. The Big East members take great pride in that. I didn't have anything to do with that, but it's on my watch." (He smiles)

 

How familiar are you with the Big East overall?

 

"I am familiar with the conference, I am familiar with some of the challenges that they face. I came away from that meeting feeling that the Big East is a very strong conference and folks are very committed to it. The presidents are excited about the conference and what the potential is in the future. There was a real energy and enthusiasm in the room for the Big East among the presidents."

 

I know you played football and basketball as a kid. Do you still play anything?

 

"I played basketball up until a few years. I don't do much basketball (anymore). I try to work out pretty regularly. I do a lot of aerobics, as well as weight-lifting. I try to do bicycling from time to time. My wife and I were avid bicyclists."

 

Sports heroes growing up?

 

"Sure. Growing up in (Muncie) Indiana, it was basketball, and one of my heroes was Oscar Robertson, who was a few years older than me."

Have you met yet?

 

"Yes, actually we have met and we have a number of friends in common, folks I know who live in Indianapolis, who grew up in Indianapolis and other people he played with over the years, particularly from my hometown of Muncie. ... I think we met at an alumni gathering. It was great. Absolutely I was l looking forward to meeting Oscar Robertson; no question about it. Once the decision was made for me to come to Cincinnati, I was thinking of folks I was looking forward to meeting and obviously Oscar Robertson was one of them."

 

Pro teams that you follow?

 

"Since I have two cousins who are assistant coaches with the Cincinnati Bengals (Jonathan and Jay Hayes), I root for the Bengals."

 

How are they related?

"Our grandmothers were sisters. "

 

Were you a better quarterback or a better basketball player?

 

"In retrospect, I was probably a better football player than I was a basketball player. But in Indiana, in those days, it was all about basketball. As I look back on it, I certainly had more success playing football because I played quarterback and I played linebacker, as well. Those were the days when you played both ways. But I loved basketball."

 

This is Part I. Part II will deal more with Williams' background and his book, "Life on the Color Line." I expect to post that the week after Thanksgiving. I've got a fun story for next week which should bring back some fond memories.


UC-Toledo Rock 'N Roll Party

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During the offseason, Mick Cronin met with junior wing Rashad Bishop and asked him a simple question: do you think I need you?

 

Keep in mind, Bishop had played 64 games in his college career and averaged 5.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per contest - many of them Big East matchups against some of the top players in the nation. Keep in mind that Bishop is easily UC's best perimeter defender and one of the better ones in the league. Keep in mind also that hyped recruit Lance Stephenson - who, like Bishop, mainly plays the 3 position on the floor - had signed with the Bearcats.

 

So, Cronin asks Bishop again: do you really think we need you?

 

"He hit me with, 'No, we've got Lance, we've got all these guys,'" Cronin said.

 

That, in Cronin's head, was the problem. Bishop didn't realize the truth. The truth, instead, was that yes, the Bearcats need Bishop. No question.

 

Said Cronin: "I told him, 'We can't be the team we want to be without you. You've logged two years of 20-plus games in the Big East. You know what it takes to win. I don't care how talented guys are, they have no experience. You do, and you've shown you raise your game to a level out there to be able to compete in the Big East. You can't accept the fact that because we signed Lance Stephenson that you're not going to play.' I think I confused him with that. I think he thought I was going to say that, "Yeah, we don't need you.' But he's going to be a key guy for our team."

 

That was certainly the case in tonight's 92-68 victory against Toledo.

 

Bishop scored a career-high 20 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists. He was aggressive in trying to grab offensive rebounds - he had a team-high four - and he aggressively took more shots (his 13 attempts tied Stephenson for a team-high and was the most Bishop has ever taken in college).

 

"I feel like I need to help the team put up some more points," Bishop said. "I just need to be more aggressive on that end. I'm already pretty aggressive on defense. Rebounding is another big part I've been working on, trying to crash the boards more than I did last year."

 

Said Cronin: "If he scores for us, we're going to become a whole different team offensively."

 

To do that, Cronin and Bishop are undergoing an experiment. Since Stephenson will take up residence at the small forward position, Bishop will play at the No. 4 spot. It's another sacrifice for Bishop, because, as Cronin tells it, players between 6-foot-5 and 6-8 who arrive in college want to play the 3 because it's how they'll get themselves into the NBA.

 

But Cronin wants him to play the power forward position this year, because that means a bigger post player would have to guard Bishop, giving the quicker Bishop a clear advantage on the offensive end of the court.

 

"He has a bigger player guarding him. They're not used to rotating on the perimeter, they're not used to guarding a guy who can make a shot, they're not used to guarding a guy that can drive the ball by them," Cronin said. "If you can play four guards, that's an impossible matchup. It's an advantage for him offensively, because he now has a guy guarding him who's not a perimeter defender. That doesn't mean we post him up, but that makes us a four-out team and it gives him an advantage to be a better offensive player."

 

There is a tradeoff, though. Bishop has to guard the opposing power forward on defense. So, in a sense, he has to throw away his ability as a perimeter defender in order to become a better offensive threat.

 

"That's the give and take," Cronin said. "It depends who (Bishop is guarding). If it's a smaller guy, he's fine. If it's a bigger guy, he works on fronting the post. It helps you offensively, but the question is can you get away with it defensively and rebounding-wise."

UC-Toledo LIVE blog

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Honestly, I'll be a little surprised if UC struggles tonight vs. Toledo. The Rockets are coming off a loss to Eastern Illinois (they also took an L against Central (Ohio) State in an exhibition), and their roster consists of two juniors, four sophomores and nine freshmen. They're tied with Saint Francis (Pa.) for the most scholarship freshmen in the country.

Also, late note here on press row: 6-10 center Kelvin Gaines, out of Jacksonville, signed his letter of intent with UC.

From Mick Cronin in a statement: "Kelvin Gaines is a natural born shot blocker and we are thrilled to announce his signing. Kelvin and his family are great people and we are excited about helping him develop as a person and a player.  KG can run and jump and is going to be pushing 250 pounds once we get him in our strength program. He is very athletic, plays above the rim and has a nice jump hook.  He is also a bright, mature young man that will be a great addition for our entire University."

So, there you go.

First Half

Unlike the PVAM game, UC doesn't need much time to score its first field goal. Bearcats pass the ball around the perimeter, get it inside to Gates, go back outside and Gates eventually hits a 16-foot jumper.

Expect Toledo to play plenty of zone defense to keep Gates and Toyloy from causing too much damage. Center Justin Anyijong is tall at 6-9, but he's very, very skinny. Jordan Dressler is 6-8, 245, but he's also a freshman.

Gates hits another long jumper to give UC a nine-point lead. UC hits six of its first eight shots before Toledo takes a timeout.

UC 14, Toledo 3 (15:51 to go)

Gates with another jumper, this time a 6-footer and he's fouled. FT upcoming.

UC 16, Toledo 3 (15:18 to go)

Jaquon Parker scores the first points of his career with a 3.

Not surprisingly, forward Mouhamed Lo is struggling to score in the post vs. Gates.

UC is 10 of 14 from the floor and 3 of 6 from the 3. Conversely, Toledo is 3 of 11 from the field.

UC 24, Toledo 8 (11:53 to go)

Rashad Bishop with the nice rebound in the lane and then scores the layup to put the Bearcats up by 15. A few minutes later, he does it again.

The Rockets are heating up a bit from the outside. Anyijong and Stephen Albrecht hit back to back 3s to cut the lead to 26-17. Mick takes a timeout.

Albrecht hits another 3. He's 3 for 3 on the perimeter tonight.

UC 31, Toledo 20 (7:47 to go)

Gates doing a better job of getting shots tonight. He's 4 for 5 from the floor.

UC has turned up its defense a notch. Deflections and blocked shots galore. Bearcats still turning it over a bit. Six already.

Rashad Bishop has been impressive so far with nine pints and four rebounds.

Still, the Rockets' shooting percentage is increasing (I declined to use some sort of cutesy phrase. Like "lifting off" or "shooting toward the sky." I hope you appreciate it). Anyway, it's at 44 percent from the floor and 60 from the 3.

UC 38, Toledo 28 (2:40 to go)

Stephenson does a nice job of forcing a Rockets turnover, but then, when he's all by himself, he completely blows a dunk off the front of the rim. He might be a little gassed. He takes a seat on the bench and is breathing awfully heavy. He's also fidgeting with his left ankle.

Larry Davis hits a 3 with about 3 seconds to go to five UC a 16-point lead.

UC is 52.6 percent from the floor, 38.5 percent from the 3. Bishop leads the way with 13 points, Stephenson has 10. Vaughn, Bishop and Toyloy have four rebounds a piece. Vaughn has seven points and six assists.

Toledo is shooting 46.4 from the floor and 63.6 percent from the 3. Albrecht is 4 for 4 from outside.

UC 49, Toledo 33 (half)

Something to keep in mind: the last time UC scored more than 100 points in a game: Dec. 30, 2005.

Toledo continues to hit its 3-point attempts (it's at 66.7 percent). And just like that, Toledo is within eight.

UC 51, Toledo 41 (17:23 to go)

UC's defense still has a ways to go.

UC 53, Toledo 43 (15:52 to go)

Bishop's 17 points give him a career high, but UC still getting torched on defense.The Rockets hits seven of their first eight shots of the half.

Gates with the dunk, the foul and the 3-point play. Wonder if that will give the Bearcats some momentum. Yep, Larry Davis hits a 3, and Toledo calls timeout.

UC 66, Toledo 49 (12:15 to go)

Albrecht finally misses a shot. He was 6 for 6 on the floor.

UC is on a 13-0 run.

UC 70, Toledo 49 (10:33 to go)

After playing well during the exhibition games, Darnell Wilks continues to make mistakes in the regular season. A lane violation by Wilks gives Lo another chance at a FT. He misses that one too, but Toledo gets the rebound.

But he makes up for some of that with an athletic layup, the foul and the 3-point play.

UC 73, Toledo 55 (7:43 to go)

Anthony McClain makes his first appearance of the season with 5:55 to play. Shaved dome and all. And he immediately gets a rebound.

UC 85, Toledo 65 (3:06 to go)

Eddie Tyree and Alex Eppensteiner make their first appearances of the season. Eppensteiner misses a runner, much to the crowd's dismay, but Tyree with the layup with 1 second left. He smiles big after that.

Well, UC's offense was better. Team shoots 52.1 from the floor and 34.6 from the 3. Rashad Bishop leads the way with a career-high 20 points to go with eight rebounds and four assists. Stephenson with a career-high 16 points, Gates with 14. Vaughn finishes with 13 points and nine assists.

Toledo was 49.1 percent from the floor, 52.4 percent from the 3 and 45.5 from the foul line. Barnett scores 21 and Albrecht with 19.

UC with 10 turnovers; Toledo with 16.  

UC 92, Toledo 68 (final)
 

Did Vaughn need to learn a lesson?

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When the UC basketball team emerged from the locker room and took the court for the start of the second half against Prairie View A&M on Monday, senior guard Deonta Vaughn remained on the bench.

 

Vaughn, the leading scorer the past seasons. Vaughn, probably the most important player on this year's squad (freshman Lance Stephenson, notwithstanding). Vaughn, the Bearcats leader.

 

Maybe it shouldn't have been that surprising. Vaughn was 0 for 6 from the floor and not playing well at all, while junior guard Larry Davis shot 3 of 5 for eight points. But yeah, it still was kind of surprising not to see him out there.

 

"I just have to bring my intensity up and play harder and do what I'm supposed to do as a leader," Vaughn said. "It worked. I got more focused. Early on, I was nonchalant about it. I wasn't focused too much. Didn't come out and playing good defense. I gave one of their best shooters, his first 3 of the game to open it up. That's something I shouldn't have done. I should have started better."

 

Mick Cronin agrees.

 

"I went with the guys who were playing the best in my opinion," he said. "On our team, everybody is going to have to earn minutes. If you earn playing time, it doesn't matter what grade you're in. Larry Davis, in the first half, played better. It's not really rocket science. It's the advantage of having a bench."

 

Perhaps Vaughn will get the message, heading into tonight's contest with Toledo. Not just for himself, but for the rest of the Bearcats as well.

 

"Deonta's a great kid, but he has to give us better leadership," Cronin said. "This is his year. He has to make sure those guys are ready to play. Before the game, when coaches aren't in there, you have to make sure guys are ready to play. Upsets happen in college basketball. You have to be ready to play basketball."

Digging A Little Deeper

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When I was a "TV guy" at Fox 19, there was one type of post-game comment I vowed never to run:

 

Any variation of "they wanted it more than we did."

 

There are three reasons why I tried to avoid it.

 

1.  It's what athletes instinctively fall back on when they don't want to (or aren't able to) explain what just happened.

 

2.  Fans overreact whenever a player on their team says it.

 

3.  Even when there's some truth to it, it obscures the real reason why a game was won or lost.

 

I'm not disputing that the Bearcats were not as intense as they should have been at the start of Monday's season-opener against Prairie View A & M, but frankly, that's not unusual for an early-season matchup between two schools from opposite ends of the college basketball spectrum.  It's not an indictment of Mick Cronin any more than Kentucky falling 18 points behind Miami is an indictment of John Calipari.

 

Here are the real reasons (at least in my opinion) that UC's game was closer than it should have been.

 

Yancy Gates needs to be more active on offense.  Even when the opponent collapses several guys around him, Yancy has to fight to get open and his teammates have to do a better job of getting him the ball - period.  Yancy attempted 5 shots from the floor and 2 shots from the line against a team that does not have anyone taller than 6'7".  He needs a dose of Danny Fortson selfishness at battling for position and demanding the ball.

 

The problem wasn't too many 3's - it was too many bad threes.  In the first half last night, 51% of UC's shots were 3-pointers (18 of 35 shots).  In the second half, it was 46% (12 of 26 shots).  That's not a huge difference.  But in the first half, the 'Cats passed it around the perimeter before hoisting threes.  In the second half, they penetrated before kicking it outside for wide-open threes.  That's been a staple of Rick Pitino's offense for years and it's what most of the good teams do - drive to the basket, collapse the defense, and throw it out to an unguarded player who can step into a 3-point shot.  When the Bearcats use that approach, I have no problem with them shooting treys.

 

Lance Stephenson had a subpar debut.  It wasn't all bad.  In fact, the first time Lance touched the ball he made a tremendous pass to Yancy Gates who promptly missed a wide-open dunk.  But Stephenson's shot wasn't falling and the end result was 7 points in 22 minutes.  I've seen enough of Lance at practice to know that he's not going to be held to 7 points very often.  (More on Lance to come)

 

The great equalizer.  Do you know why Miami nearly beat Kentucky last night?  Because the RedHawks were 15-for-26 (58%) from beyond the arc.  When Prairie View took a 15-point lead over UC on a 3-point shot by Duwan Kornegay with 5:11 to go in the half, the Panthers were 7-for-12 (58%) to that point from long distance.  Some of those shots were difficult, but the Bearcats left some good shooters open in the first 15 minutes.  Cincinnati pulled away when it forced Prairie View to take more contested shots.     

 

If the Bearcats improve in those areas on Wednesday night, they'll have a much more impressive showing against Toledo.

 

And nobody will say "they wanted it more than we did."

 

* * * * *

 

I asked Mick on the pre-game show where Lance Stephenson ranks among the top players he has ever recruited.

 

"He's the best," Mick told me.  "I've tried to downplay it and not put too much pressure on him because I don't want him to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders but from a talent standpoint he's probably the best player I've ever recruited.  Now remember, I didn't recruit Kenyon Martin - John Loyer did - I got to help coach Kenyon for four years, but as far as players I helped recruit, I would go with Lance, Francisco Garcia at Louisville, DerMarr Johnson, Kenny Satterfield, or Steve Logan.  Those guys were all great players, but I think that Lance has a chance to be better.  I think he's a combination of all of them because he's a scorer and a passer and he's got size at 6'5½" and I think he's going to have a long future ahead of him.  We have to start getting him comfortable in our offense because he's a potent offensive player and in the big-time games that we hope to be in this year, you have to have a guy who is hard to guard.  He's really hard to guard when he gets going at practice, so we just have to make sure we get him enough opportunities."

 

That's a pretty bold statement.  It's going to be fun to watch him develop this season.

 

* * * * *

 

It looks like freshman Sean Kilpatrick is going to redshirt this season.  Since UC has an abundance of players in the shooting guard/wing category, Sean isn't likely to get much playing time this season and it makes sense to preserve four years of eligibility.  It will help Sean immensely - he can practice every day, travel with the team, and get ahead academically. 

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

Enjoy a recent photo of the handsome lad in front of his beloved train set.

 

Smiling in front of his trains re.JPG

Looking on the bright side ...

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Got a little nervous watching the first half of last night's UC basketball opener against Prairie View A&M. Bearcats didn't look excited to play, which was surprising.

Not to put too much stock into a single play, but Yancy Gates missed an easy dunk on the opening possession, and I thought that set the tone. If Gates dunks and scores, maybe the team and crowd get into the game sooner. As it turned out, it took the Bearcats five minutes to get their first field goal.

Made me think of the 1991-92 season when, if you recall, the Bearcats LOST to Athletes in Action in one of their exhibition games, 82-79. UC blew a 20-point lead in that game. Talk about shocking. "This is a great lesson for us," then-coach Bob Huggins told the team afterward. Among other things.

How did the Bearcats respond? They stayed in the locker room by themselves for hours after Huggins' outburst ended. The leadership of the team emerged. The players wrote down the goals they wanted to achieve that season. Aside from winning the Great Midwest Conference and advancing to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, the goals included "Work hard every day in practice" and "Leave the attitude at the door."

Of course, you know how the story goes: UC advanced to the Final Four that season.

Be fun to see how this season's team responds to Monday night's less-than-impressive showing and whether leadership emerges.

Coaches like to quote Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who once said, "A season is a lifetime."

Indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

UC-Prairie View A&M Rock 'N Roll Party

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You could see the lack of fire in the pregame introductions. You could see that if PVAM started the game with a good mindset - and with good shots - the Panthers could run up a lead. You could see it from the very beginning.

 

And according to senior guard Deonta Vaughn and junior guard Larry Davis, the Bearcats could feel it as well.

 

"We just didn't get prepared for the game," Davis said. "We just kind of sat around and didn't get ready for the game. We weren't warm, we weren't ready. We didn't have our mind on the game, kind of taking the game for granted."

 

After the game, Mick Cronin gave credit to UC assistant coach Tony Stubblefield, who prepared the PVAM scouting report. Everything Stubblefield said the Panthers would try, Cronin said, they tried. Point guard Christopher Jones was as quick as Stubblefield said. Whenever Darnell Hugge (a game-high 16 points) touched the ball, he went to his right - just like Stubblefield said.

 

The Bearcats, Cronin said, simply didn't follow the gameplan. That, and they didn't have the right mindset entering the game. Surprising considering this was, you know, the season-opener.

 

"Our lack of mental focus was very disappointing to the scouting report," Cronin said. "We practiced Saturday and Sunday as good as we've practiced all year. The problem is we were overconfident without reason. You don't just roll out the balls and win because you have more athletes. You have to go out and defend. The other team practices, too. They have a gameplan as well. All that matters is who executes better. It doesn't matter the name of the team or what conference they're from. There's no question that guys thought they would show up, we'd say 'Boo,' and they'd go home."

 

Cronin did, however, take some positives from the game. The Bearcats kept their poise when they fell behind by 15 points late in the first half. They improved their second-half defense. They showed some much-needed energy in the final 20 minutes.

 

"Trust me, I'm sure they're pretty embarrassed right now, but our guys need earmuffs," Cronin said. "You're only going to be as good as you play, not as good as people say. What people say is totally irrelevant. But this happens to everybody."

 

--The Bearcats gameplan on offense was to pound the ball inside to sophomore forward Yancy Gates and senior center Steve Toyloy (junior center Anthony McClain didn't play, but that wasn't a surprise considering how small the Panthers lineup is). Cronin knew PVAM would collapse into the post and sag four players back to defend the interior.

 

So, Cronin wanted Toyloy and Gates to pass to the perimeter where the Bearcats theoretically would get open looks.

 

But Toyloy had four turnovers (to go with four assists and just three shots), and Gates only got five attempts. That created problems, and as a result, UC attempted 30 3-point shots, many of them inadvisable (only four times last year did the Bearcats take that many long-range shots in a game).

 

"They picked their poison and tried to pack it in on us when we went low," Cronin said. "We took the bait of trying to shoot the 3. You have to shoot when you're open, but you have to probe the defense at least."

 

Said PVAM coach Byron Rimm II: "We switched up the defense a lot. We ran a lot of 2-3 zone, a lot of 2-3 junk. We're one of the top defensive teams in our conference (the SWAC). We do a lot of helpside defense. We're very small, so we have to be able to three-quarter the post and have backside help. They're 6-8, 240 pounds. We're 6-6, 205. We should lose that battle."

 

--Freshman guard Lance Stephenson - who has been as hyped as any Bearcats recruit in the last decade - had a rough debut, making just 2 of 10 shots (0 of 3 from the 3) to record seven points, four rebounds and two assists.

 

"He was a nervous wreck," Cronin said. "He'll get better. I knew one thing he would do when we were struggling; he was in with the (huddle) trying to fire guys up. You could see his frustration and his desire to win. But I have to teach him that there's no such thing as a 10-point shot. You just have to be solid."

 

Vaughn said he needs to take it upon himself to help Stephenson navigate through the early portion of his college career.

 

"I could see he thinks it's a lot of pressure on him," Vaughn said. "He's got to take his time. It's college ball right now, and the first couple of games, the speed is a lot quicker than high school."

 

--Other notes: Cronin said Stephenson tweaked an ankle in the first half, but he came back from the locker room later in the first half and proclaimed to Mick that he was fine ... UC improves to 91-17 in home openers.

UC-Prairie View A&M LIVE blog

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About 20 minutes before the game, the band is playing Alice Cooper's "School's Out," which is appropriate. One scribe jokingly asked me if students were on Winter Break. I just counted 25 people in the student section next to the band. Hmm.

Some more are beginning to filter in now, as I type.

UC's starting five: Wright, Vaughn, Stephenson, Gates and Toyloy.

First Half

UC wins the tip, and Stephenson feeds a beautiful pass to Gates in the post. Wide-open dunk, and Gates blows it. Still, heck of a feed.

Prairie View rushes out to an 8-3 lead with back to back 3-pointers by Dorian McDaniel and Michael Griffin. Mick calls the timeout and inserts Dion Dixon for Vaughn.

Make that 11-3 after another 3 from Griffin.

UC has missed its first seven shots.

PVAM 13, UC 3 (15:56 to go)

It only takes 5:01, but UC finally hits a FG. And the band throws that confetti in the air like there's no tomorrow.

Larry Davis is heating up. He hits the 3 that ends that long drought, and then he finishes a three-point play after he was fouled in the lane and hit his shot.

Prairie View better hope it keeps hitting those 3s. It's got very little chance to win otherwise. No height and all that. So far, 5 of 9 from the 3. UC, meanwhile, is 3 of 14 from the floor.

PVAM 21, UC 12 (11:53 to go)

Stephenson just bricked a 3-pointer quite badly. Nice rebound by Gates to keep it alive. Then, Gates blocks Brandon Webb's runner.

UC threatens to cut the lead to six, but Wright misses a FT, and Darnell Hugee buries a 3.

Vaughn's shot is blocked by Hugee and then, as he's falling to the floor, he fouls Hugee with his second. He'll take a seat on the bench.

UC is 3 of 13 from the 3, and Prairie View is actually out-rebounding UC 15-14.

Lance Stephenson goes to the locker room with what looks like a lower left leg injury.

PVAM 28, UC 18 (7:44 to go)

PVAM comes out with a trapping defense, and it works. Larry Davis double-dribbles. I wonder if UC will start to put more defensive pressure on the Panthers at some point. Then, Wilks puts up a poor effort of a 3. This is not what you'd call good basketball.

After Duwan Kornegay hits a 3-pointer from about 26 feet, Mick calls timeout and calmy asks who's man that was. The crowd is getting restless. Some booing on the timeout.

PVAM 33, UC 18 (4:58 to go)

UC goes 5:19 without a point before Wilks dunks off the rebound and Stephenson - who obviously is back in the game - follows it up with a finger roll.

UC's post players are having a tough time with the 6-7, 205-pound Hugee. He's made 6 of 8 shots for a game-high 13 points and four rebounds.

PVAM 35, UC 22 (3:11 to go)

Gates was posting up Hugge, who's about four inches shorter than Gates. He hesitated for some reason until people started yelling at him to take Hugge to the hoop. Finally, Gates agreed that he should and hits the turnaround jumper.

UC cuts the lead to six on Stephenson's three-point play with 30 seconds to play in the half. A defensive stop would be good for the Bearcats. But no, the ball bounces to Kornegay, who banks in a shot with 2 seconds to play.

UC shoots 28.6 percent from the floor, 16.7 from the 3. Prairie View is 41.2 and 46.7, respectively.

Vaughn is 0 for 6 from the floor. Stephenson is 2 for 8. Gates is 1 for 3. They've combined for 11 points. Meanwhile, Hugge has 13 points.

PVAM 38, UC 30 (half)

No Vaughn to start the second. Larry Davis is in instead. Dion Dixon is the first guard off the bench.

Still not sure why the Bearcats aren't feeding Gates or Toyloy in the post. Prairie View is playing man defense too.

Dion Dixon hits a 3 from the top of the key, and at the same moment Dorian McDaniel is called for a foul. UC will get the ball back losing by 5. Larry Davis turns it over, and on the other end, Christopher Jones hits a 3.

Vaughn enters with 17:44 to go.

If you thought Prairie View was going to roll over in the second half, you'd be wrong. Panthers take a 10-point lead briefly.

PVAM 46, UC 38 (14:57 to go)

Vaughn hits his first FG with 14:25 to go.

PVAM beginning to look like you'd expect them to look; haven't scored in about 5 minutes. Still, UC isn't playing well enough to grab a lead.

PVAM 46, UC 42 (11:54 to go)

Prairie View has missed eight straight shots. But still lead by four. Nine straight.

But Vaughn hits a 3 and Gates with a nasty dunk off a Stephenson missed shot to take a lead. Place is going crazy. First lead since 3-2.

UC 47, PVAM 46 (9:26 to go)

Ten straight misses. See, this is what happens when Prairie View can't make a 3.

Finally a layup by Hugee. Might be too late for Prairie View.

UC 52, PVAM 48 (7:11 to go)

Now, UC can't miss from 3. Larry Davis hits one to put UC up by seven. He has a team-high 13 points.

Well, Deonta Vaughn is beginning to play like a player who can take over a game. That's because he is. He picks up his fourth foul with 4:31 to play, though. Wright will replace him in the lineup.

UC 61, PVAM 52 (3:43 to go)

Hugee picks up his fourth foul on the Cashmere Wright drive. He will stay in the game. UC lead is six after Wright misses both FTs.

McDaniels misses a layup that would have cut the lead to 4. UC is burning some clock.

Hugee picks up No. 5 with 2:09 to play. He's done for the day. He finishes with 16 points.

UC's interior passing, though, still leaves a little to be desired. That's the 16th turnover.

UC 64, PVAM 57 (1:40 to go)

Field goal, time out. Field goal, time out.

UC 66, PVAM 59 (0:50 to go)

Kornegay hits a 3 with 32 seconds to go to cut the lead to 67-62.

Stephenson misses two FTs (well, three really because of a lane violation), but Tarrence Garrison misses a jumper that pretty much will seal UC's victory.

Vaughn leads the way with 15 points on 4 of 14 shooting. Davis with 13 and Wright with 12. Gates finishes with five points and 10 rebounds. Overall, UC shoots 39.3 from the field, 26.7 from the 3. Outrebound PVAM 47-32.

But still, not what you'd call a sterling debut for the Bearcats..

UC 69, PVAM 62 (final)




Big Winners Sunday Night--The Fans!

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First of all, what a weekend to be in Cincinnati and be a sports fan--much of which circulated around the U.C. campus! First, of course, the Friday night football win, then Saturday at Nippert Stadium, the place to be all day if you're a high school football fan. Congrats, by the way, to Anderson and Elder on their big wins. Looking forward to their matchup this weekend.

Then, the capper to the weekend, besides the Bengals win over the Steelers, was the head coaching debut of Jamelle Elliott as U.C.'s women's basketball coach. You can read about the game in the Women's Hoops blog, but what I'd like to talk about is the atmosphere.

First, almost a thousand fans came to the 'Cats season opener against Furman. There was even a line at the ticket office! (you can see the photo on my Twitter account, @betsymross)

If you were at the game, you might have seen several changes on and around the court: The band now has moved to the north end, opposite of where it historically has been. UC's bench also has moved, to the south end, so when the teams go to their locker rooms, they don't have to criss-cross the court and pass each other to get there. And the court-side folding seats now take up two rows on the opposite side of the benches. VIP tickets sold out this year!

Second, the video greetings from UConn to Coach Elliott were a nice touch: From Geno Auriemma to the Husky team, everyone wished her well. I have to say, Coach Auriemma has been very classy in this entire process. It'll be fun to see those two coaches square off in the next few seasons.

Third, the joint was jumpin' Sunday night! It's always good to have that kind of electricity and enthusiasm in any gym. And the 'Cats new up-tempo style of play lends itself to the crowd getting into it. The man-to-man defense also is refreshing and fun to watch. The 85 points the 'Cats put up won't be the exception, it'll be the rule. It's that kind of offense.

It'll be an exciting season. Don't miss it. The 'Cats will be back home this Saturday for a 2 p.m. game. Get on board, because it's gonna be a fun ride.

Remember, I'd love to hear your questions or comments. Email me at bross@gamedaypr.com 

 


More on UC playing Virginia Tech

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The reason UC wanted to play the 2012 Virginia Tech game in Landover, Md., at FedEx Field - AKA as the home of the Washington Redskins - was simple. Closer to Washington D.C., closer to the top-notch recruits who fill that area of the country, closer to making UC a nationally-recognized brand.

 

"Clearly, there's some recruiting advantage in playing that metropolitan area that's a pretty rich recruiting area," Brian Kelly said. "It's pretty important to go in that direction. There are a lot of reasons, but the one that I think that's important to us is to be in that marketplace. We need this kind of exposure."

 

Considering the Bearcats also will travel to Ohio State in 2012, that's shaping up to be a pretty tough road schedule, eh?

 

"Sure is," Kelly said. "We're not looking to take a step back. We want to continue to push this program forward."

 

Along with the Ohio State and Virginia Tech games in 2012, here's a sampling of which nationally-relevant squads UC will face in the next few years:

 

2010 - vs. Oklahoma at PBS

2011 - at Tennessee, vs. N.C. State at Nippert

2013 - at Illinois

2014 - at Ohio State

NO-tre Dame

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OK; Charlie Weiss is not living up to his arrogance at Notre Dame and Tom Brady is still winning without him in New England. Well as long as Air Bill doesn't make anymore 4th down mistakes. I digress; I would assume the Losing Irish will come after UC's coach, if they have any sense but I don't think for one minute he will leave. UC is stepping up like a major institution should to keep their coach and that was more evident with the commitment today to fund more practice facilities.

So what if NO-tre Dame calls? let them talk and see how it feels to be in our rear view mirror. I'm not saying it to sound sarcastic but to sound realistic. UC has been on ESPN, ABC Prime Time and if it wasn't for thier contract with NBC NO-tre Dame would only be on ESPN classic at 3 in the morning because the last time they really won was....you get my point.

There's not much to complain about around campus even though these games are aging you at the end. I just didn't' like the 2 QB move last week; I respect and consider Coach Kelly my man but Zach is winning like Randall Cunningham did in Minnesota when Brad Johnson came back and the coach stayed with the hot hand. I think he was pressing a little later trying to prove he "belonged" in the game, but that's just me. If I'm making shots with one player, I'm not passing the ball to someone else because he was making shots. In sports its right now and right now. So how cool is that? we're not only winning but we have a little QB debate going on. Only when you win can you enjoy those kind of perks. If you're losing it would be a pain.

Either way this has been a great season regardless of how it ends and it appears the end is a showdown with Pitt, who will probably get a bonus from the Steeler Nation if they beat somebody in Cincinnati. But don't look past Illinois as they have very little to play for and a win against high profile UC would make them fell good going into the holidays. All in all its fun watching UC isnt' it.

The only thing that could make me feel better is our Coach K telling NO-tre Dame NO-Thank You. We're winning, building and believing the best is yet to come at UC.

That's the way I see it, sitting in the Box Seat...

 

BCS questions and answers

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Helpful explanation of Bowl Championship Series selection process and where UC fits into it all by Enquirer:

http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20091115/SPT0101/311150010/1064/What+you+need+to+know+about+BCS

 

 

Onions!

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Allow me to steal an expression from one of my favorite broadcasters Bill Raftery: 

"Onions!"

 

As in Brian Kelly has 'em.

 

More than any other coach I've even been associated with; the dude is completely fearless about being second-guessed.  Then again, why worry about criticism if you're the football equivalent of King Midas? 

 

Think about the way he used Tony Pike in Friday's 24-21 win over West Virginia.  When Coach Kelly announced that Zach Collaros would start but Pike would play, I think most people figured that Tony would enter on Cincinnati's third drive of the game . . . or first possession of the second quarter . . . something like that.  

 

Instead, after Collaros took the team right down the field on its first drive, Pike got the call to enter as soon as the Bearcats hit the red zone, and promptly threw a 10-yard touchdown strike to Armon Binns on his first snap in 29 days.

 

"Who's crazy enough to do that?  I guess I am," Coach Kelly said with a laugh on our post-game show.  "It was great to get Tony in and you could see him start to get that look back in his eyes that he wants to get back out there."

 

If Pike's return as a "red zone reliever" hadn't worked and UC had to settle for a field goal try - or worse yet, if Tony had thrown a pick - Kelly would have been ripped from coast to coast for abruptly yanking Collaros with a perfect season on the line.  Instead, his gutsy strategy not only worked - it worked twice. 

 

"It couldn't have been better," Kelly said.  "We were at the right place on the field - if it were two or three yards different in each one of those instances, we couldn't have used him.  It really scripted out well for us.  We lost D.J. Woods for two plays on that second touchdown and we had to wait for the play that we wanted.  We got D.J. back in and Tony made a great throw - he's the only one who can make that throw - and it was a great catch by D.J."

 

So now what?  Last Tuesday, Coach Kelly said that his plan was to have Pike return to the starting lineup against Illinois after the upcoming bye week.  But will Collaros continue to play?  I asked BK if would consider playing two quarterbacks for the rest of the year.

 

"I'm not opposed to that, but I think I would rather play one and have him excel at a high level," Kelly told me.  "We've had that this year.  When Tony started he played extremely well, and when Zach has started he has too.  We have a luxury in terms of having two quarterbacks that we not only can win with, but we think we can win a championship with.  It's a bit unusual, but it's not a controversy because our team is not split.  I think it's a controversy when you have different people with different opinions.  Our football team knows that both guys can play at a high level."

 

It's a recipe for success that's put Cincinnati within one win of a Big East title and a return to a BCS bowl game.

 

A recipe that's heavy on the onions.

 

* * * * *

 

I'm psyched for the basketball opener on Monday night against Mr. T's Alma mater - Prairie View A & M.

 

It will be my first opportunity to work with my buddy Chuck Machock this season, and in addition to getting his insights on the team, I'm eager to see if Chuck has heard who will perform at halftime of the Super Bowl this year.

 

It's his favorite band "THEE HO".

 

An explanation is in order.

 

A few years ago, the Bearcats played Temple in Atlantic City.  After the game, Chuck was driving to the airport with our engineer Mo Egger and asked Mo the following question, "Who the heck is THEE HO?"

 

Mo said, "Excuse me?"

 

Chuck repeated, "Who the heck is THEE HO?'

 

Mo said, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

 

So Chuck pointed to a billboard that was promoting an upcoming concert in Atlantic City.

 

The billboard was for . . . The Who re.jpg 

You gotta love Chuck!

 

Talk to you on Monday night.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

UC-West Virginia Rock 'N Roll Party

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Tony Pike was on the sideline, minding his own business and watching redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Collaros run the Bearcats on the first drive of the game when Brian Kelly called the senior over to stand by his side.

         

"I was kind of following him along the sideline," said Pike, who finished 2 of 4 for 16 yards and two touchdowns in UC's 24-21 victory against West Virginia. "I thought he was calling me to talk about a play or something. He told me to go in. I had some trouble getting my chinstrap buckled because everything was so quick. Going into the game, he said he was going to try to get me in there. I wasn't sure if that was going to be a series or a few special plays. But obviously what happened worked out."

 

During the week, Kelly had worked with Pike and Collaros on how they would rotate against the Mountaineers. Since the coaching staff, by studying the West Virginia game film, had determined the Mountaineers didn't send much pressure when the opposing offense was in the red zone, Kelly planned to use Pike when UC was in that spot.

 

"We wanted to minimize his risk," Kelly said. "In the red zone area, we knew we were going to get a lot more bracket coverage. Tony can fit it in the tightest spots in bracket coverage, and he can see it a little bit better than Zach. It just worked out really well. The bottom line is Tony was going to be in a position - primarily in the red zone or in some third-down situation - where we knew there wasn't going to be much pressure. He just didn't know if it was going to be the first quarter or the second quarter."

 

Or on the first series.

 

"At first, it caught me off guard," said Collaros, who finished 17 of 24 for 205 yards and an interception. As long as he scored, it doesn't matter to me how it happens. We had talked about him getting in on a series, but nothing about, 'When we get down to the 9-yard line, Zach is coming out and Tony, you're coming in.' Nothing like that. It caught me off guard."

 

Said Pike: "Me too."

 

Either way, it worked to UC's advantage, and afterward, Pike talked about how grateful he was to hear the record crowd of 35,105 give him an ovation when he ran onto the field.

 

And as long as he stays on this path, Kelly expects Pike to start in time for the Nov. 27 Illinois game.

 

"If everything continues to move in the right direction with him and continues to progress in the way he has - he's made great progress in a very short amount of time, relative to the injury - he would be the starter against Illinois," Kelly said.

 

--Isaiah Pead obviously had the breakout game of his career, gaining 175 yards on 18 carries (9.7 yards per attempt). He was mildly excited about his performance.

 

"I wasn't expecting to get the ball that many times," Pead said. "It was a rhythm. It was gaining confidence. We had a lot on the line, and you just have to play. You have to have confidence in your players and yourself. I was hot, the pass game was going, the blocking was perfect. We were just playing football and having fun."

 

He didn't feel quite as good in the second quarter when he lost a fumble on the 1-yard line. Until, that is, the replay showed that the ball had crossed the goal line and saved him.

 

"I went up in the air and thought I had it over and landed back on my feet," Pead said. "I was never tackled, so I was going to keep going and I never got the ball tucked in. But it was ruled a touchdown so everything is good. John Goebel came to me and said I went from a zero to a hero."

 

Said Kelly: "We were going to challenge it if they didn't buzz down. What I was more upset about is that it was first and goal, and we're trying to put the ball over the goal line like it's fourth down and the last play of the game. A teaching moment for me with Isaiah Pead, that's what I was focused on. Hopefully, the camera didn't see me talking to him."

 

It did.

 

"It did?"

 

Yep.

 

--This is what Kelly said to his squad at the half:

 

"We told our football team that it would be about the will to win. Both teams are fighting for their Big East championship lives. You just keep battling. Our kids did a great job of playing each play. We didn't get too worked up about the ebb and the flow of the football game. Our theme all week was that winning should be celebrated but execution should be worshipped. Our execution last week was not good. We went back to basics and really worked hard on execution."

 

--Kelly said senior running back Jacob Ramsey - who sprained his foot in the fourth quarter of the UConn game - was questionable for the Illinois game and that he'd most likely keep Ramsey out until the Pittsburgh game.

 

Despite Pead's breakout tonight, Ramsey's role won't necessarily be diminished.

 

"He has a substantial role," Kelly said. He's a physical player. He can hit it up hard and inside. Pead can do that too, but you can't run this kid 23, 24 times a game."

UC-WVU LIVE blog

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I was walking into Nippert Stadium today, and I was stopped by a West Virginia fan who obviously had been drinking for quite some time.

"Hey, you need tickets?" he asked.

"Nope, I'm good."

"I can sell you one for $3,000 if you want. Front-row seats. The face value is $3,000."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah, $3,000."

Then, as he left my side to cross the street, he yelled over his shoulder, "By the way, I don't have any tickets."

Ah, those crazy Mountaineers fans.

First Quarter

John Goebel and his broken hand are on special teams. Jake Rogers blasts it out of the end zone. First play of the game, Noel Devine slips and loses a yard. Jarrett Brown options to Jock Sanders and gains two. It'll be third and nine at the WVU 21. Alex Daniels missed Brown, but he forces him to scramble and he's about two yards short of the first down. WVU to punt. That's how you want to start if you're the UC defense and you just gave up 45 points a week ago.

Zach Collaros is starting for the Bearcats. Isaiah Pead with a couple early carries. I wonder who'll be the man to back him up. Collaros has D.J. Woods across the middle, but WVU's Brandon Hogan knocks the ball away, bringing up a third and 4. Pead takes the pitch and gains seven yards. And 18-yard gain straight up the middle for Pead. Huge hole, good lord. Ball at WVU 28. Geez, that's deadly, Collaros has to scramble, the WVU defender who was covering Ben Guidugli has to come up and then Collaros flicks it to Guidugli for the first down. And then, sure bring in Tony Pike when it's first and goal in the 10-yard line; Pike then finds Armon Binns in the back of the end zone for the 10-yard TD. Impressive start for UC. It was like Pike was never gone.

UC 7, WVU 0 (9:56 to go)

 Another touchback for Rogers. He must be feeling it. UC's DL looks fast tonight. Forcing Brown to release the ball quickly. It'll be third and six from the 34. Nice tackle by J.K. Schaffer. Brown hits TE Tyler Urban, but Schaffer stops him two yards short of the first down. Consecutive three and outs for the Mountaineers.

Collaros back in the game. There's your first fumble of the season. Collaros to Adrien Robinson, who has room to run. He also gets hit by WVU, and he fumbles the ball to the Mountaineers. WVU takes over at UC's 49. Not what you want to do if you're a TE who's just started seeing major action.

Nice pass from Brown to Bradley Starks to bring it to UC's 28. Aaron Webster with the nice tackle on Devine to lose two. It'll be third and six from the 24. Brown to Jock Sanders for the first down. That's a tough assignment for UC LB Andre Revels. Ball on the UC 12. Devine with a four-yard gain. John Hughes has a chance to get Brown at the line of scrimmage, but Brown makes him miss and he dashes in for the 8-yard TD. Except, they're going to review now. Play stands as called. 

UC 7, WVU 7 (3:19 to go)

WVU is called for illegal formation on the kickoff. It'll have to rekick. Big gain for UC on the rekick. Gilyard brings it to the 34, but another illegal formation call. UC says, "Screw it," and takes the penalty on the backside. UC starts on its own 49. Robert Sands puts a nice hit on Pead; loss of 3. Collaros, under pressure, to Pead loses more, but UC called for a personal foul; slap to the head. Ref said 50, but we're guessing it was Jason Kelce. Collaros keeper makes it third and 17 from the UC 42. Collaros throws to Gilyard in double coverage - triple coverage if you count the sideline. UC to punt. Nice punt by Rogers. 49 yards and WVU takes over on the 9. Devine with a couple runs to bring it to the 21.

Second Quarter

First quarter stats: Devine with 25 yards on eight carries. Brown is 5 for 5 for 44 yards. Pead has six carries for 37 yards. Collaros is 3 for 6 for 50 yards.

It'll be third and seven from the WVU 27. Devine on the carry, he's about a yard short. WVU to punt.

Heck of a run by Pead, who's taken all the carries so far. He takes the end-around, and he's got a wide open lane on the left sideline. He jukes to make a couple Mountaineers miss and he's tackled at the WVU 23. That's a 48-yard gain. Timeout UC. Collaros goes back to Robinson, and Robinson drops it in the end zone. Not a great start for him. But remember last year, Kazeem Alli dropped an easy pass vs. WVU and then went on to catch the game-winner in OT. So there's that. Third and four and Collaros with the keeper. He's short by about three yards. That means it's Jake Rogers time, and he's not even close. Way wide right. Missed opportunity for the Bearcats. Robinson with two huge mistakes that have cost his team.

After a Wes Lyons catch, Aaron Webster hobbles off the field. Wes Richardson in to replace him. Brad Jones is excited about that two-yard loss tackle on Devine. He's all over the place. Third and 12 from the WVU 31. Great job of scrambling from Brown, who finds Alric Arnett for the first down. Too many missed tackles on that one. On second and inches, Devine runs into his man for a 1-yard loss. Third and 2 from the UC 37. Brown hands to Ryan Clarke who looks like he goes through the line untouched and scores the 37-yard TD. WVU with some momentum. WVU fans are making some noise.

WVU 14, UC 7 (8:05 to go)

First time UC has been behind since the first quarter of Oregon State. Another fantastic kickoff return by Gilyard. He brings the ball the WVU 42. He said this week that the WVU kick off team is better than last year. Hasn't looked it yet. Collaros to Binns for the first down and then a short two-yard pass to Darrin Williams. Collaros looks back on track. He's completed three straight passes on this drive. Ball on the WVU 14. Alex Hoffman called for a 15-yard facemask penalty. Makes it first and 25 from the 29. On second and 12, Collaros with a nice gain to the 3-yard line. Pike NOT in game. Pead takes the handoff and fumbles it at about the 1. WVU recovers. Another bad, bad mistake. Play is under review now. Uh-oh, now they're calling it a TD. Wow. Credit Pead with the 3-yard TD. Unreal.

UC 14, WVU 14 (5:26 to go)

Devine is starting to get scary out there. He's really, really close to breaking a long one. Then, Brown to Bradley Starks for the 14-yard gain. Ball at the WVU 46. Brown can't avoid the sack, and the ball is knocked from his hands. WVU recovers. They'll review to see. Nope, still a fumble. Costs WVU a timeout. Second and 19 from the WVU 37. Aaron Webster back in the game, BTW. Third and seven from the WVU 49. Brown in trouble flings it to Devine in the flat, but it's too hard and he can't hang on. WVU to punt.

UC will take over at the 10-yard line with 2:18 to go in the half. A score here would be huge, especially since the Bearcats get the ball to start the second half. Handoff to Pead that gains nothing. Collaros to Gilyard gains nine. Third and 1 from the 19 with about 1:10 to go. No hurry for the Bearcats. Pead takes the carry and gets the first down. UC timeout. First and 10 from the 27 with 1:06 to play. Collaros scrambles out of bounds for a six-yard gain. Not a great play from Collaros there. He threw past the line of scrimmage, but it doesn't matter because he tossed it into double coverage and Robert Sands comes up with the INT. Ball on the WVU 33 with 47 seconds to go.

Holding on WVU - or an OL tackle might be more appropriate. First and 20, and hand off to Devine. Gains 10 yards. 32 seconds to go. Revels tackles Devine after a 2-yard gain, and I'm guessing that'll be it for WVU this half.

UC 14, WVU 14 (halftime)

First-half stats: Devine has 16 carries for 59 yards. Brown is 10 for 13 for 116 yards. Brad Starks has three catches for 43 yards.

Pead has 10 carries for 100 yards. Collaros is 8 of 13 for 99 yards and an INT. Binns has three carries for 37 yards.

Third Quarter

Another nice gain from Gilyard on the KOR. Collaros will start at the UC 36. Two nice runs by Pead to start the second half. Ball on the UC 47. Nine more yards, five more yards. Collaros to Binns for the 11-yard gain. It'd be hard for Woods to get any more wide open than that. Collaros hits him at the 6 for the 22-yard gain. Pike back in the game. I guess that means another TD pass. Ooh, he almost Guidugli in the back of the end zone, but it's a little too high. Then, he throws the ball away. Third and goal from the 6. Pike with a gorgeous throw to a diving Woods for the 6-yard TD. That's the way UC wanted to start the second half. And for Pike, that's a 244.4 QB rating. Nice job to C. Trent for figuring that out.

UC 21, WVU 14 (11:07 to go)

Third and 6 from the WVU 22. Brown to Sanders for the nine-yard gain and the first down. Still, UC has done a pretty nice job on Sanders. After a zero-yard gain and a 1-yard loss by Devine, it's third and 11 from the WVU 29. Drew Frey breaks up the pass to force the incompletion. Or, you know, you could say he absolutely interfered. Lucky break for the Bearcats. UC will take over its 41-yard line.

Nice tackle by Julian Miller to halt Collaros for a 1-yard gain. Pass to Adrien Robinson, who's gang-tackled but holds onto the ball. Third and 3 from the UC 48. Really nice job by Joe Rhein to hold Pead's jersey behind the line of scrimmage until his teammates could arrive. Two-yard loss and UC to punt.

Ryan Clarke with his second carry of the night. The first went for 37. This one went for nine. Then, he gets the first down. UC linebackers having to do much work in order to contain the WVU running game on this drive. Clarke, Sanders and Devine have been strong on this series. Ricardo Matthews just will not let go of Brown and eventually gets the 9-yard sack. Then, a nice tackle by Brad Jones on Devine. It'll be third and 17 from the 49. Big pressure by the DL and Alex Daniels eventually tackles Brown after a short gain. WVU to punt. Nice punt. UC will take over at the 1-yard line.

Talk about balance. UC has 160 yards passing and 160 yards rushing. Dangerous play to call for a QB sneak when Collaros takes the snap in the end zone, but he escapes for a four-yard gain to end the third quarter.

Fourth Quarter

Collaros to Binns for the first down to bring the ball to the 19. Gilyard takes the inside screen and makes a big leap for a 7-yard gain. Collaros moves out of the pocket and lofts a nice pass to Robinson. A 27-yard gain to the WVU 37. After a 4-yard loss by Collaros, it'll be third and 14 from the 41. Incomplete to Gilyard. Collaros' last two passes have not looked good. UC to punt.

Man, on that first-down run by Brown, Dan Giordano gets leveled by Josh Jenkins. Clarke continues to hurt the UC defense. At this point, he's more dangerous than Devine. Mountaineers doing nothing but running on this series. That's six-straight, seven straight, runs. Two-straight runs by Sanders loses two yards. Third and 12 from the UC 48. Wow, Brown looked like Pat White for a minute there. That's a 23-yard scramble. After 10-straight runs, Brown is incomplete. Third and 9 from the UC 25. For some reason, they give it to Sanders straight up the middle. That's a bizarre, bizarre playcall. Fourth and 8. WVU going for it. Under intense pressure from Curtis Young, Brown throws toward the end zone, but incomplete. UC takes over on its 24.

Going to the field. Will be back for the Rock 'N Roll party.

UC-West Virginia preview

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Going into tonight's UC-West Virginia game, I wondered how the Bearcats felt about playing a Mountaineers squad that didn't feature Pat White - perhaps the greatest player ever in Big East history.

 

Not to say UC feared Pat White - by that I mean, feared him any more than any other team would (I think the fear was always there, though). But he was always a concern. The secondary's protection could be stellar, but White could break off a long scramble. The defensive line could put pressure on him all day, but he could always avoid the sack and throw an accurate ball to a receiver. The linebackers could back into coverage or they could spy on White, but it never seemed to matter much.

 

Pat White was just too darn good. So I wondered if the Bearcats felt a sense of relief this year that, after facing White the past four seasons, they wouldn't have to deal with him any longer. I expected somebody to agree with that sentiment, but no, apparently that's not how the Bearcats feel about it at all. Even without White, the Mountaineers still boast effective weapons in quarterback Jarrett Brown (64.8 completion percentage, 1,661 yards, 10 touchdowns, eight interceptions), running back Noel Devine (1,010 yards, 6.0 average, 10 touchdowns) and receiver Jock Sanders (58 catches, 555 yards, three touchdowns).

 

"White was more of an elusive runner, and he could get out of the pocket real fast," senior safety Aaron Webster said. "With Brown, he likes to throw and he has a big arm. He can throw deep and he can get the ball on the money with concept routes. They still have Sanders and they still have Devine, so they still have that threat in the running game. They can get it to Devine or Sanders and run that sweep or that option. It's the same team, but with a bigger arm."

 

Last year, the UC defense did a nice job shutting down the Mountaineers offense. The Bearcats held Devine to 58 yards on 19 carries while limiting the damage of Sanders. Now, they can focus on stopping the legs of Devine and the arm (and not necessarily the feet) of Brown.

 

"Pat White is a special player with his ability to run the football to keep drives alive," Brian Kelly said. "Brown is a big, physical kid. He's certainly not Pat White with his ability to run the ball. Those are hard shoes to fill. The offense is different because Pat White is not there. But Jock Sanders is much more involved. He's on the perimeter catching a lot of balls. Noel Devine is a stronger runner this year. You lost a Pat White, but Devine and Sanders are good players. Brown has thrown the ball more than Pat White, and he's been effective in doing so."

 

--Aside from the defense, which he didn't seem all that upset about last Saturday, Kelly put his hand over his eyes and shook his head when discussing the 87-yard punt return by UConn's Robert McClain late in the third quarter that cut the Bearcats lead to 13 points

 

"We made a huge mistake on special teams which gave UConn a great deal of momentum," Kelly said. "Our guys learned a valuable lesson about how they need to stay focused and not let up at any time."

 

Kelly described it as a "rebel pooch" punt. The Bearcats needed a high kick from Jake Rogers so at least two UC players could get behind the returner in the hopes that he'd let it go and they could down it before it reached the end zone for a touchback. The kick last Saturday was a bit flatter, and with a couple Bearcats running right by him, McClain caught the punt and scampered 87 yards for the touchdown.

 

"We had a couple guys not execute their assignments and next thing you know, touchdown," Kelly said. "I knew immediately when it was kicked, we were going to have an issue. Jake is a first-year punter, but he executed that same play flawlessly against Syracuse. Maybe we were asking him to do too much."

 

--A quick comment on what the UC win vs. West Virginia last year meant to the program.

 

"That was the team we knew we had to beat," senior receiver Mardy Gilyard said. "I don't know if everybody thought we could win that game, to be honest. They had Pat White and Noel Devine and that 3-3-5 defense they ran. We knew we needed that game - not just for ourselves but for the school and for the program. We needed to show we could beat the big dog in the Big East. They were that big dog."

 

--<b>My prediction</b>: I still think that without Pat White, the Mountaineers are just a completely different team. A team that's not as good. A team that won't beat the Bearcats. Say, UC 34, West Virginia 20.

A little extra padding

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When the Bearcats basketball team takes the court at 7:30 p.m. tonight for its final exhibition game of the season vs. Bellarmine, it'll do so with a variety of protection that you won't see. That's because UC, for the first time, is wearing adidas undergarments that have extra padding sewn into the material.

 

The Bearcats use them for practice and some will use them for their games. According to a few of the players and coach Mick Cronin, the new duds have been helpful during the preseason. I guess you don't have to be a football player to wear pads after all.

 

"It helps you take a little more bumping," junior forward Rashad Bishop said. "When you get bumped, you don't feel it as much."

 

At a recent practice, Bishop showed off his padding - it was on the back of his undershirt, and it was on the upper thighs of his compression shorts. He says he's a fan of the extra armor.

 

"It's comfortable," Bishop said. "The bumps you usually take in practice - like a knee to the thigh - you don't feel it hardly."

 

For the Bearcats guards, the pads are especially important.

 

"Cashmere (Wright), I make him pad up," Cronin said. "You look at him, he's got hip pads, thigh pads. He's always flying at the rim. He's always getting hit when he's blowing by somebody with all these big guys. He takes a beating in practice. Now, they're more protected at practice."

 

As Cronin walked away, he called over to freshman guard Lance Stephenson, who was shooting jumpers in the gym before practice.

 

"Lance, do you have padded tights?" Cronin asked. Stephenson showed him that he was. "You going to wear them in a game?"

 

"Yes sir," he said.

 

"They don't slow you down?"

 

"No."

 

That was my biggest question. I thought the pads would be bulky or would make the Bearcats a little less quick. Apparently not.

 

"It's lightweight," Cronin said. "The adidas people did a great job, but they had to work with the NCAA to get approval with all this stuff. They're pads, but they're as light as you can make them."

 

--Of course, if you've got nothing going on tonight, come on out to the Barnes & Noble at Newport on the Levee at 6 p.m. We'll be discussing and signing copies of Bearcats Rising with Kevin Huber and Artrell Hawkins.

Practice Makes Perfect--Sometimes

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Ever wish you could be a big time basketball player? Let's face it, most of us have wanted to do that at some time in our lives--maybe you even played the game. Well, I had the chance to get a taste of what it's like to battle in the BIG EAST Wednesday morning when I joined a group of Cincinnati-area media women to do warmup drills on the court with the U.C. women's basketball team.

I learned a couple of things during that hour: First, I don't have a jump shot. Second, these players work really, REALLY hard.

Representatives from the Cincinnati Enquirer, WLWT, Fox19, Zipscene and bleacherreport.com were part of the "Media Madness" morning warmup, invited by Coach Jamelle Elliott and her staff to meet the players and see what goes into making a championship team. Stretching first, then about 35 minutes of drills.

Some of the observations I noticed, is first, this group is very disciplined. Yes, I know that most of these players have been doing these drills since elementary school. But you still have to know what to do.

Second, there is speed when the Cats take the court. One thing that fans will notice different this season, is that this team will run. They still have set plays and work the half court offense, but they're not afraid to burn down the other end of the court. It's going to be a fun offense to watch.

Third, for someone (me) who came along before Title IX, it is so gratifying to watch these young women have an opportunity I didn't have. I would have given my right pinky to be able to play organized basketball, even at a high school level. We didn't have that chance. The closest I came was our three-on-a-side p.e. class game when you weren't even allowed to cross half court. I'm living through these players' lives and opportunities. And it is so fun to watch.

Fourth, the entire team and staff were very patient with us as we ran into each other during drills, bounce passed to the wrong people and generally slowed down their usual tightly-scripted practice. They were kind, encouraged us, and cheered when we finally made a shot (me again--took me all practice!).

So thanks to Coach Elliott, her entire staff and the Bearcats' women's basketball team. It was a terrific experience, and makes me appreciate even more what you do every week to represent this city and the University. Tipoff for Coach Elliott's first game is Sunday at 7 p.m. at Fifth Third. Come watch the Cats.

Binns, Woods make life tough on a defense

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In the third quarter of last Saturday's UConn game, the UC coaching staff noticed something a little strange with the Huskies defense. Although senior receiver Mardy Gilyard had accumulated nine catches for 127 yards in the first half, UConn wasn't focused on him quite as much when the third quarter began.

 

Instead, for the first time this season, the opposing defense began to roll its coverage to junior Armon Binns, leaving Gilyard facing a man-to-man defense. Since UConn redshirt freshman Jerome Junior, the replacement for the late Jasper Howard, was inexperienced vs. Binns - and because Binns had made an impact already in the game - the Huskies coach put a safety over the top to help Junior, who was about three inches shorter than Binns. It took the Bearcats coaches a few minutes to notice that Gilyard, all of a sudden, wasn't the main target for the defense.

 

And really, that's the power of UC's receivers. Basically, there are just too darn many of them to effectively defend them.

 

You can't double-team Gilyard, because otherwise, this will happen:

 

"I've been saying this since the summer: if a defense wants to be - how can I put it - ignorant to our other receivers and just mirror me like I'm Mr. Superman, then of course, they're going to get murdered on the back end with Armon and D.J. (Woods)," Gilyard said. "We have weapons for everything, as you can see. We have so many weapons, it makes it hard for a defense to defend us."

 

You can't double-team Binns, because otherwise, Gilyard will record 12 catches for 172 yards, like he did vs. UConn. And you can't double-team Woods, because of Gilyard's big-play ability and speed and because of Binn's leaping ability.

 

It is quite the conundrum.

 

"I've been telling you to watch out for Armon," Gilyard said. "I don't think a lot of people believed me. I've seen him so much. He's been my backup for the last two years. There can't be nothing but good things coming for this kid because he does nothing but good. Just seeing what he does on the field, it's amazing to watch him take off on that one foot and watch him go, go, go like he has a stepladder. He just plucks the ball out of the air so naturally, it's just crazy.

 

"I expected him to be that good, to be honest. He's filling Goodie's (Dominick Goodman) shoes up. For a guy playing his first year, he's making defenses recognize where he is on the field. They can't play him one-on-one. He's 6-4, 210 pounds, jumping out of the gym and snatching everything out of the air. If you want to double me and go one-on-one with him, Armon is going to go ham.

 

--Tony Pike said after Tuesday's practice that he's pretty close to feeling 100 percent, and he seems OK with Kelly's decision to use him in relief vs. West Virginia on Friday night.

 

"Physically, I feel like I'm almost there," Pike said. "The game changes a lot when you're here in practice to the game. That's where that game experience comes in handy. What coach Kelly is talking about doing, mixing me in there a little bit here and there, it's a good idea. Not to have to rush me in and get me a look."

 

I asked him how much he balanced the prospects of a pro career vs. wanting to be on the field with his teammates when deciding if he can play.

 

"It's made it a lot easier with how well Zach was doing." Pike said. "If something happened and we were struggling, I'm not going to be looking ahead to what can happen in the future. This team has something special going, and I want to help out as much as I can. The good thing was that Zach came in and did a great job."

Mick Cronin on Boeheim's 800th Win

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Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim won his 800th game on Monday night.

 

Think about that for a second.  If a coach averages 20 wins a year, he would have to stick around for 40 years to get to 800.

 

It hasn't taken Boeheim nearly that long because he's averaged 24 wins a year.  This is his 34th season as a college head coach - all of them spent at his Alma mater - and his all-time record is 800-288.  He's captured one national championship and been to three Final Fours.

 

Boeheim is 64-years-old and has already been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but has given no indication that he intends to retire any time soon.  Bob Knight's all-time record of 902 wins is not out of the question, although Mike Krzyzewski (833) and Jim Calhoun (805) could break it first.

 

The Syracuse Post-Standard had a reporter ask all of the Big East coaches for their reaction to Boeheim's milestone at Big East media day.  Here's what Mick Cronin had to say:

 

"I don't know about coaching 800 games, let alone winning 800 games," Mick said.  "It's amazing - a testament to what he's done there over the years.  Unbelievable.  It's mind-boggling.  I can't even begin to swallow it.  In this day and age, it's so dog-eat-dog.  You gotta win every year.  And coaches - we're all overpaid, so therefore we're all fired too quickly, we're scrutinized too much.  But it goes with the territory.  That's what happens when you get the dollars.  I don't know if you'll see a guy last as long as he's lasted at his institution.  I think that's sad because he's synonymous with his university.  And you see what happens when one guy gets to stay in one place for such a long period of time.  Not only does he impact winning, but he's been able to impact the university in different ways: Coaches vs. Cancer . . . being an ambassador for his university.  I'd love to have half of his run at my Alma mater."

Another turn in the UC QB soap opera

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First, the news. Zach Collaros will start at quarterback this Friday vs. West Virginia. Tony Pike, Brian Kelly said, will play as well. So, here's the timeline regarding what Kelly has said about Pike/Collaros since Pike injured his arm:

 

The previous few weeks before UC plays UConn: When Tony Pike is healthy, he will return as the starting quarterback. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

 

Saturday night, after UC's 47-45 victory against UConn: Kelly says he might have to reconsider his previous statements. Since Collaros has been nothing short of amazing since he took over the starting role, Kelly said Pike and Collaros will have to compete for the right to start.

 

Monday morning, on the weekly Big East coaches teleconference: Kelly says he's changed his mind again. Now, he says when Pike is "fully healthy," he will return as the starter and Collaros will return to the bench.

 

Tuesday morning, during a radio interview and later at the UC weekly news conference: Collaros is your starter vs. the Mountaineers, and the newest goal is to get Pike ready to start the Illinois game on Nov. 27.

 

So, say what?

 

"When Zach has come in, he's played at a high level," Kelly said. "It's allowed us to set that bar a little higher for Tony. Now, we don't have to put Tony in there until he's 100 percent."

 

But wouldn't the risk be the same to Pike whether he starts or comes in to relieve Collaros?

 

"We think the risk is minimized," Kelly said. "He's got risk in everything he does for the next three months. We're gradually trying to minimize that risk. I don't have to play Tony at 70 percent."

 

Kelly said Pike is fine with the latest arrangement, but Kelly also didn't want to discuss how he would use Pike against the Mountaineers. I asked how much he had to balance this year and needing Pike to help his team win games vs. Pike's possible future as a pro quarterback when deciding whether to play him.

 

"You try to put all those things together," Kelly said. "We're here to win college football games. Quite frankly, (the pro career) is not at the top of my list. But it's something you have to consider. You have to consider all those things when you're making those decisions."

 

--While we're talking about injuries, Kelly also said senior running back Jacob Ramsey - who has accumulated 419 rushing yards this season, second-best on the team behind Isaiah Pead - has a foot sprain and will miss Friday's game. That means John Goebel, who has been fitted for a cast on his broken arm that will allow him to carry the ball, or Darrin Williams will have a shot to back up Pead.

 

--Senior linebacker Marcus Waugh's father, Tom, was an All-Big Ten center at Ohio State in the mid- to late-1970s. Marcus Waugh, though, has converted his father into becoming a Bearcats fan.

 

"He's in the Ohio State section with a Cincinnati jersey on," Waugh said today. "He said, 'I'll be a Cincinnati fan until you're done and then I'll go back to being an Ohio State fan.'"

 

This, even though the family wanted the Whitehouse, Ohio native to play football in Columbus. Though he's spent part of his time at UC playing tight end and defensive lineman, he's played well as a backup linebacker this season, totaling 14 tackles.

 

"Both of our dreams were for me to go to Ohio State, but it wasn't in the cards," Waugh said. "Just to stay in Ohio, he was really proud. He hasn't missed a game since my seventh grade year. Just to play college football at the Division I level, he was really proud."

 

--Just in case you hadn't heard, I've got another book signing this Thursday. It'll be Thursday at the Barnes & Noble in Newport on the Levee with former Bearcats and current Bengals punter Kevin Huber and former Bearcats/Bengals/Patriots DB Artrell Hawkins. Come on out. It'll be good times.

Some observations ...

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Was around UC a lot in the past week. A few observations:

1. Caught the women's basketball exhibition Monday night against Kentucky Wesleyan. The Bearcats won easily 72-36 but I came away even more impressed with new coach Jamelle Elliott. Afterward she and her players talked about her insistence that they play with intensity at all times in practice and in games. Elliott backed that up by pulling senior guard Kahla Roudebush with 7:26 left in the first half and having her sit the bench the rest of the half. Why? Elliott thought Roudebush, last year's leading scorer, stopped playing after committing a turnover. Sent a good message to Roudebush and the team. I liked it. I should mention there were more people in attendance than a home game against Providence I saw last season.

2. Got a chance to spend almost an hour with new President Gregory Williams. Really enjoyed it. Soon I will be posting stories from that interview. He was very easy to talk to even though it was an interview. My take: He is far more interesting talking about non-sports-related topics than about athletics. My stories will cover both.

3. Win or lose, UC football is fun to watch. Amazing perspective to think that now fans are "worried" about the defense after allowing 40+ points and were sweating out a two-point victory. It's no longer "will they win?" but "by how many points?" ... Wouldn't want to be Coach Kelly having to make the decision on which quarterback to play. Nothing like a win-win situation, though.

4. UC volleyball team might be one of the better kept secrets in town. Coach Reed Sunahara is in his 10th season as head coach, and his teams have never had a losing record. This is the ninth time UC has won at least 20 matches under Sunahara. Five of his last nine teams have gone to the NCAA Tournament, and this year's team has a chance, too. The Bearcats have a set a school record by winning 25 consecutive times at home. Not much more you could ask for from Sunahara's program.

OK, back to work on the President Williams stories.

 

 

Volleyball Closes Campaign on a Roll

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Things you learn when you get up early and attend a U.C. Athletics Department staff meeting..

A little background here--all of us bloggers you see on the gobearcats.com website were invited to the meeting, more to introduce us to the other coaches in the room than anything else. We hope these updates will be not just informative to fans, but give coaches a way to let us know, and in turn let you know, what's new in their sport.

Which leads me to today's revelation: As Athletic Director Mike Thomas was running down the accomplishments of the fall sports, he mentioned volleyball. And here's what Coach Reed Sunahara's squad has done this season as the Bearcats head into the final weekend of action this weekend at home. With last weekend's win at South Florida, the 'Cats reached the 20-win mark for the season, the ninth time that UC has reached that mark under Sunahara.

The team also has the second longest home winning streak in the nation, behind only Penn State. The 'Cats will try to extend that streak against Connecticut Saturday and St. John's on Sunday.

All this leads me to the one point that works for both men's and women's sports: It's terrific that the football team is putting a national spotlight on the Bearcat athletic program, and the men's and women's programs are on the upswing now, with promises of great things to come. But there are so many other sports that contribute to the well being and education of the student-athlete on the Clifton campus. And each deserves support of the Bearcat community.

For example, it was great during Monday night's exhibition between the U.C. women's basketball team and Kentucky Wesleyan to see members of the men's basketball team there to support the women. Just seeing student-athletes supporting other sports is terrific, but the support can extend to the U.C. family both on and off the campus.

And this weekend is a great time to start. Sunday evening will be a big day for the women's basketball program, as the Jamelle Elliott era starts for the 'Cats. But think about coming a little early on Sunday and attend Senior Day for the women's volleyball team at Fifth Third Arena. They work just as hard, and take just as much pride in their sport as any of the other student-athletes. And you'll feel good about supporting these young women who are proud to wear the U.C. unifrom.

PARASKEVIDEKATRIAPHOBIA

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DATE OF BALLGAME: Friday the 13th (the third this year)

VENUE: Nippert (game two of the three-game homestand)

BEHIND IN SEAT: 8 p.m.

THE SERIES: A lopsided 14-2-1 in favor of WVU

LAST TIME: A wacky 26-23 overtime thriller in favor of UC


     According to Wikipedia: the fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. However, Friday night will be a lucky one for either the UC Bearcats or West Virginia Mountaineers. If you want to go back in history, I'm not sure if UC has ever played on Friday the 13th seeing as they usually don't play on Friday.

     I can tell you in recent history (which for this piece will be since 1990) UC's played ON the 13th of a month six times. They broke even.

     Some are memorable games though....

     October 13th, 1990: Tim Murphy's squad (which would struggle at 1-10) goes to Morgantown and only falls to West Virginia 28-20.

     November 13th, 1993: Murph's men in their best year (8-3) go to the Astrodome and beat Houston 41-17.

     November 13th, 1997: Rick Minter's best team loses at East Carolina in the rain on a Thursday night 14-7. The good news is shortly afterward, then-AD Bob Goin negotiated UC into the Humanitarian Bowl which they went onto win 35-19 to set the recent bowl activity into motion.

     October 13th, 2001: UC wins at UAB 31-17 (also in the rain as I recall).

     September 13th, 2003: UC shocks West Virginia in Morgantown in Chet Ervin's best game (three field goals).

     October 13th, 2007: In Brian Kelly's first year, Louisville spoils the Bearcats 6-0 start with a 28-24 win at Nippert.

     So, some games on the 13th have been good, some have been bad. This one, if it went bad would absolutely be a "horror movie".

     As good as West Virginia is and as well as they've played against the Bearcats all these years, this year the match-up points toward the Bearcats. The Mountaineers are 7-2, but they've been "dinged up" as coaches like to say.

     Looking at their last two games (a 30-19 loss at South Florida and Saturday's 17-9 win over Louisville in Morgantown) they've not been as impressive as past Mountaineer squads. Even last year, against a much better WVU team, UC was on the verge of a blow-out until the epic fourth quarter collapse that led to the eventual overtime win.

     This is another sellout, but this is one that doesn't tilt toward the Mountaineers. In past seasons, the UC/West Virginia game would sell out thanks to the loyal WVU fans who would load up the truck and buy up nearly half the tickets. Finding out beer was sold here was an added extra.

     Well, the beer's still here (us Cincinnatians work up a powerful thirst) but the stadium's full of UC fans now with just a smattering of the enterprising opposition sneaking in the cracks. This one's a "Ring of Red" game and should be rung up as another successful night.


UC's offense vs. WVU defense


At this point, I don't care if they start Tony Pike or Zach Collaros.  (Collaros is supposed to, but that could change by the end of this sentence the way the week's gone).  I think the Bearcats rack up yards and points with either one. For that matter, I think they'd still win if it was Chazz Anderson or Brendon Kay. I think the system is that sound. I think the key to a lot of it is a better running game with Isaiah Pead. (And, for the record, the student sign "You Got Pead On" last weekend was priceless). Pead is a 100-yard rusher on most teams and if Collaros is in, you've got something else to worry about. If Tony Pike plays as scheduled, WVU's secondary is suspect. He picked'em apart last year and he'll do it again. B.J. Daniels burned'em deep in Tampa for USF and the diminutive Will Stein of Louisville was also able to move the ball on them. On the defensive line, Chris Neild, Scooter Berry and Josh Taylor all were out against Louisville and when they're not in there's opportunity to run the ball against a smaller D-line. One to watch for though is Julian Miller who had three sacks vs. Louisville. And, Berry's supposed to be off suspension this week.  BK has compared Miller and Berry to USF's Jean Pierre-Paul and George Selvie, but I think he's just being nice.  The number to look at is 30. In WVU's two losses they gave up 30 and 41 points (USF and Auburn). I think UC's better than both of those teams and can easily rack up 30 points or more.


NOD: I'm a little curious as to when to correctly insert Tony Pike if Zach Collaros is having another All-American game.  That could be awkward.  Still, at home and in gear, I think UC scores over 30 and racks up another one.


WVU offense vs. UC defense


West Virginia still has awesome talent on offense. Jarrett Brown, Noel Devine, and Jock Sanders are weapons anyone would want. Brown is a dual threat and Devine is a 1,000-yard rusher. Having said that, they aren't Pat White and Steve Slaton. And, Devine went down vs. Louisville and Sanders had to pick up the slack on offense. The big thing here is how UC's defense responds to taking a second half beating against Connecticut. A similar thing happened in Morgantown last year when UC squandered a 20-7 lead in the final two minutes of the game. Pat McAfee's 52-yard field goal sent the game unnecessarily into OT and then a 27-yarder gave WVU it's only lead of the game in the overtime. Thankfully, college OT allows each team a possession (and UC won on the Pike to Alli TD). Brian Kelly was not happy with letting UConn back into the game and neither was defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. I would suspect a more intensified effort Friday night.


NOD: With Noel Devine, WVU's a potent offense. Without him, they're minus a weapon. With the uncertainty of everything, I'm sure WVU will move the ball regardless, but not as much over the goal line. Brown is good and elusive at QB, but not as much as B.J. Daniels who the Bearcats were able to eventually contain.


Special Teams


Jake Rogers is your Big East Special Teams Player of the Week for his four FG's against UConn. He also punted the ball fairly well (although I'm not a huge fan of the rugby kick). Also, Mardy Gilyard's returns were good even though he sometimes has some brain flatulence in the "fair catch or let it drop department". West Virginia knows that Gilyard torched them last year, so don't be shocked to see them kick away or kick to Darrin Williams (who also has "torchability"). BK also was very dissatisfied in UC allowing UConn return a punt for a score. For WVU, they've lost McAfee who was a pretty awesome kicker, but his replacements are pretty decent. Tyler Bitancurt is 8-9 on FG's and punter Scott Kozlowski averages 45.5 per boot. Tavon Austin is the big return threat.


NOD: WVU's kickers are solid, but Rogers has the "home post familiarity". Kicking to Gilyard or not, Darrin Williams and D.J. Woods are both capable of breaking big plays when the pigskin drops into their hands from the air.


Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks


I heard both Bill Stewart and Brian Kelly talk to the media this week. BK polished up his Stradivarius again and repeated the "Quarterback Song". Even though logic tells you who's playing each week, Kelly still seems to throw some doubt into the opposition. Then there's good ol' sincere Bill Stewart. He comes across as a guy you'd like to be sitting on the front porch with sipping some sweet tea. "Listening between the lines", to me it sounds like he's got an injured team. Try as he might to cover it up, he's almost too honest. (Mind you, I find that an admirable quality, but it doesn't always fly in FBS

competition.) Despite that, WVU still has enough athletes to give you a game each week. It's just that I can't say this is one of the stronger Mountaineer teams. The fact that the Bearcats haven't beaten West Virginia much historically is also a factor. This is another chance for UC to make a nationwide statement (this time on the Friday night platform). In my opinion, they fell a little short of that vs. UConn with the late defensive collapse. They can make amends to the BCS watchers with a convincing win here.

BCS Playofffs Start Now!

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OK; everyone has released their collective breaths after the UConn game this past weekend that saw ABC send in the A-Team, signaling the continual rise of the Bearcats in national popularity or at least curiosity. While the offense probably won some recruits the defense gave others hope for victory with a legitimate running game. I would imagine Coach Kelly will have that fixed before the Mountaineers get here.

Speaking of West Virginia, the playoffs start now for UC; not as if every game up until now didn't matter, it just means to have any chance of playing in the title game, winning against them, Illinois and Pitt with some upsets along the way could put UC in position to play for all the marbles and avenge a less than average showing last year in Miami in a BCS showcase. I'm not convinced the BCS Mess of a selection process will let UC play this year no matter what happens but that's for us to worry about. If this team wins out and some teams lose it gives us a chance to clamor for a grand jury investigation and even file injunctions for the heck of it. But more importantly it gives us a stronger in-state presence with recruits and signals to the rest of college football, the talent that made all the other schools powerhouses are now staying at home. That will ultimately make us a top ranked team at the beginning of the season and from there we control our own destiny. Ask Florida, Southern Cal and Texas what that means. They start out number(s) 1-3 and from there they just ride the wave through the end of the season. Even if they lose their conference game they're still in position to win it all.

So it starts this week and runs through Pittsburgh and from there who knows what. But one thing I do know is this: We're talking about the University of Cincinnati playing for the national championship in football and its legit. Ironically if they don't play for that game they'll probably play in a BCS game and that's more everything for UC. Money, enrollment, merchandise sales and yes even more bandwagon alumni. Can't knock them; whether they get on board now or later they're coming back home and that's a good thing...

That's the way I see it sitting in the Box Seat.

BK changes his mind again

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After the 47-45 UC win against UConn on Saturday night, Brian Kelly - who originally said Tony Pike would return to the starting quarterback position when he was healthy - said he would reconsider his stance.

 

Especially after backup Zach Collaros set a school record (and a Big East conference mark) with 555 yards of total offense while leading the Bearcats to a school-best 711 yards of offense.

 

On Monday, Kelly said he's changed his mind once again.

 

"If Tony is fully healthy, he's our starter," Kelly said on the weekly Big East coaches conference call. "The issue is, this becomes day to day. There are X-rays and so much that's out of my hands medically, and the risk factor. What's the risk factor in putting him out there? If that's not an issue ... what Zach Collaros did over the last 3 weeks and his body of work is outstanding, and you take Tony Pike's body of work, he's the starter. There's no question about that. That's an ever-changing proposition for us. I know that's why it sounds like we're stonewalling, but we're going day to day with Tony Pike until we feel he's 100 percent.

 

"I re-examined (the issue). I was dead serious. I went back and thought about clearly the plusses and the minuses, lots of plusses with both guys. After careful consideration, Tony's our guy. We've got to make sure he's at the level he needs to be. Now that we've got another guy who can win games and a championship for us, we've got to make sure (Pike) is at the level."

Two Big Topics

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I know that my pals Lance and Mo do a ton of prep before hosting their daily talk shows, but they probably won't need to this week.  They can simply bring up either of these two topics and watch the switchboard light up:

 

1.  Pike or Collaros?

2.  How much longer can UC hold on to Brian Kelly?

 

Let's start with the quarterback dilemma.  We discussed it at the end of the post-game show on Saturday night and I said, "If Tony Pike is healthy, it is still his job." 

 

Zach Collaros has been unbelievable.  In three starts he's 66-for-82 (80%) for 1,028 yards, 8 touchdowns and no interceptions.  That's an NFL quarterback rating of 151.3.  Between high school and college, Zach is 33-0 as a starting quarterback.

 

But I think some folks have conveniently forgotten how well Pike was playing before he got hurt.  Remember the "Pike For Heisman" t-shirts?  Remember the Mel Kiper big board?  I still think that a healthy Pike would give the Bearcats the best chance to beat an elite opponent.

 

The key word is healthy.  Right now, Tony is wearing a high-tech brace on his left arm that disperses the impact of a hit away from the injured area.  That's allowed Tony to run the offense in practice and he has been medically cleared to play.

 

But if he's limited in any way, it will be next-to-impossible to pull Collaros.  I have tremendous admiration for Tony Pike and would hate to see his senior year end due to injury, but the stakes are too high to base the decision on anything other than picking the guy who gives the team the best chance to win.

 

It's a tough call for Brian Kelly.  Fortunately, it's not nearly as tough as trying to stop whomever he selects.

 

That brings us to hot button topic number two - the inevitable Notre Dame rumors . . . or Michigan rumors . . . or fill-in-the-blank school with a bad record and big budget rumors.

 

At times I wonder if Brian Kelly thinks more highly of the UC job than those of us who want him to keep it.  Every Notre Dame loss sets off a new wave of panic.  The Enquirer does a mostly positive story about the topic and readers are angry that they even brought it up.  No matter what Coach Kelly says about wanting to stay at Cincinnati, people assume that someone will make him an offer that he can't refuse.

 

I don't pretend to be BK's closest confidant, but we've discussed it enough that I know that he really likes it here.  His family likes it here.  In less than three years, he's proven that you can win big at Cincinnati, pack the stadium, and make a ton of money.  Heck, if everything falls just right, he could be playing for a national championship in 60 days.

 

Furthermore, his legitimate concerns about the job are being addressed.  People from all economic backgrounds have generously stepped up to get a practice facility and indoor bubble built.  All signs point toward it being completed by next fall.

 

Nippert Stadium improvements will be the next hurdle to clear.  Let's face it, the ability to generate more revenue through luxury boxes, club seats, and expanded capacity is a necessity.  For Coach Kelly to stay long term it will have to get done.

 

Admittedly, stadium improvements are not an issue at the schools that will attempt to hire him.  Somebody could offer to double his salary.  But that comes with a price - the 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year scrutiny that he and his family don't have to put up with at Cincinnati.

 

Brian Kelly is at a BCS school that's located in a recruiting-rich environment and plays in a conference without a perennial powerhouse.

 

Isn't it possible that he's perfectly happy building one?

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

UC-UConn Rock 'N Roll Party

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Obviously, Zach Collaros has become a star.

 

He completes 29 of 37 passes for 480 yards (second-best in school history and fourth-best in Big East history) and one touchdown. He rushes for 75 yards on 13 carries, bringing his total offensive yardage to 555 - a school record and a new Big East mark. He leads his team to 711 yards - also the highest mark in UC history and the second-best ever in the conference.

 

Basically, you won't find a better performance by a quarterback, and including tonight's stats, he's 70 of 89 for 1,100 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception since he took over for Tony Pike in the South Florida game. Hat tip to C. Trent Rosecrans for figuring out that his quarterback ranking is 209.9.

 

That's not bad for a backup quarterback. Only now, he might not be the backup, even when Pike is healthy and ready to play. All along, Brian Kelly has said that Tony Pike would be the starter when he's healthy enough to return. Now, that's not necessarily the case.

 

"OK, I've changed my mind," he said. "Based upon the way (Collaros) has played the last three games, I think I have to reconsider my decision We'll see how (Pike) practices and then make a decision late in the week."

 

Initially, Kelly said he wanted to get Pike some playing time tonight if the right circumstance presented itself. It obviously never did. So, now what? Can Pike fight back and reclaim his spot? Or does he go the way of Dustin Grutza, who lost his job to Pike last season after an injury and never gained it back? Pike, just a few weeks ago, was a Heisman Trophy candidate. Thing is, Collaros is quickly becoming the star that supplants him.

 

Typically, Collaros deflected some of the praise in the postgame presser.

 

"We have a very good offensive scheme," he said. "Mardy is catching everything - Armon (Binns) and D.J. Woods, too. Great receivers and great playmakers around, they have to expect the run with Jake and Isaiah. You have to take something away. Otherwise, it's pitch and catch out there with one-on-one matchups."

 

--I was a little surprised on the postgame sideline to see how disappointed the Bearcats were. Once Charley Howard sealed the game by corralling the last-second onside kick and the offense went into its victory formation, J.K. Schaffer, who was sitting on the sideline with his eyes glued to the ground, exhaled and slowly got to his feet.

 

The team did not run to the student section, like normal, to pay its respects. Instead, the Bearcats slowly, wearily walked over. On the way to the locker room, Andre Revels looked perturbed and shook his head in exasperation.

 

One exception: Kelly found offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn, and with big smiles on their faces, the two embraced happily in the middle of the field.

 

"There were a lot of guys in there that I had to tell, 'Hey, you just won a football game,'" Kelly said. "They had that look about them. You have to enjoy a win like that. It's hard to win. Sometimes you have to tell your kids, 'Enjoy it.' We have things to work on, but great win."

 

--So, yeah, about that defense. Tough performance by the Bearcats there, allowing 462 yards of total offense and 45 points to the Huskies.

 

"In the first half, we really didn't play too bad," said Schaffer, who finished with eight tackles, two behind the team lead that Dominique Battle and Revels shared. "We had a small mistake here and there. When all 11 guys aren't on the same page, that will hurt you. In the second half, it wasn't as much the big plays, but more that they were pounding the ball. They had an extremely powerful offense. It was a real tough, hard-hitting game. Kudos to our offense for keeping the points on the board and helping us out a little bit."

 

Overall, though, the performance might help the defense. Maybe not tonight and maybe not this week when, I imagine, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs rip into the Bearcats. But in the future, UC's defense could benefit from tonight's performance.

 

"It's always exciting when you don't play your best and still get a win," Schaffer said. "It just shows you how much better you can get. Right now, it's not the best thing in the world to give up as many yards and points as we did. In the long run, it will help us, because it will show us the weaknesses we have."

 

--Listened to UConn coach Randy Edsall speak for a bit before the Bearcats made their way to the postgame presser. A sampling of what he said:

 

"If they're No. 4 in the country or No. 5 or No. 7, we're not far off."

 

"I told (the Huskies) before the game, play loose. Let it fly. Don't worry about making a mistake. I think some guys might have been a little tight. In the second half, we did a much better job."

 

--The play of the game - the play that ended up really good but could have been disastrous - was the fourth and 1 call from the UConn 13-yard line with about 2 minutes to play when Pead stutter-stepped his way for the touchdown.

 

"I just felt like the way Connecticut was playing, I didn't want to give them any more chances," Kelly said. "They had used their timeouts obviously and the interesting part of that was if we just fall down (after gaining the first down but before scoring the touchdown) the game is over. We get the first down and we don't score a touchdown, the game is over, because then we can just kneel it out. It's hard on fourth down to tell your guy to just fall down and not score a touchdown. I felt like, 'Let's end the game right here.'"

UC-UConn LIVE blog

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It's about 35 minutes before the game, and Tony Pike is on the field and in uniform warming up. He and Zach Collaros are alternating snaps.

Well, the atmosphere is pretty electric I would say. Everybody seems to be in their seats early.

First quarter

Zach Collaros is your starting quarterback and a quick handoff to Jake Ramsey, who bullies his way for eight yards. Kazeem Alli is your first TE in the game. First three touches go to Ramsey and the Collaors hits Mardy Gilyard for the first down. Three-straight to Gilyard. UC just marching on down the field. A looong run by Ramsey brings the ball to the 1-yard line. He found a seam off left guard and went 44 yards. It looked like Collaros hit Adrien Robinson on the fade for the 1-yard score, and the flag flies. Defensive pass interference, but the play is under review. Looked like Robinson had it, even though the official said incompete. Perhaps a question of whether he had control of the ball before he went out of bounds. It looked like he was holding the ball over his head as he went out of bounds. The review has been upheld. I'll be first and goal at the 1. Isaiah Pead runs off left tackle and looks like he's met before the goal line, but officials rule it a TD. And yeah, on the review, it looked like he pushed his way in there.

UC 7, UConn 0 (12:03 to go)

Bad snap to start the offense for UConn, but Zach Frazer jumps up to get it and and pitches it to Jordan Todman to gain seven yards. Thirteen-yard pass from Frazer to Jory Johnson, and then Andre Dixon for a nice rushing gain. The Huskies moving the ball down the field as well in their no-huddle offense. Aaron Webster infiltrates the backfield and stops Dixon for a 1-yard loss. WR Marcus Easley takes the end-around and gains 11 yards for the first down. UConn is at the UC 25. Man, these UConn running backs are quick and shifty. Luckily, Dixon runs into an official. Otherwise he might have scored. Still, first and goal from the UC 7. And Todman, behind some UConn blockers, runs in basically untouched for the 6-yard TD. That looked pretty easy for the Huskies.

UC 7, UConn 7 (7:27 to go)

On the kickoff return, Collin McCafferty goes down and stays down. Eventually, he gets up and runs off the field, but it didn't look good. Pead gets it started with a 10-yard gain. Midway through the first, UC already has 72 yards rushing. Now, center Chris Jurek goes down and takes a while to get off the field. Evan Davis replaces him and will snap to Collaros. I don't know how Gilyard caught that with Blidi Wreh-Wilson had his hands up in the air. Great pass by Collaros and a great catch by Gilyard. It went 54 yards and it's at the UConn 22. Collaros runs around for a while and loses two yards. It'll be third and 12 from the UConn 24. Chris Jurek, by the way, is back in the game. Collaros is incomplete, bringing up fourth down. Jake Rogers nails the 41-yard FG to give UC the lead once again.

UC 10, UConn 7 (4:57 to go)

Tommy G. reports that McCafferty has a head injury and is being evaluated. On first down, Curtis Young gets Dixon from behind for a 1-yard loss. It'll be third and 11 from the UConn 29. Alex Daniels crushes Frazer, and Dominique Battle had the chance for the INT (and possibly a pick-6). But he flat out drops it. Or, in Bengals parlance, we call that a flash.

Delay of game before the Bearcats take a snap. Collaros has completed seven passes to Gilyard for 108 yards so far. And there are still 2 minutes left in the first quarter. It'll be third and 1 from the Huskies 35. Collaros on the designed sneak, but he's met by Lawrence Wilson fora  1-yard loss. UC will go for it. Ben Guidugli, who suffered a concussion last week, is playing tonight, BTW. On fourth and 2, UC has to call timeout. Collaros rolls right and finds D.J. Woods for a 24-yard completion. It'll be first and 10 at the Huskies 12.

Second quarter

Collaros to Woods for eight yards. Collaros is hit hard by Wreh-Wilson at the goal line, but he gets through anyway for the 4-yard touchdown. Another nice drive by the Bearcats.

UC 17, UConn 7 (14:12 to go)

According to Tommy G., McCafferty has a concussion and is done for the day. You'd think UConn can't afford to fall too far behind. Frazer to Marcus Easley for the first down. Frazer to Kashif Moore on the screen, but Walter Stewart with the nice tackle, bringing up third and 4 from the Huskies 41. Timeout UConn. Frazer complete to FB Anthony Sherman for the first down. Then Frazer hits Easley for the 25-yard gain to get into UC territory. Dixon is hit by Andre Revels to lose a yard. It'll be third and six from the UC 25. Frazer to Easley, but he can't handle it. Fourth down and Dave Teggart on for the 42-yard FG. And he hits it.

UC 17, UConn 10 (9:47 to go)

Man, Mardy Gilyard looks good on these kickoff returns. Here he picks the ball up on the gaol line, and sprints down the right sideline before he's stopped at the UC 39. Oops, a tripping penalty on Jason Kelce brings it back to the 29. First and 20. Collaros to Binns cuts that in half. Then, Collaros to Woods gains the first down. But a penalty, and it's a penalty for unneccessary roughness on Alli. UC keeps the first down but moves back to the UC 43. After Collaros scrambles and throws away the ball, it'll be third and 9 from the 44. That was just Collaros' third incompletion. Naturally, Collaros then goes to Gilyard across the middle for a first down. A little jump pass, a la Tim Tebow, to Robinson, who gains 20 yards. Ball not the Huskies 17. Now, it's third and 8 from the 15. Woods neawrly has the first down, but is tripped up by the Huskies two yards short. Fourth and 2 from the 10. UC will call timeout. Jake Rogers out to attempt the 27-yard FG, and he hits it. I'm sure the Bearcats wouldn't mind a three-and-out for UConn here.

UC 20, UConn 10 (4:49 to go)

That's two drops by UC defensive backs today. Aaron Webster had a sure pick on the sideline, but it bounces right out of his hands. Third and 5 from the UConn 25. Frazer throws too high and is incomplete. UC will decline the holding penalty, and, just like I predicted (sort of), UConn with the three and out. Gilyard, at first, backs away from the punt, then tries to get it, misses it (but apparently touches it) and then knocks it out of bounds.

Collaros fakes the handoff to Ramsey and gains 18 yards to the UC 35. Two handoffs to Ramsey brings up a third and 6 from the UC 40. I'll tell you what: I'm not sure you know this , but UC's receivers are really pretty damn good. Collaros to Binns for the 19-yard first down. Heck of a catch. And then of course, just an amazing throw and catch to Binns, who shakes off the pass interference penalty and makes the 41-yard score. That was impressive.

UC 27, UConn 10 (1:48 to go)

It'll be third and two from the UConn 25, and a host of Bearcats sack Frazer. UC takes a timeout with 28 seconds left so the Huskies have to punt. Second straight three-and-out for UConn.

UC goes all out for the punt block, but UConn gets off the kick. D.J. Woods, instead of Gilyard, calls for the fair catch. A hail mary that Gilyard tips to Adrien Robinson, who steps out of bounds at the 8.That was pretty ridiculous. First and 10 from the UConn 8 with  12 seconds to play. Collaros throws it away. Then, Rogers sets up for the field goal, and things get weird. Collaros, the holder, takes the snap and throws it out of bounds immediately. He's penalized for intentional grounding. So, UC quickly sets up the 34 yard field goal, snaps it with 2 seconds to play and Rogers hits it. Weird. Like C. Trent says, though, you just can't give UC any opening.

UC 30, UConn 10 (half)

Some halftime stats: Collaros is 19 of 24 for 333 yards and a touchdown. Gilyard has nine catches for 127 yards. Ramsey has 79 yards on seven carries.

Third quarter

UConn starts at its own 30 and moves the ball into UC territory. It'll be third and 9 from the UC 44. Screen to Todman is a tad high and a tad hard. Incomplete. Huskies will punt to Gilyard. UC will start at its own 6.

It's always a pleasure to welcome in Bootsy Collins to the press box. Even if your back is to the press box elevator, the air feels different when Bootsy walks in. And UC will have to punt for the first time today. Three and out.

UConn starts at its own 43. Frazer to Brad Kanuch for the first down to get inside UC territory. And apparently, the Huskies haven't given up. Todman finds a hole off right guard and bursts through for the 46 yard TD.

UC 30, UConn 17 (9:59 to go)

UConn seems to have picked up a litlte momentum. I'm sure UC will try to squash that. And yes, Pead is quick too. He gains 18 yards for the first down. Then, Collaros to Gilyard for an 18-yard pickup. Ball at the UConn 37. Pead for no gain on second down, and it'll be third and 1 at the UC 28. Collaros fakes the handoff, breaks a Lawrence Wilson tackle and scampers into the end zone for the 28-yard score. And UC has some breathing room.

UC 37, UConn 17 (7:03 to go)

Frazer opens the series by eating Easley for a 28-yard pass.On second down, Frazer tries to hit Kashif Moore, and he gets hammered by two Bearcats. It''ll be third and 10 from the UConn 48. Frazer way off on that pass. UConn will punt.

As UC takes the ball with 5:24 to play in the third quarter, UC has accumulated 545 yards of total offense. Collaros has to scramble and somehow finds Alli for a 38-yard gain. Third and 10 from the UC 48. Inside screen to Gilyard gains 8, bringing up fourth and 2 at the UConn 44. Bearcats will take a timeout. Bearcats will punt. Maybe they shouldn't have. Robert McClain takes the punt 87 yards for the touchdown after a UC special teams breakdown. You know what that means, though. More Bearcats offense.

UC 37, UConn 24 (2:08 to go) 

It kind of looks like Collaros is playing a video game here. He hits Binns for a 31-yard completion to bring it to the UConn 38. Collaros to Woods, and Gilyard with a nice block for a 12-yard gain. It'll be third and 1 from the 17.

Fourth quarter

Collaros has to throw the ball away. Fourth and 1, and the FG unit comes out. Rogers is perfect for the 35-yard field goal.

UC 40, UConn 24 (14:51 to go)

Entering the fourth quarter, Collaros has 447 yards passing and 68 yards rushing. That equals 515 yards of total offense.

Todman with nine yards to make it third and 1 for the UConn 41. Todman with the first down. And the Huskies keep the pressure on. Frazer to Kashif Moore, who beats Drew Frey for the 53-yard touchdown. Well, we're under review now. I think Moore's knee was down before the ball crossed the plane. And it was. First and goal from the UC 1. And Todman with the easy 1-yard TD. Todman to Easley for the 2-point conversion. Hell, UC might need 800 yards of offense just to win this game.

UC 40, UConn 32 (13:21 to go)

Collaros tries to get it to Gudugli but it falls incomplete. It looked like Collaros had Binns open down field but he rushes for two yards before going out of bounds. It'll be third and 8 from the UC 32. Collaros keeps and is short of the first down. And you know what? The crowd begins to boo.

UConn takes over at its 38. After a Todman carry, it'll be third and 3 from the UConn 45. About five Bearcats had a shot at Todman, but somehow he gets the first down. Short pass, Todman short run. Third and 1 at the UC 43. Looks pretty close, as the Bearcats gang-tackled him. Nope, didn't get it. Fourth and inches. Todman gets it that time. First down. Todman with another gain, and Dominique Battle with the personal foul facemask. That brings the ball to the UC 11.Todman gains three yards to the 8. Anthony Sherman gains three yards. Third and four from the 5. Todman again, and he's a yard short. Fourth and 1 from the 2. Todman bullies his way into the end zone for the 2-yard score. Just an unreal game we've got going here. Play is under review and Edsall drops his headset in exasperation. Yeah, the review stands. And Curtis Young with the huge sack of Frazer on the two-point conversion. That might be the play of the game.

UC 40, UConn 38 (5:03 to go)

Nice kickoff return by Gilyard. Brings the ball to the UC 44. Collaros somehow avoids the sack and finds Ramsey on the sideline for the 11-yard gain and the first down. Play-calling has been very conservative. Collaros with a short pass to Alli. Gains three yards. It'll be third and 6 from the UConn 41. Collaros to Gilyard on the slant for an 18-yard gain. Big, big play. UConn takes its second timeout. UC keeps putting the ball in the hands of its experienced players. Ramsey with an eight yard gain. UConn with its final timeout. Collaros keeps and loses three. Third and five from the 18. Collaros with the fake playaction and appears to get the first down. The offical marks him short, though, and peopl are not happy about it. Play is under review. Wow, that's really close. His foot hit the out of bounds line, but it's unclear whether the ball crossed the imaginary first down line. If I'm guessing, I'm saying he did not get it. And he didn't. Fourth and 1, and give the ball to Pead. Great stutter-step and somehow he gets in for the 13-yard TD. Robert Vaughn had a shot at him, but Pead's stutter step froze him.

UC 47, UConn 38 (1:52 to go)

Going to field. Hold the fort down for me.

We Shouldn't Take It For Granted

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My respect for Brian Kelly continues to grow.  And I wasn't sure that was possible.

 

Today Iowa lost its starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the second quarter with a lower leg injury.  When he the left the game, the Hawkeyes led Northwestern 10-7.

 

But backup quarterback James Vandenberg was not able to lead Iowa to any more points and the Hawkeyes suffered their first loss of the season 17-10.  Vandenberg was 9 for 27 for 82 yards with 0 TD and 1 INT.

 

Cincinnati has done such an incredible job of winning despite quarterback injuries over the last two years that many of us - myself included - totally take it for granted.

 

We shouldn't - and either should the people who vote in the AP and USA Today polls.

 

In the 10 quarters that Tony Pike has missed since injuring his left arm, the Bearcats have outscored the opposition 86-24.

 

Zach Collaros - who had thrown a grand total of 4 career passes entering the season - has taken over for a Heisman Trophy candidate and posted a NCAA quarterback rating of 218.44.

 

To put that into perspective, the NCAA record for a season is 204.6 (set by William & Mary's Shawn Knight in 1993).

 

I hope Brent and Kirk point out just how extraordinary that is to a national television audience tonight.

 

I can promise you that we'll be talking about it on the radio.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

UC-UConn preview

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In the Brian Kelly era at UC, there have been only a few times where the Bearcats played just an awful game they had no business winning. The Pitt game from 2007 springs to mind immediately, and even though, the final score was pretty close (a 24-17 decision), UC clearly wasn't ready to play that day. As a result, the Bearcats were pretty terrible.

 

Maybe last year's 20-7 Orange Bowl loss to Virginia Tech can be grouped into this category as well, but I attribute that more to poor execution than a negative mindset. I think, though, last year's 40-16 disaster at Connecticut is the worst I've ever seen a Brian Kelly-led UC team play.

 

Quarterback Tony Pike, who had just returned after missing two games with his broken arm, got knocked out midway through the game. Though the Bearcats took a 13-10 lead into halftime - I had forgotten they actually were winning the game halfway through - the Huskies scored 30 points in the final 30 minutes to dominate the game.

 

"That's definitely in the back of our minds," redshirt freshman Drew Frey said. "To get handled that easily last year is definitely going to stick in our hearts a little bit and its going to be one of the drivers for the game."

         

Still, it's only two horribly-played games in Kelly's 36-game reign. To me, that's a pretty impressive stat, and I wondered why that is. Why don't the Bearcats seem to have many off-days where they suffer through a blowout loss? Happens to everybody, right? Well, with the Bearcats the past three seasons, it happens almost never.

 

"We really prepare well week in and week out," quarterback Zach Collaros said. "With the strength program, everybody is well conditioned. And it's the play-calling. Coach Kelly doesn't let things go south. He really has a great grasp of what's going on out there and how to keep us in games."

 

Which brings us to tonight's game vs. the Huskies. Kelly has said all week how UConn's 4-4 record is misleading. And he's right, considering that those four losses have been by a mere 13 points.

 

"We're not making it up when we say they're a 4-4 team that could be 8-0," Kelly said. "Clearly, they're a very good football team that hasn't finished games off. We'll have to play very well to get a win."

 

UConn quarterback Cody Endres - who replaced an injured Zach Frazer in the North Carolina game after Frazer went out with an injury and started the next six games - underwent season-ending shoulder surgery this week. That means Frazer (a 48.3 completion percentage for 554 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions this year) will get the nod tonight.

 

But perhaps the biggest challenge for the Bearcats defense is UConn's running game. Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman have combined to gain 1,367 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Dixon, who's third in the Big East and 36th in the country with 87.9 rushing yards per game, is the elusive back, while Todman is more physical. Compare those two players to Jacob Ramsey and Isaiah Pead, and you get a pretty good idea of what to expect from the Huskies offense.

 

"They're committed to running the football," Kelly said. "These are Big East backs. This is what you'd expect from them."

 

--Brian Kelly said today on ESPN that Pike has been cleared medically to play but that Collaros would make his third-straight start. He said Pike might play in the right situation. Will he or won't he? I have no idea. I've given up trying to guess what it all means. But if you're UC, it sounds like it's good news either way. If another week of rest for Pike allows him to be closer to 100 percent for next Friday's game vs. West Virginia, I think you'd play Collaros today, and if he plays well enough to give the Bearcats a comfortable lead, you keep him in the game.

 

--We were talking to Frey on Tuesday, and somebody asked him if he grimaced at the word "freshman," especially considering, because of his two redshirt years, he's in the middle of his third rookie season.

 

"No, in that time period, I've learned the system," Frey said. "I feel I can take a little more of a leadership role even though I have the title of a 'freshman.' It works well, because I have quite a few years left to play but I can rally the troops if I have to.

 

"I tell my parents that I don't want to grow up. I want to stay here as long as I can. To be given the term 'freshman,' that doesn't hinder me at all. I actually like it."

 

--<b>Prediction:</b> Well, I'm 8-0 in getting these predictions correct, so I think it'd be foolish to try to pick against UC today. With Collaros riding high, I think the Bearcats get the job done. Say, UC 27, UConn 17

Almost Perfect

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Ready for a great stat of the day to wow your Bearcat loving friends?

 

If you use the complicated NFL passer rating system, a perfect score for a quarterback is 158.3.

 

In his first two starts at Cincinnati, sophomore Zach Collaros has a rating of 156.9.

 

Pretty impressive huh?

 

I attended practice on Thursday and can tell you that Tony Pike took part in some 7-on-7 drills.  While there have been published reports that Collaros is likely to start, Pike is clearly getting get close to returning and Coach Kelly told us on his radio show that Tony definitely will be in uniform this week.

 

When Pike is ready to play he gets his job back - it's as simple as that.  But what about the next two years?  I asked Coach Kelly if it's too soon to say that he's found his next starting quarterback.

 

"Well it certainly is a good start - let's put it that way," BK said.  "I don't want to take anything away from the young man because he's been outstanding.  He's allowed us to run our offense - that's been the biggest thing.  We haven't had to go back and cut down our offensive system so anytime that you can be seamless puts you in a pretty good position for the next couple of years."

 

While Tony Pike will almost certainly be back in action soon, UConn lost its starting QB Cody Endres for the rest of the season when he separated his shoulder last week against Rutgers.

 

Enter Zach Frazer - the Notre Dame transfer - who visited Cincinnati a few years ago before deciding to play for Connecticut.

 

Frazer started the Huskies first two games of the season before suffering a knee injury and lost his job to Endres.  He saw action for the first time in six games last week, and passed for 333 yards against Rutgers.

 

"Live arm," Coach Kelly said.  "Likes to throw the football and can make all the throws.  He was a national recruit and has all of the physical tools.  He's made some mistakes and turnovers (3 TD, 7 INT), but if he continues to improve, they've got another really good quarterback at the helm."

 

* * * * *

 

Connecticut enters Saturday's game with a 4-4 record and all four losses have been excruciating.

 

Week 2 - UConn led North Carolina 10-0 entering the 4th quarter and wound up losing 12-10 when they were called for holding in their own end zone for a safety with 1:32 left.

 

Week 5 - UConn had a 21-3 lead late in the third quarter at Pitt, but lost by three on a field goal as time expired.

 

Week 7 - Less than a week after the death of Jasper Howard, UConn took a 24-21 lead at West Virginia with 3:50 left on an 88-yard touchdown pass, but allowed a 56-yard TD run by Noel Devine less than two minutes later to lose by four.

 

Week 8 - Took a 24-21 lead over Rutgers on a 2-yard run with 38 seconds to go, but allowed an 81-yard touchdown pass 16 seconds later to lose 28-24.

 

That's four losses by a total of 13 points - all decided in the last 2:10.  But the Huskies continue to show tremendous resilience since the stabbing death of Howard.

 

"It starts at the top with great leadership from Randy Edsall during these trying times," Coach Kelly said.  "He'll have his football team ready to play and I know they're excited about the opportunity to play a top-ranked team at Nippert Stadium.  I think they've overcome a lot and when you have a leader like Randy, he's going to get those kids settled in and ready to play and they'll play extremely hard."

 

* * * * *

 

The Mountain State Cougars from Beckley, West Virginia are off to a 4-0 start.

 

Why does that NAIA program get a mention on the blog?  Because its roster includes Alvin Mitchell and Nick Aldridge.

 

Mitchell had 31 points in Mountain State's last game and is averaging 18.3 through four games.

 

Aldridge opened the season with a 40 point/10 rebound game and is averaging 24 points. 

 

Sure it's NAIA competition, but Alvin and Nick have some ability.  They both blew great opportunities to play at UC and I'm guessing that Coach Cronin requires less headache medication these days.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

The new and improved Anthony McClain

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Anthony McClain has always had a hard time putting on - and keeping on - weight. As a 7-footer weighing 245 pounds last year, he looked basically like a tall, skinny kid trying to play with the heavyweight power forwards and centers of the Big East.

 

That's kind of how he felt, too.

 

But in the offseason, as he prepared to enter his junior season with the UC basketball squad - which takes the court tonight at 7:30 for an exhibition game against Division II Saginaw Valley State - McClain has gained 20 pounds. His arms look bigger. His confidence has grown. And he's looking to make a big impact in the paint for the Bearcats.

 

"Putting on the weight was big. Real big," McClain said. "Playing at 245 pounds in the Big East, where people like to bang a lot, it takes a big toll on your body. This is going to help me out a lot. It is a big difference from when I was playing at 245 to playing now at 265 practicing against Yancy (Gates). Yancy is a big guy - him and Steve Toyloy. I feel like I can handle my own more in practice. I don't have to find myself getting pushed out of the way. I can stand on my ground."

 

I watched him play in the UC scrimmage last Saturday, and for the first few minutes, McClain looked pretty darn good. Looked more aggressive, looked stronger. Eventually, he seemed to tire, which limited his effectiveness, but if he plays like that, he will improve upon his career averages of 2.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 8.3 minutes per game.

 

"You gain confidence as you gain experience," Mick Cronin said. "At times, he looked like a puppy out there in Big East play. He was 7-0, but it's been a struggle to get him to where he's at. He's 267 right now. He's grown an inch and gained 20-something pounds. He's older, he's tougher and he has more physicality. He has more presence around the rim. That's what we need from him - presence around the rim, dunking the ball, finishing plays, blocking shots, clogging up the paint."

 

Last season was tough for McClain. His role on the team decreased, and when he played, he seemed overmatched. It was not an easy time for him.

 

"It was a learning experience," McClain said. "Every year I've had here has been a learning experience. I was playing a lot my freshman year and getting used to it. Then, in my second year, the experience of not playing and going through all types of things, that's helped me out a lot going into this year."

 

Said Rashad Bishop: "I've seen a big change. He works harder. He's put on a lot more weight - that was one of his biggest problems. His body wasn't really ready. He had to put on more weight to improve. He's stronger, he's grabbing more rebounds. He's going to be big."

 

For himself and for the Bearcats perimeter defenders. Last year, they felt more pressure while playing because they knew if they let their man get by them in the lane, nobody would be around to help defend. If McClain is in there, though, he becomes a shot-blocking force.

 

More than that, Cronin has seen a big change in McClain. He's fully invested in the program these days.

 

"What happens with juniors is that they're in your program and they're working hard but they always have an option to transfer," Cronin said. "Once you get to your junior year, you're in and you're not leaving. You believe in the program. Now you're just focused on getting your degree and being the best player you can be. Things kind of clear up for you. Now it's on you to decide your future. He's done a great job in the offseason."

Now, the season starts

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Jamelle Elliott's only been in town since May, but it must seem like a lifetime for the new UC women's basketball coach. Did you catch the front sports page story in the Enquirer on her? Here's a link, in case you want to read it again: http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20091101/SPT0101/911020345/1064/+New+UC+women+s+coach+reaches+out

Since she came from Connecticut to take over the Bearcat basketball program, for Coach Elliott, life has been one big whirlwind. It comes with the territory, though, when you're rebuilding a program. The first phase of that process wrapped up Wednesday night, at the last of the 'house parties' that Coach Elliott and her staff have been visiting this fall.

The theory behind the get-togethers is a simple one--introduce Coach Elliott to the community. But it's a lot more than that. It's a way to show fans and alums that the University has a renewed commitment to women's basketball. And it's a way for her new home town to invest in the future of the program, and in the future of the players.

Because this is about much more than basketball, it's about supporting the student-athletes who work countless hours at their sport to represent UC. It's about showing young girls inspiring role models.

So far, hundreds have invested in the program. Season ticket sales have more than doubled from earlier years, courtside seats are sold out and Coach Elliott has purchased two dozen tickets for each game to donate to underprivileged children in the area.  

The ball rolls out on the court for real on Sunday, November 15th. How Coach Elliott's team will do in her first year, no one can say for sure. But in the first six months, the program and the community have forged a tight bond that will do nothing but strengthen in years to come.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time To Pluralize "Next Man In"

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By now, all UC fans should be familiar with the phrase "Next Man In."  When the Bearcats used five different quarterbacks to win the Big East title last year, that expression became such an important rallying cry that it was engraved on the side of their Orange Bowl rings.

Next Man In on ring re.JPG 

Perhaps this year it should be changed to "Next Men In."

 

While sophomore quarterback Zach Collaros (pronounced kuh-lahr-iss by the way) has earned rave reviews while subbing for an injured Tony Pike, he's hardly the only backup who has helped Cincinnati to its 8-0 start.

 

Starters Sam Griffin, Drew Frey, Dominique Battle, Curtis Young, and Demetrius Jones have also missed games this season.  C.J. Cobb, Alex Hoffman, Cam Cheatham, Brad Jones, Marcus Barnett, and Walter Stewart have either moved into the starting lineup or changed positions to make sure that the 'Cats haven't missed a beat.

 

"When a guy does down, the next man has to be ready to go - that's just the way it is," offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn told me.  "We always talk about how in a lot of great battles in history, the best soldiers sometimes perish first.  It's the guy who picks up the rifle who has to help win the war."

 

Quinn has been part of Brian Kelly's coaching staff in all 19 seasons that Kelly has been a head coach and says the "Next Man In" philosophy didn't start when they got to Cincinnati.

 

"When we came from Central Michigan, I think he really put a phrase to it:  'Next Man In,' but that's always been part of his coaching philosophy," Quinn said.  "Every kid is important - don't ever ignore the responsibility of coaching all of the players that are out there every day.  That's always been a cornerstone of his coaching - embrace all of the players and get them to compete at a high level every day.  Don't just focus on the first team but look at all of the players and build a relationship with them every single day."

 

And not only during the season.

 

"There is no first team, second team, or third team in the weight room or off-season conditioning," Quinn said.  "We stay away from that and want all of our kids to develop and improve.  I think it really hits home with our kids that there's more to a good football team than one guy.  The sum of all of the parts is the strength of your football team."

 

It's added up to a 30-6 record since Brian Kelly and his staff arrived at Cincinnati.

 

* * * * *

 

You may have noticed that the Bearcats are wearing red, white, and blue wristbands this year in honor of Mitch Stone, the 12-year-old cancer patient whom the team adopted through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.

 

wristband.jpg 

(If you're not familiar with Mitch's story and what he means to the team, I strongly encourage you to read this profile from the New York Times a few weeks ago.)

 

Now the UC football team and Student Government have joined forces to support Mitch by making those wristbands available to fans for a $3 donation which will help Mitch's family tackle medical costs.

 

"I hope that the Mitch's Mission Bearcat Wristbands will be worn proudly throughout our community and have even a fraction of the impact that the LiveStrong bracelets do," said Student Government Public Relations Director Sean Huff."

 

The wristbands will go on sale tomorrow (Thursday, November 5th) at the University Pavilion's One Stop Center, the Tangeman University Center (TUC) bookstore, the Academic Health Center's bookstore, and TUC's MainStreet Connection Office.

 

For more information or to leave Mitch a message, please visit the Mitch's Mission website at mitchsmission.com.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

Enjoy this week's photo of the handsome lad in search of candy (instead of a fire) on Halloween.

 

Fireman seeks candy re.JPG

The improvement of the secondary

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Mike Williams entered last Saturday's game as one of the top receivers in the Big East and one of the biggest threats UC had faced this season. He, UC redshirt freshman safety Drew Frey said, was going to test the Bearcats secondary, perhaps like no other receiver the team had encountered this year.

 

Before facing UC, Williams was fifth in the nation with 118.7 receiving yards per game and tied for seventh with 7.5 catches per contest. He was good, and though the Bearcats secondary is still pretty darn young - including Frey, sophomore Dominique Battle, senior Aaron Webster and Brad Jones (though a senior, he didn't have a wealth of game experience entering the season) - they made Williams (four catches, 34 yards) a non-factor during the Bearcats 28-7 victory.

 

"He was definitely a threat in our eyes," said Frey, who picked up his second interception of the year with an end zone grab of a Greg Paulus pass. "Whenever you have an athlete of that caliber, you want to make sure to pay attention to where he is on the field. He's a great competitor and it showed that our secondary, to hinder what he's normally used to producing, is a success in our eyes."

 

That was the biggest question for a UC defense that had quite a few of them entering the season.

 

With the loss of Brandon Underwood, Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith, the coaching staff had to replace them with a gang of talented, yet mostly unproven defensive backs. Then, with a few injuries early in the season, the Bearcats - for the first five games of the year - didn't start the same four players in the secondary two weeks in a row.

 

Now, though, UC is in a groove.

 

"We had an injury here, we had an injury there and that was part of it," defensive backs Kerry Coombs said. "We were piecing things together and moving guys in and out. The experience level and us finding a comfort level in what they were able to do fitting into this package was always a big part of the package.

 

"We went through that time period a little unsettled. Since we've come in and said, 'These are the four guys, and they're going to play these four spots,' it's gotten better. That's the difference in the consistency of play."

 

One important factor that has helped the secondary's consistency is facing the Bearcats receiving corps every day in practice. Having to defend players like Mardy Gilyard, D.J. Woods, Armon Binns and Marcus Barnett on a daily basis takes its toll on the defensive backs. It also makes them better players.

 

"The biggest thing is we see great receivers every day in practice," Coombs said. "They'll beat you. That's a great lesson for us. If you're not going up against the quality of players every day in this offense, you aren't going to develop at the same level. It's frustrating to us getting beat on a play, but at the same time, these guys do it to everybody. That makes us better, because the pressure is on us every day in practice, which makes Saturdays more comfortable."

 

Battle is still young and improving, while Frey - who Brian Kelly has touted for the past two seasons but had suffered through two redshirt seasons - had one of the best games of his career. But perhaps the biggest surprise has been Jones, who had accumulated 36 tackles and three interceptions during his past 24 games. This year, he's recorded 29 tackles, including 2 ½ for a loss.

 

"Brad Jones is the one guy we didn't know about," Kelly said. "He didn't play very much. But he's been solid for us and he's given us a confidence that we know what we're going to get from Brad every week."

 

While the secondary still can't be compared to last year's defensive backs unit, Coombs is proud of his charges nonetheless.

 

"They're clearly not, at this point, the same talent level we had last year," Coombs said. "But at the same time, they're actually playing better. That's a rewarding thing."

 

--And speaking of Kerry Coombs - how about that segue? - he's going to be at the new LaRosa's in Colerain with myself, Lonnie Wheeler and John Baskin discussing and then signing copies of Bearcats Rising and Cincinnati Schoolboy Legends on Thursday at 7 p.m.. Come check it out. You know it's going to fit this Barney Stinson description to a T.

Jill Stephens well-prepared for life after basketball

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There's always something gratifying about hearing that a student-athlete has prepared for life after sports.

 

In some ways, Jill Stephens has been thinking about her future since shortly after she accepted a scholarship offer to play basketball at the University of Cincinnati.

 

"My mom was bound and determined that I come into college with a major," Stephens says. "She said you can't be undecided because you'll just take a bunch of classes that you don't need and you'll waste all this time."

 

Good advice. Not coincidently, Mom used to teach pre-school and kindergarten and is now an adjunct professor at Washington State Community College in Marietta, Ohio.

 

And so here is Stephens, 19th on the UC women's basketball career scoring list, still in college even though her eligibility has expired. She remains at UC working toward a Ph.D. in audiology.

 

Stephens, who expects to finish in June 2012, earned her undergraduate degree in communication sciences and disorders in three years (thanks to some AP credit from high school and summer school every year of college). There is no master's program for audiology, so she went straight to the doctorate program, which she started last year as a senior on the Bearcats.

 

"I was lucky," she says. "I knew what I wanted to do when I started."

 

When she was in high school in Mineral Wells, W.Va., Stephens thought she might want to teach but then decided she didn't want to work with large groups of children at once. Her mom suggested audiology. Stephens had never heard of it. But once she checked it out, she thought it could be a good fit.

 

"I knew that I wanted to work with children," she says. "Eventually I want to specialize in pediatrics."

 

Meanwhile, the 6-foot-3 Stephens went on to score 1,053 career points at UC. She averaged 12 points and 5.3 rebounds as a senior last year, including a career-high 30 points and 10 rebounds against Providence. She has the fifth-best career free-throw percentage in program history (.791).

 

Twice she received CoSIDA Academic All-District honors, and last year she won the BIG EAST Scholar Athlete of the Year award for a combination of athletic and academic success as voted on by the league's coaches.

 

Over the summer she played in Italy for 10 days with a USA Athletes International team. She played some open gym in the summer with the Bearcats and occasionally plays some pick-up ball. But otherwise, for Stephens, it's time to move on from basketball (other than cheering on her former teammates).

 

"It was a great experience," she says of her college career. "I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about how to get along with other people. I grew up a lot. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I think I'm a much tougher person now than I was before. When I first got here I was really homesick. I had a hard time being away from my parents. I let little things bother me all the time. I learned that you can't do that."

This quarter Stephens, 22, is working at Jewish Hospital, primarily with older patients. She's involved with hearing tests, basic audiograms, some specialized tests, hearing-aid fittings and helping people who show up with hearing-aid problems.

 

Next quarter she'll have a rotation at Children's Hospital. Her fourth year, Stephens will have a clinical externship that could be anywhere in the country. She would be like to be part of a cochlear implant team.

 

Will she wind up working and living in Cincinnati? Will she return to West Virginia?

 

"I haven't decided," she says. "I have long time to think about where I want to end up."

 

The wait for Pike continues

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Another weekly news conference, another spate of questions for Brian Kelly regarding the health of quarterback Tony Pike and whether he can play this week. The answer, right off the bat, was this:

 

Pike saw the doctor today, and according to Kelly, they were "seeing some good things in terms of the X-rays." The training staff will fit him with a specially-made brace - probably tonight - and Pike should participate fully in practice Wednesday.

 

"You can't go with the cast he has on now," Kelly said. "This brace will allow him the protection and the ability to move and be fully engaged in practice. We have good signs relative to the bones and healing. We'll put him in this splint, and let's go and see where he is and figure out where he is come Saturday."

 

There's a small chance that, depending on the circumstances, Pike could come off the bench to replace Zach Collaros, but Kelly would prefer not to do that. If Pike can play, he'd rather just start him.

 

With that, the talk turned to Collaros, who has performed brilliantly in the absence of Pike. Since taking over midway through the South Florida game, Collaros has completed 78.8 percent of his passes for 620 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 206 yards and two more scores.

 

So far, he's made it look so easy.

 

"I wouldn't say it's easier," Collaros said. "Practice is definitely a lot more difficult against our (first team), because we go against them all the time and they know what we do."

 

Practicing as the starter, though, has been different for him. He says he's more focused and he watches more film. Once he takes those repetitions in practice and then sees it later on the film, he prepares with a different mindset. Plus, he's a little more comfortable on the field now that he's been out there for 10-straight quarters.

 

"The South Florida game, I was kind of nervous getting in there, and Louisville was big because it was my first start," he said. "But I've settled down. The better you play, the more confident you're going to be. And the more confident you are, the better you're going to play."

 

But like Kelly said today, there's much more improvement Collaros has to make.

 

"The list is long," Kelly said. "It's really, really long. We're not even at that level where I can have the same conversation I have with Tony Pike that I have with Zach Collaros about the quarterback position. With Tony, we're talking about eye control on the safety, moving the safety with your eyes. We're talking about some specifics within a movement key. I can't get that with Zach yet. We're still in big-picture issues. We're still a long way in his development."

 

Eventually - be it this weekend or not - Pike will return, and Collaros will slide to the No. 2 spot. Still, he realizes he can't beat the experience he's received since taking over the top spot.

 

"Tony is one of my good friends on the team, and as long as we're winning, that's all that matters," Collaros said. "I think I've proved myself these last couple weeks. I definitely gained some valuable game experience. That's second to none."

 

--Running back John Goebel's string of bad luck continues. He broke his hand during last Saturday's Syracuse game, and though he only has six carries this season for 10 yards, it looks like he won't be running the ball any time soon.

 

It's the same hand he broke last season, and he'll be in a cast for Saturday's game. But Kelly said he would play on special teams.

 

And while we're discussing injuries, let's talk about tight end Ben Guidugli, who suffered a concussion vs. the Orange. Kelly said he's been cleared to take the exertion test today that will decide whether he can be cleared to practice.

 

Clearly, Guidugli - who wanted to get back in the game immediately on Saturday - would like to be out there.

 

"It was a scavenger hunt for his helmet," Kelly said. "They had to hide it six different times, because he was looking through everything."

ABC (ANOTHER BEARCAT CONQUEST)

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DATE OF CONTEST: Saturday Night Live

VENUE: Nippert Stadium

SEAT TIME: 8 p.m. on ABC (kickoff whenever Musberger and Herbstreit finish the intro)

THE SERIES: UC leads 4-1

THE LAST ONE: Connecticut with a big 4th quarter to win 40-16


     I have to say, I'm a little surprised that the main Saturday night game is this one against Connecticut, but if you look at the schedule you can see why. UC's next two home games after this one are both Friday games (11/13 vs. West Virginia and 11/27 vs. Illinois). So, if the ABC cameras were ever going to capture "The Nipp" with the Bearcats on a roll--it was now.

     This would have all the makings of the proverbial "trap game" but there is the small fact that last year's loss to UConn was probably the worst defeat Brian Kelly's had. If not, it's close.

     We all know the Orange Bowl was a stinker against Virginia Tech, and the first year losses to Pitt and Louisville were bothersome, but the game at UConn is still pretty fresh in BK's memory.

     While Tony Pike wasn't on, he did lead the Bearcats to a 13-10 lead over the Huskies at halftime. However, Pike was nicked up so Chazz Anderson had to come in. The tide turned in the third quarter with UConn taking a 20-16 lead, but UC still was certainly in the game.

     Even in the fourth quarter, with less than six minutes to go the Bearcats trailed by just a touchdown. But, then things went downhill quick as the Huskies went up 26-16 at the 5:47 mark and 33-16 at the 1:55 mark. After Anderson was picked off shortly after that, UConn had a 40-16 win that looked like a blowout, but was mostly based on the last few minutes of the game.

     The Bearcats were held to a paltry 30 yards rushing in that game and Brian Kelly has since made it known that he maybe should've done a better job on the ground instead of chucking it play after play.

     Based on current personnel, I would guess that strategy would change a bit Saturday night. Brian Kelly's never going to "run it up the gut" 40 times a game, but UC should be able to gain more than 30 yards on the ground by the first quarter alone.

     Based on his early week comments, it's obvious that last year's loss sticks in Kelly's craw (wherever that may be). If anything, the tape of last year's debacle in Hartford should give BK enough motivation to get his guys fired up.

     Oh yeah...and ABC's going to be there showing the Bearcats and Huskies as the main college football game on the network that day. I suppose that might fire up a young college football player too.

     UConn is to be saluted for the courage they've played with since the unfortunate death of defensive back Jasper Howard. They have been close in several games and last week's loss to Rutgers in the final seconds was a crying shame. However, UConn historically has not played well here and I don't believe this is the week where that turns around.


UC's offense vs. UConn defense


Again this week there's the QB issue of Tony Pike and Zach Collaros. Pike is back at practice and taking reps and probably could play. If he's totally healthy, Brian Kelly has said Pike is the starter. However, it realistically is tough to pull a guy that's thrown for seven TD's in the last two games as a starter. Plus, there's the fact that I believe Collaros is a tougher match-up for the Huskies. Starting Collaros is also a way to pump up the running game which was essentially non-existent in last year's game at Rentschler Field. Coach Kelly doesn't routinely call me on personnel decisions, but I'd probably roll with Collaros and then try to get Pike some reps to get him ready for West Virginia on the 13th. Having just written that, I'd be shocked to see it come down that way. Either way, UConn can be torched through the air (as Tim Brown and Tom Savage of Rutgers found last week) and both Pike and Collaros are capable of accomplishing that. The Huskies do have two "stud" LB's in Lawrence Wilson and Scott Lutrus who can bring a team issues in a standard offense trying to run the ball. Again though, this is far from a standard offense at UC.


NOD: Bearcats have too many pairs of cleats ready, willing and able to cross that magical line into the notorious "land of six".


UConn offense vs. UC defense


The previous starting QB for the Huskies, Cody Endres, is out with a shoulder injury. Endres led UConn to the win last year despite unimpressive throwing stats of 18-42. But, Endres had Donald Brown (now of the NFL Colts) running for 150 yards. Sadly, there's no Brown in the backfield for the Huskies come Saturday. Zach Frazer is now the UConn QB and he did throw for 333 yards last week, but he's also susceptible to "the pick" as three of his tosses went to the Scarlet Knights. If UC's ever-improving defensive line can't get to Frazer in the backfield, the also improving secondary might be able to haul in some throws from "the other Zach". This defense took a beating in Hartford a year ago, and don't think that hasn't been emphasized a time or two this week in preparation for this home showcase on ABC.


NOD: Even though Bob Diaco wasn't on staff last season, the rest of the guys undoubtedly have been giving UC's defenders an "ear full" all week. It was a winnable game that slipped away and I'm sure BK and company will have the 'Cats all jazzed up over that.


Special Teams


Sophomore tailback Robbie Frey is quite a weapon for UConn on kickoff returns rumbling 100 yards and 50 yards in a couple vs. Rutgers. On the other hand, the Huskies gave up a kickoff return and Mardy Gilyard and Darrin Williams are surely aware of that. Desi Cullen is probably a more accomplished punter than Jake Rogers. In the kicking-for-points department I'd call Dave Teggart even with Rogers--you just never know what you're going to get.


NOD: When things are this even, you have to go with home field advantage in the "Friendly Confines of The Nipp".


Throw It Out And See Where It Sticks


Nippert Stadium is not used to an ABC "Prime Time" atmosphere. The students are going to be geeked up, the coaches will be geeked up, the players will be geeked up...heck, the geeks will even be geeked up. Connecticut's played some tough opponents close, but I believe this situation Saturday is incredibly slanted in favor of UC and it would be utterly disappointing if they didn't capitalize on it.

Brian Kelly knows this and he also knows how butt-ugly last year's game in Hartford was. ABC and ESPN are one in the same. ESPN is located IN CONNECTICUT. You can bet your cable or satellite dish that CONNECTICUT will be focused on and that loss last year will be highlighted. I assure you, Brian Kelly is still not happy about that 40-16 game and I wouldn't be surprised to see him "amp up" the offense to see if he can put 40 up himself in front of a national audience. Plus, the way the BCS works, this is an excellent vehicle to: a) get attention from the rest of the world; and b) make a statement.

Thoughts from the basketball scrimmage

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I happened to catch the first two 10-minute periods during the basketball team's scrimmage last Saturday morning. Here are my observations:

 

--Yancy Gates and Anthony McClain were on the same team and on the court at the same time. I'd be interested to see how much Mick Cronin will use that lineup for his frontcourt this year. He said last week that he could use Gates at the power forward spot and McClain at the center position at the same time, and defensively and rebounding-wise, they might make for a pretty good duo.

 

An example: Gates missed a free throw during the scrimmage, and McClain was the one to secure the rebound and keep possession for the black team. Later on, Steve Toyloy tried to go up and around on McClain, and McClain, playing solid defense, forced the airball from about 4 feet. Gates and McClain also managed to block a few shots (though I overheard assistant coach George Jackson tell somebody that McClain relies on the blocked shot too much).

 

Gates looks bigger (taller and wider), but as the game wore on, it looked to me that he got tired. Which definitely limited his effectiveness.

 

--Lance Stephenson struggled with his shot early on (he missed his first four attempts), but his passing was fantastic. He fed a beautiful ball to Darnell Wilks for what would have been a killer alley-oop (Wilks let the ball go between his fingertips), and later, he found Toyloy in the post with laser-like precision. After starting slow, he blew by Sean Kilpatrick on the baseline for an easy layup.

 

The obvious NBA-type talent - and his NBA-type body - is there. He just happened to have an off-day shooting the ball.

 

--Ibrahima Thomas looks thin to me. But just how thin is questionable, because the 6-foot-11 junior who won't be eligible until the Dec. 13 Crosstown Shootout wore long sleeves during the exhibition.

 

--Scoring totals (through the first 20 minutes)

 

Black team (19): Deonta Vaughn 5, Anthony McClain 4, Sean Kilpatrick 4, Jaquon Parker 3, Yancy Gates 3.

 

Red team (37): Larry Davis 11, Ibrahima Thomas 8, Cashmere Wright 7, Lance Stephenson 6, Steve Toyloy 5.

The latest on Tony Pike

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Just got off the Big East teleconference call, and this is what Brian Kelly said about Tony Pike.

"This will be the first week he actually takes some team reps and seven-on-seven reps," Kelly said. "I don't know what to expect until I see him in that forum. We'll do that Wednesday and Thursday and see how he looks. He's a lot closer than he was. It's hard to say. He's got to feel comfortable in his own mind that he can be out there and do the things we need him to do.

Your Best Shot

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Typically when you play a good defensive team the coach tells you work the ball around and/or get the best shot possible. Well that's what we need to do with UC Womens basketball this season and next. This team is a construction project for sure and that means it won't be built in a day. Make sure as you're evaluating the progress of the team you don't compare our coach to UConn's coach and our team to UConn's team. It wouldn't be fair to anyone especially Connecticut. Yes our coach came from the storied program but the only thing she brought with her was herself and some philosophies from Geno. The rest will be hers and hers alone. She will call the timeouts, set up the practices, determine who starts, etc. She will learn and grow as much as the players will and hopefully we'll grow with her.

Jamelle Elliott is a winner and with that comes knowledge of how to win; but she can't reincarnate herself on the court. All I expect is to see a team playing hard, playing together and believing in each other. I know she'll demand respect and her coaching staff will lend credibility as well. I'm excited at the possibility of new recruits who will be attracted to a UConn offspring and what they can build together. I wish her well because this is not a women's college hoop town but its growing. I know they are putting marketing dollars behind this team so you can sample the product and that's good. Admittedly with the hiring of Mick in basketball and Coach K in football the AD's deserve the benefit of the doubt on their second selection for the women.

So lets rally round the ladies; and men if you want some good father daughter time, I've got a suggestion...It might be your best shot to bond with her and let her see what's possible. Any quality time spent with your daughter is a high percentage shot at a better relationship. That's the way I see it sitting in the Box Seat.


Start holiday shopping ...

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Good to chance this week to get some signed books for your holiday gift list.

Associate head football coach Kerry Coombs will talk football with authors Josh Katzowitz, John Baskin and Lonnie Wheeler as they discuss their books "Bearcats Rising" and "Cincinnati Schoolboy Legends" Thursday, Nov. 5 (7-9 p.m.) at the new LaRosa's in Colerain (3657 Stone Creek Boulevard, Shoppes of Stone Creek). Both books feature Coombs.

If you go, head to the family dining area in the back of the restaurant, Coombs and the authors will be on a panel to discuss the books and the history of football in Cincinnati. After the discussion, you can buy books and get them signed.

The Bearcats -- and Collaros -- Remain Perfect

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According to a wide variety of published reports and media guides, Zach Collaros compiled a 41-1 record as a starting quarterback at Steubenville High School.

 

It's an astonishing stat . . . until you learn that the truth is even more impressive.

 

"That's actually false," Collaros told me after Saturday's win at Syracuse.  "I didn't start at quarterback my sophomore year - I played receiver and cornerback - so I was actually 30-0 as a starting quarterback in high school."

 

That makes him 32-0 in his lifetime after leading the Bearcats to wins over Louisville and Syracuse.

 

Collaros posted an NFL quarterback rating of 150.1 against the Orange as he went 22-for-28 for 295 yards and 4 touchdowns with no interceptions.

 

"Not a bad day," Coach Kelly said with a grin.  "I thought he did a very good job of finding the right guys and delivering the ball.  It was the first time he saw a 3-4 defense with a lot of moving parts and I was really, really proud of the way he played."

 

"We all knew going into the South Florida game that if something happened to Tony Pike - God forbid - that Zach was a guy that could come in and make things happen," offensive lineman Jason Kelce said.  "We're disappointed that Tony is hurt but we're also excited that Zach is getting the opportunity to go out there and make plays."

 

In two starts, Collaros has completed 82% of his passes for 7 touchdowns and 0 INT.  UC fans have quickly become excited over the prospect of Collaros being the Bearcats starting quarterback for the next two years.

 

"I hope they're excited to see me in the future," Collaros told me.  "This is great experience for me for next year.  It's great getting the reps because there's nothing like game experience and getting the other 10 guys on the field to trust you."

 

"The weird thing is, I think Zach gets better when the lights go on," Kelce said.  "Most guys tense up, but Zach is like, 'Alright, now it's time to go!'  He's always been one of those guys that everyone on the team considers a gamer and a very competitive guy."

 

Zach's performance against Syracuse was especially impressive when you consider that the Bearcats were missing starting right tackle Sam Griffin due to the flu.  Alex Hoffman moved from guard to tackle and C.J. Cobb stepped into the starting lineup at right guard.

 

"C.J. Cobb really stepped up and Alex Hoffman did a great job moving over to tackle," Collaros said.  "The line did a great job.  The only times I got sacked were when we were covered down field and I tried to make something happen.  I probably could have thrown it away but I think they'll forgive me for giving up a couple of sacks."

 

"The loss of Sam Griffin and having to shuffle our offensive line caused a bit of a problem," Coach Kelly said.  "I thought Zach showed great poise and escapability and did a really nice job."

 

Perhaps the biggest play Collaros made came in the second quarter as the holder on a field goal attempt when he failed to catch Mike Windt's snap.

 

"It was a little low but it was a good snap," Zach said.  "I mishandled it so we yelled, 'Fire . . . fire drill.'  We work on it in practice and I saw Kazeem Alli out of the corner of my eye and just threw it up and he made a play."

 

"It was great poise on his part to maintain the line of scrimmage and we had nobody downfield," Coach Kelly said.  "I think the Syracuse crowd was absolutely stunned that we didn't have anybody downfield but they were clearly just eligible receivers that ran the fire drill pretty good and Zach made a great play in throwing the football."

 

It's the stuff Collaros has been doing to win his last 32 starts at quarterback - make that all 32 of his starts at quarterback.  But right now, the perfect record that he's excited about belongs to the 8-0 Bearcats.

 

"I do feel great about it and the team feels great," Zach said.  "I'm just trying to let Tony pick up where he left off." 

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard