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.  


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