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December 2009 Archives

UC Orleans

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We're here in New Orleans for the 2010 Sugar Bowl and I'm wondering who's in Cincinnati? Why you ask and the answer is simple: You can't go anywhere in New Orleans without seeing Cincinnati representing in full force. Red, Black and combinations of the two dominate the fashion in the Big Easy and every hotel seems to have a majority Bearcat guest list. Notable names like Marty Brennaman, Dan Hoard and others are here to see and call the game and I don't have time or space to mention how many former players are here either. Just know New Orleans has been transformed and seems like UC Orleans. Bourbon Street is Short Vine and the Marriott on Canal is Fountain Square, serving as the host hotel. Current players are signing footballs, taking pictures and spending time with proud parents while trying to focus on Florida. I almost forgot its New Years Eve and another celebration will precede the Sugar Bowl and hopefully a second celebration will follow the game.

Regardless, its a nice environment, seeing the 'Nati take over the town and according to the valet attendants and the other important caretakers of the city, they've never seen anything like it in a while. Me either; I've been to Super Bowls and it reminds of the Bengals playing in Miami against the 49ers in that classic where fans covered every square inch of Miami and South Beach. All in all its a blessing to be here amongst the Bearcat faithful and the only thing left to do is cheer and watch the UC play football...their way. That's the only way the New Year should start.

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

In New Orleans, everyone's a fan

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OK so I'm going to do an end-around from the usual women's sports postings here on our Bearcat blog, and talk a little about the trip to New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl. Of course, this being the second straight New Year's that Bearcat fans have had an opportunity to participate in a BCS bowl, Bearcatters are becoming quite comfortable being in the spotlight.

First, I have to give props to the UC pack who made the trip here to the Crescent City. Whether by plane or by auto, Bearcats are here in droves. We chose to drive, and all the way down we were passed (all right, I wasn't driving THAT slowly, but still..) by cars proudly carrying UC stickers, flags or license plates. Fun to see.

Second, let's give a lot of credit to the UC football players. They have been in the middle of a media storm for two weeks-plus now, and have carried themselves with a lot of class and dignity. From the uncertainty of their own leadership to the soap opera drama surrounding the other team's coach (which isn't over yet), the players have stayed focused on their job and their mission at this game.

Third, the UC athletic administrators have kept a steady hand over this last month to make sure the University is portrayed in the best light for this national stage. We've seen the other school waffle in its response to its coach's own uncertainty. Mike Thomas and his crew have been steadfast in their leadership, solid in decisions and always resolute in the long term vision of representing the University of Cincinnati in the best way possible. Props to all of you.

So on this New Year's Eve, the Bearcats have lots of preparations to do before they once again carry the support of a lot of folks who graduated from UC, and those who are just fans, into a BCS bowl game. I grew up watching the Sugar Bowl and its traditions, and it's fun to see UC be a part of that history. For the team, New Year's celebrations can wait 24 hours until after the game.For the rest of us, we can celebrate another new year, and new decade of UC sports excellence.  

UC-UConn Rock 'N Roll Party

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Was it a foul? Did the officials have it right when they whistled UConn's Gavin Edwards for fouling UC freshman forward Lance Stephenson with 0.7 seconds remaining, allowing Stephenson to hit the game-winning free throws?

 

Me, I couldn't tell - neither live, sitting 30 feet away, nor on the monitor replays.

 

Lance, what do you think?

 

"(Jerome Dyson) forced me left, I spun, and the big man ran into me."

 

Mick Cronin, your thoughts?

"I saw a lot of contact early, before he got in the lane. Once he got in the lane, I thought it was pretty obvious. But obviously, I'm biased."

 

I bet UConn coach Jim Calhoun might have another opinion.

 

"You can look at the replays, too," he said. "I haven't seen a good replay. With 0.7 on the clock?"

 

Then, Calhoun shrugged.

 

Well, whichever the case, Stephenson, a freshman playing in a big game on national TV, had two chances to hit what turned out to be the game-winning free throws. Cronin said he wasn't nervous, that Stephenson shows up on gameday. Stephenson, meanwhile, only had one thought in his head.

 

"All I was thinking was to let me get to the free throw line, because I knew I was going to knock them down," he said.

 

And knock them down he did.

 

"It's a tough situation to be in as a freshman," senior guard Deonta Vaughn said. "But we shoot those types of shots in practice where it's a pressure shot. We've been shooting a lot of free throws. He's been excellent in practice. I knew he was going to make at least one of them."

 

Stephenson's free throws obviously were huge, but equally as important was the way UC played the Huskies. After the game, Cronin said his program is to the point where it looks like a UConn-type program, because the Bearcats have the physicality and the talent to compete with the top-tier teams on a daily basis. The big question, though, is what happens Saturday at Rutgers?

 

Do the Bearcats play like they did against UConn, or do they revert back to the disinterested form they showed vs. UAB on Dec. 16?

 

"The one danger in playing those preconference games - when you play a UAB who has a very good coach and who has veteran guys who don't lose at home - your players don't have the same respect," Cronin said. "Our guys understand Rutgers. They saw Rutgers play North Carolina, and they saw it was close (a four-point game in the second half). They know Rutgers is in the Big East. The mature team that's able to hang in all year game-to-game-to-game is the team that's going to come out with the most wins."

 

Said Vaughn: "We need to play every team like they're a top-25 team. We have to think every team is a top-10 team and play up to our level, because we're a top-25 team in our eyes."

 

--Vaughn continues to play better after a tough start to the season. Entering last week's Winthrop game, he averaged 9.7 points per contest while shooting 34 percent from the floor and 25.8 percent from the 3. In the past two games, he's averaging 14 points and shooting 60 and 75 percent, respectively. He also passed Jack Twyman for eighth on the school all-time scoring list tonight. He's got 1,601 points.

 

"It's like I've been trying to tell him," Cronin said. "Although we played well in Maui and were a couple overtimes away from having one loss, we're not going to do what we want to do in the Big East if he doesn't get back to being the type of player he is. The way to do that is to get back in the gym and push himself in practice and get his rhythm back. It's pretty simple."

 

Tonight, though, the Bearcats also discovered they can win when Vaughn isn't in the game down the stretch. Although he fouled out with 1:30 to go, UC still managed to take the win. Stephenson would prefer not to try that again.

 

"He has to always be in the game," Stephenson said. "I hope he doesn't have to come out of the game again."

 

I also found it interesting that Cronin tapped sophomore Dion Dixon to run the point guard spot in Vaughn's absence, rather than redshirt freshman Cashmere Wright - who only played six minutes tonight.

 

"I was worried about Cash in that situation because he didn't have a lot of minutes in the second half," Cronin said. "Dion Dixon, I have a lot of confidence in. He's a confident ball-handler. He's a guy who could probably play the point for us."

 

--UConn entered the game as the nation's leader in blocked shots with 10.1 per game. UC held the Huskies to zero.

 

"If we didn't block a shot and won the game, I wouldn't care," Calhoun said. "I'm sure when we go to the video tape we'll see blocked shots. Give Cincinnati the credit. They muscled their way inside."

UC-UConn LIVE blog

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Live from 5/3:

An interesting question: how many people show up to see the No. 10 in the nation play the Bearcats in their conference home opener? I'd say the over-under would be 7,000. Twenty-five minutes before the game, you'd have to take the under on that.

UConn, BTW, only has nine scholarship players tonight. According to the Hartford Courant, junior center Charles Okwandu and freshman guard Darius Smith stayed behind on campus to attend intersession classes. Also, Jonathan Mandeldove is out with academic problems.

UC starting five: Deonta Vaughn, Larry Davis, Ibrahima Thomas, Lance Stephenson, and Steve Toyloy. Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright coming off the bench.

Thomas opens the game by missing a layup. But he looked good going to the rim.

I wonder how aggressive Vaughn is going to be tonight. He dribbled through a double-team and then swished a floater high over a Huskies outstretched hand.

Larry Davis and Lance Stephenson with the break, but Davis gives one too many passes, and it goes out of bounds for a turnover.

UC playing good defense so far, particularly on the interior with Gates and Toyloy.

UC 6, UConn 6 (15:12 to go)

Bad stretch for Darnell Wilks. He airballs a 3-pointer, then fouls Gavin Edwards as he's making a layup. He's pulled from the game.

This is quickly becoming a physical game.

UC continues not to shoot well. It's 30.8 percent from the floor. UConn, meanwhile, is 26.7 percent and has missed all four of its 3-pointers.

Cashmere Wright buries a 3 to give UC the lead. 

UC 13, UConn 10 (11:49 to go)

Vaughn has found his shot in the first half. He hits back-to-back 3s to give UC an eight point lead and force a timeout from Jim Calhoun.

Stephenson with the rebounds off a Walker miss, goes coast to coast for the layup and the foul. And this place is getting loud.

UConn with seven turnovers, but the Huskies are out-rebounding UC 18-14.

Vaughn has 10 points. Stephenson with nine. Jerome Dyson has eight for UConn.

UC 30, UConn 20 (7:46 to go)

And just like that, UConn quiets the crowd with a quick 7-0 run.

Man, Kemba Walker is quick, quick, quick.

Haven't seen much of Cashmere Wright tonight. Vaughn has mostly handled the point guard role.

Ibrahima Thomas adds energy when he's in the game, but he's 0 for 5 from the floor, mostly from inside the paint.

Joe Kay makes a good observation. UConn has 0 blocks so far.

UC 34, UConn 31 (3:22 to go)

Stephenson with a nifty move. The outlet pass was going over his head, and though he caught it, he was going out of bounds. No problem. He wings it off a UConn player out of bounds to retain possession. The crowd liked that.

UConn ends the half on a 15-6 run, but still trail by one.

Dyson has 14 points, and UConn is shooting 32.4 percent. The Huskies have missed all six of their 3-pointers.

Stephenson has 13 points, and Vaughn has 10 (also tied for the team lead with four rebounds).

Both teams have nine turnovers, but UConn is outrebounding the Bearcats 25-19. The two teams have combined to make 19 of 22 FTs.

UC 36, UConn 35 (half)

Just noticed this, but UC only has three offensive rebounds. UConn has 10. But surprisingly, both teams only have two second-chance points.

Thomas misses shot No. 5, but he is 4-6 from the line.

Both teams have to run up and down the court like 3 times in a row. Everybody is gassed. Toyloy is bailed out when the officials call a foul on UConn.

Vaughn with another big 3.

UC 45, UConn 37 (15:54 to go)

Bearcats seem to be overpassing it in the paint. It creates problems for them.

Bishop hits hits second 3 of the game, but then fouls Robinson when he's making his own 3. Robinson misses the FT and UC still leads by 5.

UConn goes to a zone. It just so happens that the Bearcats are shooting 54.5 percent from the 3.

UC 50, UConn 45 (11:57 to go)

Dixon manages to be called for two fouls in the span of 0 seconds, and he's out of the game with four. Then, Gates picks up foul No. 4. He's got six points and three rebounds so far.

Oriakhi, who's got eight rebounds, picks up his fourth with 10:41 to go.

Amazing dribbling from Stephenson to completely school Robinson and then hit the fadeaway 12-footer. Then, Walker schools Vaughn on his way to an easy layup.

UConn, thanks to Robinson (20 points) and Dyson (20) are still hanging around.

UC rebounding better this half, 16-11 over the Huskies

UC 63, UC 58 (6:13 to go)

With two FTs, Vaughn has a season-high 17 points.

About 6 minutes left in the game, UC up by 5, you know what time it is? Anthony McClain time. He makes his first appearance in the game.

Fans displeased about an offensive foul call on Vaughn. Of course, Vaughn totally pushed off. It's his fourth with 4:27 to play.

Not good when Vaughn and Gates have four fouls apiece. And Dixon for that matter.

Bishop strips the ball from Walker, but Dixon misses the layup on the 3-on-1 break. Lot of upset people in here.

UC 67, UConn 61 (3:26 to go)

In crunch time, Dixon handling the point, not Wright. Stephenson runs into Dixon, causing a turnover, and Dyson all alone for the easy dunk.

UC 67, UConn 63 (2:27 to go)

Vaughn back in the game. Then fouls out with 1:30 to go. Two free throws for Edwards. He hits 1 of 2. Three-point game.

Dixon turns it over with about 4 seconds on the shot clock. But give him credit. He hustles and gets the ball back after the shot clock resets. Calls timeout.

UC 67, UConn 64 (:55 to go)

It's unclear if UConn actually had possession of the ball when the shot clock reset. Looks like perhaps UC had a shot-clock violation. No, 1 second is put back on the clock. Gates got off a shot, but misses.

Crowd is loud with UC up by 3 and UConn ball.

Dyson just threw up a crazy shot, and it bounced off about eight players. Finally, the ball is in Robinson's hands, who lays it in with 26 seconds to play. Timeout.

I assume Toyloy won't be on the floor for FTs.

UC 67, UConn 66 (:26 to go)

Full court press, broken by UC. Thomas dunk with 17 seconds to go. Walker on the other end nails a 3 to tie the game with 9 seconds to go.

Then, Stephenson with the ball against Dyson. Stephenson beats him and the foul is called on Edwards. It's unclear if there was time left on the clock when the whistle blew.

UC 69, UConn 69 (?)

It appears to me on the replay that there might have been 0.2 or 0.3 seconds on the clock when the play ended.

Yep, Stephenson will take two shots with 0.7 seconds left.

Hits the first, and UC clears the lane for the second. Mick is screaming at Lance to miss it. He makes it. Don't think he heard Mick.

UC 71, UConn 69 (0.7 seconds)

Dixon, Bishop, Stephenson, Toyloy, Thomas on the floor. Thomas guarding the in-bounds. Dyson gets off a shot from half court but it hits about halfway up the backboard.

Stephenson finishes with 21, Vaughn with 17. UC shoots 41 percent from the floor, 46.7 percent from the 3.

UConn is led by Dyson's 24 points and Robinson's 22. UConn shoots 37.5 percent from the floor, 30.8 percent from the 3.

UC 71, UConn 69 (final)

UC-UConn preview

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The Connecticut squad you'll see tonight should look awfully familiar. Yes, Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien and A.J. Price no longer are with the Huskies, but that's not what I mean. Instead, what should jog your memory is how this year's UConn team, ranked 10th in the country, plays: big and strong, physical, a team that will block its opponents' shots while out-rebounding them for missed buckets.

 

It's how the Huskies, no matter their personnel, usually play.

 

No Thabeet, Adrien or Price. Instead, there's Stanley Robinson (who's coming off a season-high 29-point performance vs. Iona), there are guards Kemba Walker (who leads the Big East with 6.4 assists per game) and Kevin Dyson, and there's forward Gavin Edwards (who's shooting a league-best 71.4 percent from the floor and seventh in the country with 3.7 blocks per game).

 

Not only that, the Huskies play outstanding defense, as they lead the country in blocked shots per game (9.8) and rank 11th in field goal defense (36.5 percent).

 

But here's one reason why UC will have a good chance to pull the upset tonight at 5/3. Unlike last season, when the Bearcats took an 81-72 loss and were dominated in the paint and on the glass, UC has played well defensively in the post. So, UConn shouldn't see quite as many easy buckets from inside the paint.

 

"Defensively, I'm very comfortable with where we're at," Mick Cronin said. "We can put big bodies out there, and they understand how not to give up easy baskets. There's one thing that Yancy (Gates) and Steve (Toyloy) and Biggie (McClain) and Ibrahima Thomas can do, they can defend. We don't have to double-team the low post against anybody in America. That's an advantage. You don't have to worry about getting destroyed inside. Last year, A.J. Price was great and when he didn't shoot the ball in, they destroyed us from five feet in. That hasn't been a problem for us this year."

 

Cronin knows that because the Bearcats have faced a pretty tough non-conference schedule. Teams like Gonzaga, Xavier, Maryland and Vanderbilt have allowed UC to see where it needs to improve - and where it's pretty good.

 

I asked Cronin on Monday if he thought he got what he needed out of the non-conference schedule, and, though he decried the fact he had no choice in scheduling Xavier and UAB (which turned into two road losses), it seems like he feels pretty good about it.

 

"I have a philosophy (about non-conference scheduling), but I inherit a lot of games," he said. "I had a choice with Maui. I thought that would be great for us. You have to have balance (in the schedule). You've got to develop your team early, but you can't play 30 wars. It's ridiculous to think you can do that. I hear suggestions that you have to play better home games if you want the arena to fill up. Nobody does that. You have to have some home games to build confidence and gain a rhythm. But you have to get yourself ready for conference play. The last thing you want to do is have false hope. You have to get a dose of reality. Going on the road, it doesn't matter who it's against, you have to be careful going on the road before you're ready."

 

Cronin points to the fact host Cleveland State nearly upended West Virginia earlier this season and that Villanova lost its first true road game of the season at Temple. For the record, the Huskies haven't played a true road game, though they faced LSU, Duke and Kentucky at Madison Square Garden in two different events (UConn beat LSU and lost the other two).

 

Sophomore forward Yancy Gates, for one, thinks UC's non-conference schedule was helpful.

 

"In Maui, we played Gonzaga, and Gonzaga is actually bigger than UConn," said Gates, whose squad was outrebounded 40-35 by the Zags and allowed Gonzaga center Robert Sacre to score a team-high 14 points. "We played Xavier; they're big. We played a lot of teams that have prepared us for the Big East."

 

--Senior Steve Toyloy made his first appearance in the media room Monday, and though I only caught part of it, he made a funny when somebody asked him if he had been refreshed by the team's recent break (it's been eight days since the Bearcats last played)

 

"Do what? The break?" he said. "We got two days off."

 

Eh, it was funnier, I suppose, in person.

Bearcats need consistency from Vaughn

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   The UC men's basketball team begins conference play tonight against No. 10-ranked Connecticut. The stakes for the season have just been raised.  

 

   It's with that in mind that we bring up Deonta Vaughn and his senior season.  

 

   Vaughn is already the No. 11 scorer in school history (tied with Darnell Burton). UC has at least 20 games left. Vaughn needs to average 21 points a game to catch No. 2 Steve Logan and 15 points a game to catch No. 3 Danny Fortson.  

 

   Right now, Vaughn is averaging a career-low 9.8 points. At that rate, he'll be lucky catch No. 4 Roger McClendon.  

 

   The start to his final season as a Bearcat has been shockingly inconsistent.

 

   In the first 11 games, Vaughn has scored in double digits only six times with a high of 16 points against Maryland. He went scoreless in 26 minutes against Miami then in the first half against Xavier.  Over the last five games, Vaughn has averaged just 7.2 points while shooting 30.2 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3-point range.  

 

   Vaughn is obviously capable. He dropped 34 points on Notre Dame as a junior. His sophomore year he scored a career-high 36 against Coastal Carolina.  

 

   In reviewing his stats, I became curious as to how others fared as seniors. I looked back at Logan and McClendon. Why those guys? Fortson only played three years and didn't have a senior season. And there's no sense comparing anyone to Oscar Robertson, who, of course, is No. 1 on the scoring list.  

 

   Logan was simply spectacular from the first game of 2001-02 when he scored 31 points against Oklahoma State. He scored 30 or more five times (including two games with 40 or more), averaged 22 points a game and only had one outing in single digits (seven points against Charlotte). You could pencil in Logan for 15 to 20 a night, knowing you might get more. He was incredibly consistent. UC finished 31-4.  

 

   Like Vaughn, McClendon got off to a slow start in 1987-88, scoring nine points against Northern Kentucky and seven against Kentucky. But he did come back with 33 points against Miami in Game Four and averaged 15.3 points over the first 11 games. McClendon averaged 14.5 points for the season, down 5.4 points from his junior year. The Bearcats finished 11-17.

 

   None of the top 20 scorers in UC history averaged less than 10 points as a senior. The last 1,000-point scorer to do that was Damon Flint, who averaged 8.9 points in 1996-97 as he took on a different role behind Fortson, Ruben Patterson and Burton.  

 

   You could argue Vaughn is doing the same as freshman Lance Stephenson has become the Bearcats' go-to player.  

 

   You could - and should - also argue that Cincinnati needs Vaughn to score more and be more consistent to do well in the Big East Conference. Vaughn is still second on the team in minutes played and field-goal attempts and No. 1 in 3-point attempts, assists, turnovers and steals.  

 

   He should benefit from the attention Stephenson is taking away, not to mention all the other talented players on the team. Vaughn needs to be playing with the sense of urgency with which seniors typically play.  

 

   An NCAA Tournament bid could depend on it.  

 

  

A Big Ten expansion, a Big East exodus?

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The Big Ten has said it has begun to explore expanding its conference - maybe adding one more program to make it an even 12. And with that, fans and officials of the Big East - which, as you know, lost Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC this decade, a move that former commissioner Mike Tranghese said nearly killed the Big East - began to worry.

 

I bring this up today, because Mick Cronin mentioned it Monday during media availability in preparation for Wednesday's game vs. UConn. Somebody asked him about the old Big East coaches of yore* - guys like John Thompson (the second) and Jim Boeheim and Phil Carnesecca - and how much those coaches meant to the Big East of today.

 

*Is it 'yore' or 'lore'?

 

Cronin responded - sort of - and then, unsolicited, brought up the Big Ten expansion and whether that conference will try to pilfer some teams away from the Big East.

 

"Let's hope the Big Ten isn't about to raid our conference," Cronin said. "We have the best conference. Right now, everybody looks around and sees that. When you have the Big Ten talking about that, there's a reason. They look at the Big East, and they see a great conference. They want what we have. I don't see a need for any teams in our conference to entertain any offers from them. What would you get there that you don't have in the Big East? We have all the media markets. We have the best exposure. We have the best conference, and in basketball, the deepest conference. We have the best TV package."

 

If any program in the Big East was approached about heading to the Big Ten, I think Rutgers would have to think about it. The Big Ten, I'm sure, would love to get into the New York City market, and Rutgers provides that. For Rutgers basketball, it probably would have a better chance to compete for a conference title in the Big Ten than in the Big East. Maybe in football as well.

 

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno also has said Pittsburgh and Syracuse could be considered as well (though, I'm not sure why either would want to leave the Big East). Perhaps, the Big Ten also would take another run at Notre Dame - which rejected an offer 10 years ago and which almost surely would do the same today.

 

Missouri, from the Big 12, also has been mentioned as a possible candidate.

 

Cronin, though, was adamant about keeping the current Big East conference intact.

 

"I wouldn't see why any team would consider abandoning ship for the Big Ten, with all due respect to the Big Ten," Cronin said. "I understand their issue. You look at what we have. Our eight football teams have the perfect schedule - it gives them flexibility in scheduling. We have the BCS bid. In basketball, we have the deepest, best conference in the country. We have the best ESPN deal. We have all the media markets east of the Mississippi. I don't see where you're going to get more exposure for your university. You would only hurt yourself by leaving our conference. But what do I know? I'm trying to figure out to how use a pick and roll and get a basket against UConn."

'Til We Reach Higher Ground

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 That quote always reminds me of the Stevie Wonder song and is about working until you reach the pinnacle of your goals. Every year the UC football team heads to higher ground to symbolize dropping the gauntlet and signaling the season is now priority 2 (academics first right?).

The time these young athletes spend away from everyone is very important in determining the course of their season. It's where you let go of hang-ups and beefs with the guy next to or across from you. It's where you focus on a singular goal and your role in it, even if it's not the one you had in mind. It's the ultimate sacrifice when going into competitive battle to place team goals ahead of your own. I don't think any one truly knows how this season is going to end up but I think we all know how we hope it does and it's probably similar to them. Either way the start of the season is closer than you think and these guys need to be closer than that. Higher Ground means something special to this team and if everyone "buys in to win" the first goal to winning a championship has been accomplished. If they stay that way throughout the season, the chances improve greatly.

We who are older and we who have played on teams realize now looking back how special winning teams were in our lives. You forever remember the snap shot of time and the people who were a part of it. You remember what you did to contribute even if not getting in the way or being toxic; and you remember when it culminated in victory because everybody gets the same ring, trophy or award. I've always said Michael Jordan's ring is the same style ring as the last guy on the bench's ring because its all about the team. And when anybody on the Chicago Bulls team is introduced, it's as a member of the World Champions.

So head on up to the Higher Ground and begin your quest for Big East domination and BCS redemption. The fans are waiting to cheer loudly and proudly; the media is ready to cover you like an all pro defensive back and youngsters are ready to dream of becoming you one day if you show them team work works.

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

How Quinn is doing it

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Jeff Quinn isn't used to this. He can't be. Yes, he took over the Central Michigan interim coaching job in 2006 after Brian Kelly landed the UC spot, and Quinn guided the Chippewas to the Motor City Bowl. That's all well and good. But that can't be compared to the operation he inherited when Kelly left for Notre Dame.

 

This time, there's a little more on the line - a Sugar Bowl performance against Florida, one of the best teams in the country, in a BCS bowl game that will have plenty of more eyes than the Motor City Bowl - and this time, he doesn't simply have one job. Now, he jokes (but not really), he's got four jobs.

 

He's the interim coach at UC.

 

He's the offensive coordinator at UC.

 

He's the offensive line coach at UC.

 

And he's the head coach at Buffalo.

 

So, Jeff Quinn, how in the heck do you find enough hours in the day to take care of all four occupations?

 

"It's like today," Quinn said one evening last week. "I closed my office door for an hour, just to collect my thoughts. You have to have time to think before you speak and think before you act. I've tried to present it to our football team at Cincinnati that these are life's lessons. These situations do occur.

 

"'Competitive greatness' is a term that I live by. It excites me. It's how I am wired. This is what great leaders do."

 

On Sunday, Quinn took to the mic in front of the national media for a preweek news conference in New Orleans. No matter the question, he continued to fall back on a couple of themes - it's all about the kids, the players have to be locked in and focused, it's all about going 13-0, it's about overcoming adversity. It wasn't the most exciting presser in history, but Quinn got to say what he wanted.

 

But this question then arises. How are Quinn and his coaching staff able to focus when most of them are leaving UC after the Sugar Bowl? How can Quinn concentrate on the Bearcats when he knows he has to pack for Buffalo? And for that matter, why didn't he leave for Buffalo immediately when he got the job and leave the UC interim coaching duties to somebody else?

 

"It's a team game," he said. "I really felt when I was asked to be in the interim position, the most important thing I had to do was get back to our players. I'm an all-in guy. I can't change who I am. When they felt I was in the best position to lead this football team, I was honored to do that. The key is about these kids. I keep saying that. I don't want them to lose sight about that's why I came here. For me to step away from that opportunity to continue leading this football team, I wasn't going to do it and let anybody down. I wanted to be here and finish things off.  I'm following through with that."

 

No doubt that his soon-to-be former players appreciate that. Even if they know he's gone after Jan. 1. That's why they were happy for him when he told them that he had accepted the Buffalo job - certainly a different reaction than Kelly received when he informed them at the team banquet he was leaving for South Bend.

 

"Everybody clapped for him," sophomore Isaiah Pead said. "There were no sorrowful faces because he was upfront about it. He said, 'I'm going to tell you before you go home and see it on the Internet.'"

 

Still, at times, Quinn thinks about what awaits him in Buffalo. He can't help it, especially when a reporter is asking about what it means finally to have landed a head coaching job.

 

"It's my time," Quinn said. "It's an honor and a privilege to be selected as one of 120 head coaches in the entire country. That fraternity in itself is very special. I can't tell you how thankful I am. It's something you work for for 26 years. It's not what took you so long. It's about that it's my time."

THE QUEST FOR PERFECTION

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      Less than a month after the dramatic win over Pitt, the UC Bearcats will enter their second BCS bowl game ever New Year's night against the Florida Gators. While the season progressed with focus and efficiency, the end of the season has been all over the charts.

      The previous coach, Brian Kelly, elected to not finish the job and left to start another at Notre Dame. The interim coach Jeff Quinn, did not get the full-time job and now will move on to head up Buffalo's program as the new year begins. The new coach, Butch Jones came from Central Michigan where no doubt the Chippewas are feeling the same pain and angst as Bearcat fans having lost their coach.  Now, Florida's Urban Meyer is stepping down after the Sugar Bowl "indefinitely". And, the game's all about the kids, right?

      It can be disconcerting and discombobulating.

      Unless you're a young male 18-24 that plays college football.

      As fans, we have mixed emotions. Some are angry and want to crash bobblehead's of the old coach on You Tube. Others are publicly diplomatic. Some pretend to be diplomatic, but will laugh heartily at every Irish loss.

      The players?

      I think they just want to play and prove a point to themselves. As many have gone on record as saying, "No coach has scored a touchdown, completed a pass,etc." Who knows, maybe in leaving, Brian Kelly gave the Bearcats the best motivation ever to win the Sugar Bowl.

      And, maybe Jeff Quinn also has something to prove in calling his own plays. He can simultaneously prove that he can win without Brian Kelly (which actually he did with Central Michigan as the interim in the '06 Motor City Bowl) and he can prove his worth to the University of Buffalo.

      As added incentive, new Head Coach Butch Jones will be looking on. While he's not actively coaching the squad, he has addressed them and he undoubtedly will be watching and evaluating the game. Either way, Jones will have a valuable machine with many intricate parts returning for 2010.

      While the players want to finish the string on a positive note against the Gators, subconsciously they have to know "the new guy" is watching and positions could be up for grabs.

      Whatever the motivation may be, you hope the Bearcats surpass last New Year's effort against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Mentally, you hope they're better prepared for the glitz and glamor. Physically, you hope they're better prepared to meet the challenge on defense.

      Two-hand tag-off, this is not.

      They also have to understand that they're playing guys of similar age and talent. While the defending national champions are impressive, there is no "S" on the chest of any Florida uniform. Tim Tebow is one of the more gifted athletes in the sport, but he is not a Marvel Comic Superhero.  Urban Meyer?  He won't play one down in  the Superdome.

      At any rate, perfection is within reach. It doesn't come around much.

      Somewhere along the line, someone decided that "13" was an unlucky number. On January 1st, it'll be the most sought after number in the history of the University of Cincinnati.


THINGS YOU PROBABLY KNEW THAT ARE USUALLY CONTAINED IN PREVIEWS


DATE: January 1, 2010

WHEN TO PAY ATTENTION: 8:30 p.m. EST

WHERE: "Nawlins"

VENUE: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans

SERIES: Florida leads 1-0

LAST TILT: Florida over UC 48-17 on 10/20/84 (Florida coach Urban Meyer, a UC grad, had three solo tackles for the Bearcats)


UC OFFENSE VS. FLORIDA DEFENSE


Very interesting match-up as UC leads the nation in passing efficiency and is sixth in scoring, passing and total offense. Conversely, Florida is third in scoring defense and fourth in total defense. However, Alabama found a way to score 32 on the Gators and advance to the national championship game. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who missed the 'Bama game after a DUI arrest, will be back for this one and along with LB Ryan Stamper, they'll be attempting to disrupt Tony Pike and the UC passing game.


What's tough to ignore is Florida's defense has only given up 15 touchdowns (six runs, seven passes and two INTs). In the Southeast Missouri State game alone, the Bearcats had 10. While the Bearcats average close to 40 points, outside of the 'Bama loss, the most the Gators have given up is 20 to Arkansas. Needless to say, Jeff Quinn and the offensive staff have their work cut out for them. Florida features AP All-America CB Joe Haden (first team) and second teamer LB Brandon Spikes. Spikes has a knack for finding passes and the endzone, while Haden leads the Gators in picks with four.


Florida though has not faced an offense that challenges them as much from the air. While the obvious focus will be on Mardy Gilyard,--Armon Binns, D.J. Woods and Ben Guidugli have all given teams fits that have ignored them. You can't double all of them, so if Pike has time to pass, I'd suspect UC will move the ball. That being said, Alabama beat the Gators by taking it to them. Sure, UC doesn't feature a Heisman winner like Mark Ingram in the backfield, but Isaiah Pead has shown he can run (175 vs. West Virginia) plus UC should have a healthier John Goebel back and there's always the possibility of a Zach Collaros appearance. If the Bearcats can rack up some running yards and hit some passes to the backs, that could open up some "home run" plays.


While the Gator Nation hopes for an improved performance after losing a title game shot, the reality is there could be some natural "loss of inspiration" for this game. Of course, we won't know how it plays out 'til New Year's night.


NOD: UC should be able to invade Florida's secondary, however the running yards could come tough. The key here is ball security. If Pike misfires as he did in the Orange Bowl, this could get ugly. I'd expect Jeff Quinn to do a little more on the ground than Brian Kelly would have.


FLORIDA OFFENSE VS. UC DEFENSE


The formula was evident in the SEC championship game and it's not nuclear physics for UC. Stop the run. Stop Tebow. Control the clock. Tebow got his yards against the Crimson Tide, but the Gator backs were ineffective. Forced to throw, the Gators have weapons, but it's not their strong suit. Plus, they're down a receiver now with Brandon James out. Tebow's top target is another first team AP All-American in TE Aaron Hernandez, while David Nelson is a clutch catcher from the WR spot. Having a healthy Drew Frey is essential to stopping the Gator throwing game, while you can hope seniors Aaron Webster and Brad Jones go out with a "bang".


Again though, it all begins and ends with stopping Tebow. I would think UC in their practice time might go back to Travis Kelce who ran some "Tebow/Wildcat" formations early in the year. With some good scout team work, perhaps UC can zero in on what #15 might do with the football. Brian Kelly and Urban Meyer actually shared some plays in the preseason, so UC might be familiar with some of the Gator "looks", but the same goes for Meyer's Gators and some of UC's schemes.


Truth is, handling Tebow and the Pouncey brothers (G Mike and C Maurkice) will be difficult. This is where senior Alex Daniels needs to back up some of his post-banquet talk. This is where Curtis Young, Ricardo Mathews, Andre Revels and many of the seniors on this unsung defense can write their names in the chapters of Bearcat folklore. The UC defense has been "dissed" all year since they only returned one starter from last year's Orange Bowl team. However, they've played the style they were instructed to and the fact is, 12-0 is the only stat that really matters.


NOD: Tim Tebow is an ultra competitor and will find a way to move the ball against the Bearcats. If UC can keep that movement between the 20s, they'll be in business. If the Gators work consistently in a short field, the strategy could again turn to "last team to score wins". Turnovers and momentum will be crucial in this one.


SPECIAL TEAMS


A crushing blow for Florida was losing returner Brandon James who has a slew of SEC and Florida kick return marks. On the other hand, Florida has no shortage of athletes waiting on their chance. The more Jake Rogers can keep the ball from the Gators on kickoffs and punts, the better. For Florida, they have to deal with Mardy Gilyard whose return marks are nothing to sneeze about. Based on the past, I'd be surprised if Meyer kicked to Gilyard either, so this could give Darrin Williams some kickoff opportunities.


Caleb Sturgis is Florida's kicker and he's been more consistent than Rogers and has as explosive a leg (having booted a 56-yarder against Georgia). Chas Henry was a Ray Guy finalist at punter, so this is definitely a game where you wished Kevin Huber (Bengals punter) had another year of eligibility.


NOD: This is where a lot of games are won and lost and it could easily be the factor in this one. The kicking edge definitely goes to Florida, while UC fans have to hope Mardy Gilyard has one more magical return left in him. Again, kicking in the Superdome, there is no wind, so the kicking conditions are perfect.


THROW IT OUT AND SEE WHERE IT STICKS


It goes without saying that this is the biggest game in the history of UC football, surpassing last season's Orange Bowl. Like last season, the Bearcats are actually ranked higher than their opponent, but let's face facts....this is Florida. These are the defending national champions who were ranked at the top of the heap all season long. In the past, when UC played Florida (1984) it was as a designated homecoming/cupcake. When Urban Meyer was a Bearcat in the mid 80s, UC played the Gators, the Miami Hurricanes, Auburn and Alabama. That schedule wasn't to impress the pollsters, it was meant to impress the bank.


Now, not only are the Bearcats playing for BCS dollars, they're expected to be competitive. What will decide this game is whether or not everyone buys in to the concept of "we belong". If the mindset is, "Oh wow, we're playing Florida!" the result might not be favorable. If they can look at the Gators as just another team in the way, perhaps they can take care of business. While there's no doubting Florida's greatness, they weren't exactly overwhelming in wins over Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State and South Carolina--all teams that UC should compete with.


Will the impending "indefinite leave of abscence" of Urban Meyer play a part?   Well, on TV it certainly will.   You hope that Fox realizes there's a game going on in between the verbal worship of Meyer and the departed Brian Kelly.  On the field, the speculation points toward Florida, just ask ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit who confidently predicted, "Florida will now DESTROY Cincinnati!"


I'm hoping Jeff Quinn has had the video crew pull that clip and they play that over and over in the Superdome locker room.   Never in the history of college football will a team ranked higher than their opponent be such a decided underdog.   It's as if the Bearcat staff will just throw up their hands in desperation and start drinking Hurricanes rather than prepare for the game now.


I say, based on history, the Bearcats have dealt with more change and adversity than Florida and they're not about to take a "60-minute knee" just because Urban Meyer MIGHT be coaching his last game.


While Florida will certainly be up for the contest initially, the big question is--can they sustain it?  They missed out on the BCS game and this is still their consolation prize. They're losing their defensive coordinator to Louisville and their WR coach has already left. They're also in jeopardy of losing a number of juniors to the NFL. Then there's the fact that Florida fans haven't exactly been beating down the doors in Gainesville to get Sugar Bowl tickets. Their student sales were such that they had to offer discounts and some of their allotment was given to UC when they couldn't sell them.   That might change now, with Meyer's "I'm leaving/not leaving" announcements.


On the other hand, if Florida for some reason falters in this one early, the Gator fans might opt for "first dibs" on Bourbon Street to drown out their frustrations. How this all plays out, no one can predict. But, it goes to reason that the Gators could easily underestimate UC with all that's on their table.


In the end, both teams have had major distractions the past month and it's all going to come down to who deals with the off-field issues the best ON THE FIELD. In other words, who will "tune out" all of December and focus on three-plus hours on the first day of the year.


For players and fans alike, savor the moment and make the most of it. If all goes by plan (and borrowing from the legendary Hank Williams) "son of a gun, we'll have great fun by the Bayou!"



 

How to keep their heads from spinning

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This is what UC interim coach Jeff Quinn has to accomplish in the next week or so: figure out how to keep the Bearcats focused amid the turmoil happening all around them.

 

Their head coach is gone to Notre Dame. Their interim coach already has taken the head coaching job at Buffalo but he, along with the rest of Brian Kelly's staff, is sticking with UC until after the Sugar Bowl. Their new coach Butch Jones is staying in the background until after the Jan. 1 game.

 

And oh yeah, they have to devise and execute a gameplan to beat one of the best teams in the country.  

 

It is, Quinn agreed a few days ago in a sit-down interview at Dave & Buster's, an absolutely crazy time.

 

"How many teams have lost a coach to Notre Dame, hires a coach from Central Michigan who followed us after we left Central and then came here, named me interim head coach at Cincinnati and then turned around and became the head coach at Buffalo," Quinn said. "OK? You couldn't even make that story up and say that was true and factual.

 

"I have four jobs currently - I have the head coaching job of my home, I have the head coaching interim job at Cincinnati, I hold the offensive coordinator duties here, and the head coaching job at Buffalo. I am drinking through a fire hose, as the old saying goes. But I'm still standing, baby. You just take it one step at a time. There's certainly not enough time in the day to get everything done and you can't get too far ahead of yourself."

 

Every Bearcats player I've talked to has said they haven't been distracted by the constant who's-coaching-ok-he's-leaving-but-oh-he's-staying-for-now. In fact, UC has responded in a different way - apparently, the Bearcats have been more focused than ever.

 

"It's not as difficult as you would think," senior linebacker Andre Revels said. "We still have the same staff, except for coach Kelly. It's not like we're getting a whole new group of people or we need to learn a whole new system. It's the same guys inside the locker room, the same guys who are putting the plan together upstairs and the same guys who are going to go out on the 1st and put forth the same effort.

 

Said sophomore running back Isaiah Pead: "It makes us focus on stuff we can control. With all the coaches leaving and the changes, you can't control it. All we can control is our preparation for this game and trying to come out with a win."

 

Much of the credit for that must go to Quinn and the rest of Kelly's staff. They've always talked about how to overcome adversity. Now, they're getting an even bigger lesson in how to deal with that hardship.

 

"We lost our head coach," Quinn said. "That was very difficult and emotional. Nobody wanted to see Brian Kelly leave, but it happened. In any situation, we have to talk to players about overcoming adversity. How are you going to handle adversity? We talk about it every day. There's going to be adversity in your life - every day, every game, every situation. How you handle that is going to be the key to keep this season going for a perfect 13-0. That's what I want to stay out there on."

 

Defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs credits the players.


"What is great about these kids - and this is the honest truth - they just show up for practice," he said. "They go to work. They go to meetings. They're doing everything exactly as you would want them to do. It's my first time through something like this and to watch how they're handling themselves on a day to day basis, it's really impressive to me."

UC-Winthrop Rock 'N Roll Party

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It seemed like Mick Cronin's postgame presser was set to wrap up and he seemed about to finish his thoughts on the UC 74-57 win against Winthrop. But then Cronin the coach became Cronin the inventor and Cronin the psychologist.

 

Suddenly, a relatively dull evening featuring a 17-point victory in which UC didn't play particularly well against an overmatched Big South conference opponent turned rather interesting.

 

Though I don't think anybody even asked whether his team didn't give as much effort in the second half as it did in the first, Cronin gave a lesson on what a modern-day college basketball coach has to endure.

 

"The worst thing fans say is it was a lack of effort," Cronin said. "The second half wasn't a lack of effort. It was lack of focus. We have some younger guys, some immature guys."

 

Then, somebody should have been on the phone with the U.S. Patent office.

 

"It'd be nice," Cronin continued, "if I could put shockers on guys. I know I can't use the dog collar. I'll get in trouble for that. If I could use an electronic wristband ... Today's generation is interesting - it's hard to get them to focus. It gets worse every year. Coaching now reminds me of when I was 19 in my first year coaching (high school) freshmen that had never played organized ball - to get guys to pay attention to detail to improve their own game. It's just a different world. The biggest challenge is that we're psychologists moreso than coaches. We have great kids. It's just the way it is. It's the change in the times."

 

Yancy Gates, who led both teams with 16 points to go with seven rebounds, basically agreed.

 

"We have the talent to play with anybody," he said. "When we're focused, we're just as good as anybody. Our weakness is a little immaturity. Those are things that can be corrected."

 

This, I guess, helps explain why, in the first half, UC shot 50 percent from the field, 72.7 percent from the foul line, outrebounded the Eagles 23-12, assisted 12 of the team's 15 field goals and turned the ball over seven times and then weren't quite as good in the final 20 minutes (in the second half, respectively, the Bearcats were 52.4 percent, 50 percent, a 17-16 rebounding advantage, assisted 6 of 11 field goals and had 11 turnovers).

 

"What you have to have is enough talent to overcome it at times," Cronin said. "We have a lot more of that this year."

 

Then, he continued.

 

"Yancy Gates decided to come to play tonight. Some other guys were maybe ready to go home tonight. We have to all come to play every night, and the sky is the limit for us. We can compete with anybody if we lock in and focus.

 

"I know how good UAB is. Our team doesn't. We might as well play Duke at Duke. Our guys will be ready for that. We played well in Hawaii, because they were on ESPN every night. The best thing to do is tell your players the other team is ranked."

 

--Ibrahima Thomas had a nice night, despite playing only 15 minutes because of foul trouble. He finished with 11 points and three rebounds, and Cronin called him solid. Thomas, when he entered the postgame presser, also demanded a French interpreter, so credit him with a sense of humor as well.

 

Said Winthrop coach Randy Peele: "Whew, he was very good. I knew his length was an issue but he stepped out and shot the ball. When he was away from the basket as the ball was reversed to him, he shot it way better than what I thought he could."

 

And that's OK with Cronin. As long as Thomas (1 of 4 from the 3) takes open shots from long distance.

 

"I thought he rushed the last one," Cronin said. "You should never take a challenged 22-footer. The problem is cable TV. In the NBA, they have a 24 second shot. Those guys have to take challenged shots all the time, because the clock is running down. You should only take a 22 foot shot - it doesn't matter if you're 5-10 or 6-10 - you should only be shooting if you're a good shooter. If somebody is closing out on you with high hands, you shouldn't shoot. But three of his four were wide open."

 

--Nice story here by cnati.com on Deonta Vaughn's offensive struggles. Tonight, he hit all three of his 3-point attempts and finished with 11 points.

 

"He's worked hard at it," Cronin said. "What I liked in the first half was he didn't shoot the ball at all, because he wasn't open. If he'll get in the gym and keep working at it, and makes sure he takes good shots when he has balance with his footwork, he'll continue to make shots."

UC-Winthrop LIVE blog

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Live from 5/3

UC's starting lineup: Deonta Vaughn, Larry Davis, Ibrahima Tomas, Lance Stephenson, Steve Toyloy. To start on the bench: Yancy Gates, Cashmere Wright.

On the first possession of the game, Deonta Vaughn passes to Larry Davis, who promptly drops it out of bounds.

Andy Buechert with a nice little hook shot in the lane.

Don't have to worry about Thomas being non-aggressive. He's taken two 3s (missed both) and has gone to the rim twice and been fouled both times (3 of 4 from the FT). Then, he makes a layup off an inbound play.

Mantoris Robinson picks up his second foul with 17:19 to play.

UC 9, Winthrop 4 (15:50 to go)

Cashmere Wright and Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon in the game off the official timeout.

Dion Dixon gives up the ball in traffic to Reggie Middleton, who goes in for the layup. Mick immediately calls timeout and pulls Dixon from the game.

Buechert picks up his second foul with 14:21 to play after fouling Gates when he was making his layup.

Heck of a pass from Stephenson on a Gates dunk.

UC 19, Winthrop 11 (11:35 to go)

Gates is dominating with 10 points. UC has 14 points in the paint. Winthrop is shooting about 35 percent and 20 percent from the 3.

UC 26, Winthrop 14 (7:54 to go)

Winthrop having trouble getting the ball inbounds off timeouts against UC's press defense.

Darnell Wilks has to go high to get the alley-oop from Cashmere Wright. but he got there and slammed it home. That was pretty nice.

Winthrop now has two timeouts left for the game.

Liked the over-the-shoulder, no-look pass from Wright to Wilks. Forget a dance-off. Let's have an assist-off.

UC 33, Winthrop 21 (3:33 to go)

Dixon gets hammered while taking a long jumper. No call, but Dixon doesn't complain. Instead, he gets himself into position for an open layup and makes it.

Haven't seen Ibrahima Thomas for a little while. Oh, it's because he has two fouls.

Gates tries to get into the act with a fancy pass, but he turns it over.

Deonta Vaughn's line: 0 for 0 from the field. One rebound, one assists, two fouls.

24 of UC's 39 points have come in the paint.

UC is 50 percent from the field but 1 for 10 from the field. Gates has 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting. Bishop has six rebounds. Stephenson with four assists. Corbin from Winthrop has eight points.

UC 39, Winthrop 23 (half)

And Thomas finally hits that 3, the first one of the season.

Trainer Dave Fluker is looking at Larry Davis on the bench. Looks like a right arm or shoulder problem.

Deonta Vaughn with his first points of the game - a 3 - with 17 minutes to go.

UC 50, WInthrop 34 (15:18 to go)

Now, something is wrong with Rashad Bishop. Busy night for Fluker. Bishop is covering his head with a towel.

Larry Davis back in the game, BTW.

Not much newsworthy going on. Except that UC isn't playing all that well right now.

UC 54, Winthrop 43 (11:10 to go)

Another hook from Buechert has cut the lead to single digits with about 11 minutes to go.

A heck of a play by Stephenson who takes an outlet pass, gets fouled by Gamble and makes his layup while he was about to go underneath the actual backboard. And he made it look so easy.

Bishop is back in the game.

UC is shooting 55 percent from the floor but have 16 turnovers. Sloppy, sloppy.

UC 58, Winthrop 47 (7:43 to go)

Vaughn ends a slide of seven-straight missed shots by UC by nailing a 3 to go up by 13. Then, 44 seconds later, another three.

UC 65, Winthrop 49 (3:44 to go)

Dixon's three-point play gives UC a 20-point lead. And it's all over but the cryin'.

Gates finishes with 16 points and seven rebounds. Vaughn and Thomas with 11 a piece. Bishop has eight rebounds. Stephenson with five assists. UC shoots 51 percent from the floor and 31.6 percent from the 3. Winthrop shoots 37.5 and 18.2, respectively. Bearcats finish with 18 turnovers.

UC 74, Winthrop 57 (final) 

Trying To Defy The Odds In New Orleans

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Say "84% wrong" to a West Virginia football fan and, chances are, they'll know exactly what you're talking about.

 

Three years ago, the Mountaineers experienced what the Bearcats are going through now as head coach Rich Rodriguez bolted for Michigan 19 days before WVU faced Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

 

West Virginia's long-time radio broadcaster Tony Caridi - one of my old college buddies at Syracuse - admits that he wasn't very optimistic going into the game.

 

"It would be totally disingenuous if I said that walking into the stadium that night that I thought that West Virginia was going to have a chance to win the game," Caridi told me recently.   "Not only did they have to play a game without their head coach, but it was against an Oklahoma team that was being mentioned by pundits as perhaps the best team in the nation.    Rich Rodriguez and one assistant had already left, and you knew that several other coaches were literally going to be on the road to Michigan the next day.  It did not look like West Virginia would be able to win the game or even be competitive."

 

Football fans across the country agreed with the WVU announcer.

 

"There was an ESPN poll where fans voted on who would win the game and it looked like a presidential map with the red states and the blue states," Caridi recalled.  "84% of the nation picked Oklahoma to win the football game and the only state in the United States that picked West Virginia was West Virginia.  And that was obviously with their hearts and not their minds."

 

But West Virginia not only won, the Mountaineers dominated the Sooners in a 48-28 victory.  On the sideline near the end of the game, Mountaineers wide receiver Dorrell Jalloh held up a sign that said "84 percent wrong."

 

"When you first walk into the football facility at West Virginia, a photo of that sign is located to your immediate left and it is blown up to a huge size," Caridi said.  "That underscores defying all the odds when you're told that you can't do something.  I would think that would have to be the number one victory in school history.  It's the highest-ranked team that they have even beaten and then you have to consider the situation that they were put into.  And they not only beat them, they thumped them.  So I think that would probably be the number one victory - this is my 26th season, and without question, in my 26 years that's the biggest." 

 

ESPN.com is once again giving fans the opportunity to make their online bowl picks (you can vote on the Sugar Bowl here).  As of December 22nd, nearly 70,000 people had voted and 67% pick Florida to beat UC.

 

That comes as no surprise to Mardy Gilyard.

 

"Even at 12-0 we've got people asking us, 'Do you think you can compete with Florida?' Gilyard told me.  "Then when BK left, it was almost like pouring gas on the fire for us, because now there are people running around asking, 'Can they compete without Coach Kelly?'  People should know that Coach Kelly had a staff that had something to do with this too, and those are the guys who are working extremely hard to get us prepared for this game."    

 

The Bearcats goal is to hoist the Sugar Bowl trophy after the game.

 

Holding up a sign that says "67% wrong" would be nice too.

 

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

LIFE IN BEARCAT (BEDFORD) FALLS

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    In a little over two weeks, the following has occurred....


    UC beat Pittsburgh 45-44 in the "unofficial" Big East title game to earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl.


    Brian Kelly left Cincinnati to coach Notre Dame


    Jeff Quinn was hired as UC's interim coach.


    Butch Jones was hired from Central Michigan to coach Cincinnati (but won't officially take the reins  'til after the Sugar Bowl).


    Turner Gill left the University of Buffalo and was named head coach at Kansas.


    Former Bearcat quarterback Danny Barrett was named interim coach at Buffalo.


    Jeff Quinn was hired as the University of Buffalo's new head coach, but will still coach the Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl.


    Hmmm....

     "At the end of the day," (as one guy wearing green ties now used to say) it's all about dominoes and interchangeable parts. In this "silly season" (as the politically savvy latest leprechaun has said) one move has caused a related move, which has left UC and a lot of schools with great questions about their bowl games.


     Like George Bailey in "It's A Wonderful Life", life is dependent on such things. (And, if you haven't seen the movie, you're missing valuable reference points.) If George (Jimmy Stewart) went off and saw the world like he had planned, Bedford Falls would've been run down by "Ol' Man Potter", he never would've been married with a family, and so on. His every action led to another action, which pretty much is the way all of this stuff works in my very non-scientific opinion.


      What would've happened without these coaching moves, we'll never know. But, we can look at what DID happen recently....


      When Mark Dantonio declared he was leaving UC for Michigan State after the Connecticut win in '06 (subsequently abandoning the Bearcats in their bowl game) things looked bleak. But, after a short regime with Pat Narduzzi as the interim (and by the way, it's all but a lead pipe cinch now that if you're the interim, you're NOT getting the job in these situations) Brian Kelly was hired away from Central Michigan.


      At Central Michigan, Jeff Quinn, Kelly's right-hand offensive man, then was named the interim. Quinn led the Chippewas to a Motor City Bowl win, but also found out that he WOULD NOT be the new coach. (Note: Quinn now has a chance for an odd record, 2-0 as a head coach with both victories being in bowl games!)


      Butch Jones, wide receivers coach for West Virginia under Rich Rodriguez, was hired at Central Michigan. That then freed up Jeff Quinn to come to Cincinnati where he teamed up with Brian Kelly to obliterate the Bearcat offensive record book over the next three seasons.


      In all of the situations, the results were positive. Kelly and Quinn went 34-6 with UC's new spread offense. Butch Jones went 27-13 at Central Michigan, which was actually considerably better than Kelly's 19-16 mark over three years in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.


      The questions you then ask are: Would Mark Dantonio have had the same success at UC if he had not left for Michigan State? Would Brian Kelly have gotten interest from Notre Dame or any other schools if he were still at Central Michigan? Would Jeff Quinn be up for a FBS job if he had hung with Kelly at CMU? And, would Butch Jones have a major college head coaching gig if the other events hadn't taken place?


      I say no.


     While Dantonio had certainly upped the recruiting ante and was bringing in better talent, his version of smashmouth, Big 10 football wasn't the answer here. Yes, I believe he would've continued to win, but only marginally above or around the 7-5 mark that he recorded twice in three years. The sellouts would not have came because: a) it wouldn't be the "bandwagon" thing to do; and b) with the Bengals in town, people aren't going to file in on Saturdays to watch 10-3 football games. (There again, Mark Dantonio is an intricate piece of the puzzle because without his success, there is no Brian Kelly.)


     Had Kelly stayed at Central Michigan, odds are he probably would've jumped for another job. Research shows you that Iowa State and Michigan State came knocking and based on his post-Grand Valley State behavior, roots and longevity haven't been a priority for him in awhile. While I'm sure CMU would've continued to win in the MAC, based on the assets surrounding the Chippewas, I would never see them having the seasons that the Miami's and Bowling Green's have had in recent years. Even if you do so in the MAC (Ball State, Northern Illinois) it's tough to sustain that level of success. So, without the Dantonio situation at UC, Kelly probably jumps to another level, but never gets the opportunity at UC.


     Had Jeff Quinn stayed at Central Michigan with Kelly, based on the above hypothesis, he would still be at Central Michigan or maybe a C-USA school, biding his time with Kelly. This is not knocking either Brian's or Jeff's abilities, it's all about the surrounding support and talent. I just don't think either could've walked into a better situation than what they had here. I don't believe they would have won at this level at either Iowa State or Michigan State. Following Kelly to Cincinnati, gave Jeff Quinn two BCS bowl games to put on his resume. Anywhere else, and he's still scraping for respect (which is does deserve, because he's an excellent coach).


     If Turner Gill stays at Nebraska, and doesn't get an opportunity at Buffalo, he then has no chance at landing back in the Big 12 at Kansas. Likewise, had he been picked for the Auburn job last year, who knows how things would've turned out. Being at Buffalo allowed him to resurrect a MAC doormat and get himself in contention to return to the "limelight". With his exit, Jeff Quinn then gets the opportunity to be interviewed and eventually hired (based on his rising stock in association with Brian Kelly).


     As for former Bearcat quarterback Danny Barrett, the "interim rule" applies. "Interim" is a nice way of saying, "Dance with my date while I go find a prettier one."


     Fast forward to Butch Jones. If Dantonio stays at UC and Kelly at CMU, Butch Jones then probably still works for Rich Rodriguez (unless he takes a small school offer). Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia for Michigan. So, Jones would probably be an assistant at Michigan--which really isn't a bad gig. However, if you've noticed Michigan's record thus far, other colleges aren't beating the doors down for Rodriguez assistants.


     Again, it's not making light of Butch Jones, he would've been my target too if I'm Mike Thomas. It's just the surrounding components would not have been there (in my opinion) had he followed Rodriguez to Michigan. Or, had he stayed at West Virginia.


     For Butch Jones to coach UC, Mark Dantonio had to leave, Brian Kelly had to leave CMU for UC, and Jones had to coach CMU and then wait for Kelly to find the "pot of gold" in South Bend.


     "At the end of the day," we have Butch Jones with a pretty good job at UC. Brian Kelly apparently has his "dream job" at Notre Dame. Mark Dantonio tucks his girls to bed in green and white blankets at Michigan State. Turner Gill's got a Big 12 chance at Kansas. And, Jeff Quinn gets his first college head coaching job at Buffalo.


     Three years ago, only two of those guys were head coaches, so fate has dealt them all a pretty fair hand I'd say. Just as the assistants at UC and Central Michigan are all going to land on their feet somewhere. Their "body of work" has been enhanced dramatically since 2006.


     It's just tough to understand or predict how a certain "turn of events" will work. As the wise say, "the only thing certain in life is change". For some of us, change has been not so good (at least for now). For others, change is unexpected but results in a favorable outcome.


     But, you absolutely CAN'T predict it.


     For example, what would you say if I told you the following a year ago....


     Notre Dame's coach will have an undefeated year, yet not coach in a bowl game. The University of Buffalo's head coach will lead an unbeaten team into the Sugar Bowl. The coach at Central Michigan will leave that job to take over the third-ranked team in the nation. And, UC would return to a BCS bowl, have an undefeated year, come within one second of the national title game and be coached by someone NOT named Kelly.


     Proven again, truth IS stranger than fiction.

Coombs: Prep for bowl game better than last year

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No fear. No awe. That's what Kerry Coombs sees from the University of Cincinnati players.

 

The Bearcats' defensive backs coach and associate head coach is helping the team prepare for its New Year's Day matchup with Florida in the Sugar Bowl. It is UC's second straight BCS bowl appearance, and Coombs says there is a noticeable difference from a year ago.

 

"I think we're much better suited this time than we were the last time because we were star-struck last time," Coombs says. "I believe our players and coaches have a much better feel for what the BCS involves.  We've tried to make sure that our preparation is very solid prior to going to New Orleans so we're down there sharpening the sword instead of installing new things.

 

"I feel very good about the change in the way we're preparing this time over last time. We didn't tackle much (in practice) last time; we've done a lot of that. I think we learned a lot of lessons from the last game."

 

Virginia Tech easily handled Cincinnati 20-7 in last season's Orange Bowl. UC struck first and led 7-0 less than two minutes into the game.  But the Hokies dominated the rest of the way, finishing with 398 yards of total offense and holding the ball 19 minutes more than the Bearcats.

 

This year, UC is preparing to face the defending national champion Florida Gators and quarterback Tim Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner who threw for 2,413 yards and rushed for 1,026 yards this season. He accounted for 31 touchdowns.

 

"It is a great challenge," Coombs says. "We'll take the field in the Sugar Bowl, with all that history and tradition, against what 20 years from now may be regarded as the greatest college football player of all time. And what a great opportunity for us. I think our kids are looking at it that way. I don't think they're awestruck. I know this - they're not afraid one bit. They're just looking forward to playing."

 

Coombs says preparing for the Gators is the same as getting ready for all opponents, just with more practice. "You don't have time to pause and think about how good they are," he says.

 

While UC's high-powered offense attracts a lot of attention, the defense may very well be the key to this game. The Bearcats have allowed 44 (Pittsburgh), 36 (Illinois), 21 (West Virginia) and 45 points (Connecticut) in the last four games - a 36.5 average.

 

That's after allowing an average of just 12.9 points over the first eight games.

 

"When you look at the points that we've allowed ... it's been the result of an individual player's breakdown on a certain play or the function of the defense having the right call," Coombs says. "It's not been, boy, we've got 11 guys who have gotten bad all of a sudden. We played great defense for a large part of the year.

 

"The great thing about our defense is they've played well enough to win. They fight and scratch and claw. If you look at where we were when it was 31-10 to winning that game at Pittsburgh, it was the defense that brought the team back. That's something those kids are very encouraged by. They're really excited and eager to play on this stage. They've heard the talk and they will be prepared."

 

Since the thrilling victory over Pittsburgh on Dec. 5 that gave UC the Big East title, the program has gone through unprecedented upheaval.

 

Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame. Offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn was named interim coach for the Sugar Bowl. Butch Jones from Central Michigan was named UC's new head coach. And Quinn accepted the job at Buffalo's head coach while remaining to coach the Sugar Bowl.

 

Crazy times, for sure.

 

One constant is Coombs, the former Colerain High School coach who was Jones' first hire for his new staff. Coombs is a Cincinnati guy who wants to be in town and with the Bearcats.

 

"I'm thrilled at my choice," he says of staying with UC. "I think everybody is going to come out of this thing in a great situation one way or another. These are great men who are great coaches and wherever they are coaching they're going to be successful.

 

"I love Brian Kelly and I will always be in Brian Kelly's debt because he hired me at the University of Cincinnati when he hadn't even met me before. He's a great coach. Brian is going to be very, very successful at Notre Dame. At the same time, this is the University of Cincinnati, and I am very excited to be here. I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with Butch and the other coaches who will be here, as well."

 

Jones announced the hiring of Coombs at his introductory press conference. Coombs says the two have known each other for years and used to go head-to-head at a University of Michigan summer camp when Coombs coached defensive backs and Jones wide receivers.

 

"His style would be a little bit more laid-back (than Kelly) on the interpersonal level," Coombs says. "He will be very intense at practice and at games. In casual conversation he's relaxed.  I think he's confident. He feels very good about the situation that's found himself in. I think he's excited about the future.

 

"He's inquisitive. He wants to know everything there is to know about the team, the players, the recruiting. We haven't even gotten to the city yet. That's coming after we get through this, and that will be a whole nother learning curve for him. The town, the team and the university - everybody is going to be attracted to Butch.

 

While Jones is not coaching UC in its bowl game and is doing his best to maintain a low profile during preparations for New Orleans, he is already hard at work on the Bearcats' behalf.

"He's been very cognisant of the process that we're going through," Coombs says. "He's not trying to impose himself on that at all, which I think everybody appreciates. At the same time, he's here. He's working on recruiting. He met with a lot of our committed kids over the weekend. And that was good because he was received very well by them. So he's hard at work, but he's working in the future. He's allowing these players and this coaching staff to finish the job, which I think is admirable on all fronts. He wants it to be that way, and I give him credit for that. It's a tough situation for everybody.

 

"I admire the way everybody is preparing and focusing and working day in and day out. The kids, the coaches, we're just doing our business. That's a really admirable thing to watch."

 

 

Sleepless Night Results In Better Offense

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After his team's lousy performance in Birmingham on Wednesday, Mick Cronin knew he wasn't going to be able to sleep, so he put his insomnia to good use by staying up all night and watching every minute of every Bearcat game this season in hopes of finding ways to be more productive offensively.

 

"There are things in that game that were embarrassing for me," Cronin said.  "Shot selection is something I pride myself on as a coach - my teams are going to play smart.  Any coach wants to feel like his teams are going to play smart basketball and we were disoriented at UAB.  We had to get ourselves back on the same page in order to take high-quality shots."

 

But two days of extensive work on the offensive end at practice did not produce early results on Saturday against Lipscomb as the Bearcats did not make a field goal for the first 6 ½ minutes. 

 

"I thought there was a possibility that we would come out and freeze because guys were so determined to run the offense that they weren't trying to score when it was there," Cronin said.  "Early in the game there was a lot of ball movement but nobody was looking to shoot."

 

Eventually, the Bearcats began to take - and make - good shots, shooting 54% from the floor in an 80-52 win over the Bisons.

 

"We had 21 assists today which is a direct reflection of ball movement and execution," Cronin said.  "You could see that the conviction to try to share the ball more was there today."

 

"You have to get guys to believe in letting the offense work," Mick told me.  "You have to hang on to your execution in tough times and not hang on to the bravado of, 'I'll grab the ball and go score.'  We have to rely on our execution.  Because we really got away with not executing in Maui, we hadn't become a team that really understood that yet.  Although I was very unhappy with the result at UAB, I do think it's going to make us a better team."

 

* * * * *

 

Ibrahima Thomas made his first start as a Bearcat on Saturday and played 18 productive minutes, finishing with 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots.

 

"Everybody saw the real guy that's got a chance to be a really good player and help us a lot," Cronin said.

 

But with Big East play looming in less than two weeks, the Yancy Gates who averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds in Maui, needs to grab a return flight from the Islands.  On Saturday, Gates played four ineffective minutes in the first half (0 points, 0 rebounds) and stayed on the bench for the rest of the game.

 

"I love everybody in that locker room and I love Yancy as much as the rest of those guys, but we needed a win," Mick told us after the game.  "It doesn't matter who you are.  If I feel that you're not ready to play - you're not sprinting down the floor, you're not playing with strength - we have to go with somebody else.  Hopefully he'll come back and respond and practice hard and get ready to play on Tuesday.  As a coach, you've to play the guys that give you the best chance to win and that's really all I try to do."

 

Cashmere Wright also saw limited minutes.  Deonta Vaughn started at point guard and Jaquon Parker - who barely played in the previous two games - was the first point guard off the bench.  Wright eventually got into the game in the second half and played a total of nine minutes.

 

"Our point guards had eight turnovers combined which has to get rectified in a hurry before Big East play starts," Cronin said.  "Our point guards are better players than that.  Their decisions are the problem right now.  They had no forced turnovers.  They didn't get trapped.  Those were all turnovers where they either made a bad pass on their own, or drove too deep.  They just elected to do that.  They have got to start seeing the floor and stop staring at their target because the defense is reading their eyes like a free safety in football.  You cannot win in the Big East with your point guards turning it over eight times in a game.  It's not going to happen."

 

You know what results from point guards that turn the ball over?  More sleepless nights for their coach.

 

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

Quinn-tessential Coach

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Jeff Quinn has my vote for something; Interim Coach of the year. Stand up Coach of the Year. Committed Coach of the year...OK I'm reaching. But my point is he could have easily bailed out on these kids and said I've got to make sure Brian Kelly doesn't hire anyone else before I get there. Its a tough economy; I've got my family to think of so I have to move quickly.

But he didn't and Coach Quinn I appreciate you. I think college kids are in a touch situation but its a great life lesson. There are some things in the world that just aren't fair and that's the way it is, period. Some adults are quick to cry foul when a coach leaves but its the way coaching is structured; and conversely when a coach signs a five year deal and gets fired 2 years in no one complains because its about the now.

But the interim guy always seems to get passed up when credit or blame is thrown around. Not in this column. Coach Quinn, I acknowledge you for your decision to stay regardless of the reason. I also know that in building a resume' you now get to add interim coach and that moves you ahead of a lot of candidates for future head coaching jobs in the business. I hope you get your chance and you don't have to wait as long as Charlie Strong at Louisville, but his situation unfortunately was mired by ignorance and good ol' boy boycotting.

So off to the Sugar Bowl we go, under the leadership of Head Coach Jeff Quinn. I hope the team rallies around him and Butch Jones respects him and stays out of the mix. If there's one thing he deserves, its a chance to lead this team for one game. The outcome is his to own and I'm confident it will be done the right way. This team will be prepared, they will play hard and they will listen to their Coach; the Quinn-tessential one, Coach Quinn.

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

Three and Three

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Well, didn't take long for Mike Thomas to find his next head coach, and if you find success at one school, why not go back to the well one more time? This hiring happened fairly quickly, and that's a success for the administration. Thomas said he knew Butch Jones was the right man for the job the first time they met face to face, and though Houston's Kevin Sumlin declined an interview last week - really, a Conference USA coach didn't even want to talk to the No. 3 program in the country? - that matters not at all today. The Bearcats have their new coach, and if he's anything like the last coach they hired from Central Michigan, UC should be fine shape.
Three things UC fans should be excited about

1. The Central Michigan to UC pipeline: Mike Thomas has hit home runs in two of the three major-sports hires on which we can judge him. Brian Kelly obviously was a slam-dunk from the very beginning. Mick Cronin, after a rough first couple of seasons, has the team back in the top-25 and should finish in the top half of the Big East standings this season (Wednesday night's loss to UAB, notwithstanding). J. Kelley Hall and the women's basketball team didn't work out so well, but overall, Thomas has shown an ability to recognize coaching talent at the mid-major or low-major level. Thomas has gone once again to Central Michigan - I imagine the Chippewas fans feels the same way about UC as UC fans feel about Notre Dame, times 2 - but it worked so well the last time, why not give it a shot?

2. The offense remaining the same: The offense that was in place under the last staff accomplished two positives with the spread, no-huddle system: 1) It was very effective against teams who don't see those offenses every day in practice, and 2) it was fun for the fans to watch. It would have been a shame if Thomas had hired a defensive-minded coach like Temple's Al Golden, because all the excitement that had been built with a team that can score 40-plus points per game would have evaporated as soon as he coached the Bearcats to a 12-9 victory. This system also will be helpful to the offensive linemen. Since Kelly and his staff already had been stockpiling linemen who fit this system so well - thinner, more athletic players that can move in space and get off the line of scrimmage and run - Bearcats like Jason Kelce and Alex Hoffman shouldn't have to change their bodies (or their mindsets) very much at all.

3. No reason for the top Bearcats players to transfer: Not that many of them were going to leave anyway, because of the whole having-to-sit-out-a-season-as-penalty thing. But if you were worried about Zach Collaros having second thoughts about remaining a Bearcat, this should put that to rest. Same with Armon Binns and Isaiah Pead and the rest of the skill player recruits. If the offense remains the same, the players that were recruited to play in that offense should stay satisfied. Most of them, at least.

Three things Butch Jones should accomplish in the next year

1. Continue the local recruiting upswing: When it was clear Kerry Coombs was not heading to South Bend, Jones' first call should have been to the former associate head coach. It appears that was exactly the case. So, Jones is already off to a good, smart start. Coombs is one of the major reasons top local recruits have to consider UC. It was the right move to offer him the job. It was really the only move.

2. Keep the fanbase excited: I hate to keep harkening back to what Kelly did when he was here, but he provides the perfect example of how to get people pumped for Bearcats football - pumped enough to get them to buy season tickets and start donating more money, anyway. Jones might not have the same kind of charasmatic, politiciany-type personality that makes fans want to put down their prayerbooks and shout "Hallejuah" when he's finished with his sermons, but it falls to Jones to keep the fanbase enlivened. Perhaps Coombs can help with that, as well, because, as we all know, Coombs is fairly excitable.

3. Schedule Notre Dame: Brian Kelly talked about this in the Enquirer the other day, saying he wants to schedule the Bearcats in the future (though, I wonder if he'd be amenable to having a home-and-home series in South Bend and then at Paul Brown Stadium). Either way, schedule the game. This will be a prime opportunity for UC to show it's more than just Brian Kelly's program but also a program that can survive the loss of him.

PRESIDENTIAL APPROVAL

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      The 38th football coach in the history of UC football was introduced Wednesday at the Kingsgate Marriott in the same room where the 37th football coach was introduced. Only this time, it was a former quarterback doing the introducing.

      No, Greg Cook wasn't there. Neither were Deontey Kenner, Gino Guidugli or Ben Mauk.

      This former quarterback is still barking out the signals, examining coverages and orchestrating drives.

      It's UC's President, Dr. Gregory Williams, once the terror of the gridiron for Muncie Central (Indiana).

      In a job requiring him to balance budgets, appease faculty, and attract funding, it's fun for Dr. Williams to put his athletic background to use in introducing football coaches. At UC's Bowl Selection Show party, Williams seemed in his element congratulating Brian Kelly and greeting the undefeated Bearcat football players.

      Then, as Kelly wandered off to Notre Dame and Mike Thomas found another proven winner, Williams had the good fortune to be the one to officially introduce Butch Jones to Bearcat fans.

      "Absolutely, I'm delighted," said Williams. "I've had a chance to visit with him. He's a tremendous coach, he has all the right values. He wants to be a winning football team on the field, but he's committed to helping them develop as individuals."

      Dr. Williams obviously has come a long way from his signal-calling days at Muncie Central, as few high school quarterbacks ever make it the illustrious job of "University President". Still, the quarterback is generally regarded as the smartest guy on the field. Williams showed as much by passing off the praise of the Jones hire to his teammates, in this case, Athletic Director Mike Thomas.

      "Mike Thomas has put this all together, but he's kept me informed all along the way," said Williams. "We've had very close conversations. I felt fully informed and I'm really pleased to be here and be a part of this process."

      Part of the process was to find someone to "sell the program" as Brian Kelly did. While it's tough to match Kelly's political savvy at a reception, snaring a guy that shares the same on-field philosophies as the guy that just guided your team to an undefeated season was important. Of all of the "outside" candidates, Butch Jones probably brought the biggest "wow factor" to the equation.

      With the Jefferson Avenue indoor complex needing funding and thoughts of expanding Nippert Stadium, creating "buzz" with your coaching hire was crucial.

      "He's a great coach--he's going to be a fantastic coach," said Williams. "He's going to allow us to continue that momentum, I'm absolutely convinced of that. He's the right guy for the University of Cincinnati."

      Accordingly, Dr. Williams appears to be the right guy for fans of UC athletics. After all, not many college presidents have cousins that are NFL coaches (Jay and Jonathan Hayes of the Bengals). Also, not many played a fair amount of basketball and football. (Again, for the record, Dr. Williams claims he was a better football player than "roundballer". And, he played for the Muncie Central BEARCATS!) Furthermore, Williams served on the Big 12 Board of Athletics while at Iowa.

      So, in between books,papers,briefs, thesis presentations, proclamations and commencements, the "Prez" has taken in a game or two.

      Now, not only does Dr. Williams get to watch the Bearcats play one more game this season, he also gets a pretty good Sugar Bowl seat as UC President.

      "Well, I enjoy it," Williams admitted. "But, what I enjoy really more than anything else is celebrating what these young men have done and how they've really come together and gelled as a team and have been committed to success. Like Coach Jones said, no coach ever throws a touchdown pass, makes a tackle--the President doesn't do the same thing. It's an opportunity to celebrate what they have done and the great reflection that is on the University of Cincinnati."

      In hiring Butch Jones, AD Mike Thomas and Dr. Williams have stuck with a winning formula: wide-open offense, good-conditioned student-athletes and tremendous passion. Jones mentioned Wednesday that he likes passionate individuals, so one can see where the coach and the President are going to get along.

      Plus, every quarterback enjoys chucking the ball around. True to form, Dr. Williams anxiously awaits what he'll see from Jones and company in 2010.

      "Absolutely, it's a great philosophy," said Williams. "I'm a great fan and I have high expectations. We're going to play not only at a championship level, but we're going to have a program with integrity, a program that understands that this is a multi-dimensional sport, in the sense that there's responsibilities outside the locker room and off the football field."

      Obviously, it was more than football and basketball that attracted Dr. Gregory Williams to Cincinnati. He has plenty more on his table beyond sitting next to his latest, highly-paid coach.  But, you can hear the "fan" in his voice and there's no question that UC's recent ascension into big-time college football has improved its profile. Admittedly, athletics were part of the attraction to bring Williams to the Queen City.

      "This is something that made this job very attractive to me," Williams said. "I spent 16 years at the University of Iowa, was actively involved with athletics there. I was at Ohio State for eight years and I've always been a fan of big-time sports."

      In the end, it all comes down to sports analogies anyway. Teamwork, "crossing the goal line", "hitting a home run", "slam dunk", "winning the game", dedication, determination, "going the extra mile", "running point", "following the game plan",etc. are terms that are heard everyday in conference rooms across the world. Maybe the language changes here and there, but it's all translatable.

      Some will claim sports are insignificant and meaningless. I would argue that they enhance the image and marketability of a school. Particularly, when you have a team that's been plastered on national TV for most of the season. A three-hour "commercial" on a major network on New Year's night isn't something to take lightly.

      While I'm as excited as anyone over the hiring of Butch Jones, a guy that should keep the football program rolling, I'm equally excited to have a University President that understands the playbook.

THE MIGHTY QUINN

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     As usual, the City BBQ was on time along with the corn muffins and sweet tea, only this week your Tuesday football presser in the Bob Goin Team Meeting Room featured a new speaker.

      He is your interim head coach, Jeff Quinn who left his "O-line" sweats and jacket in the locker room and sported the "GQ" look in his mass media debut (or maybe that's the "JQ" look?).

      Jeff Quinn ain't Brian Kelly, he'll tell you as much. But, he attacked the podium just like an offensive lineman/former wrestler would---he hit us in the mouth right away and began driving his point home. He acknowledged that he's "interim", but made no bones about wanting the job full-time.

      He also thanked the guy that he's worked for the past 21 years who now sports more green (in his wardrobe and wallet) Brian Kelly.

      "No one man and no coach has ever done more for this football program, this University, than Brian Kelly," said Quinn. "He's done an outstanding job and we should credit him for a lot of the work and where we are today. Our focus now is to work on congratulating our football team on being 12-0 and getting ready for the Sugar Bowl."

      Fortunately, for Quinn and UC, this isn't uncharted water. When Brian Kelly left Central Michigan for UC in '06, Jeff Quinn stayed behind and guided the Chippewas to the Motor City Bowl win. Then, he came to Cincinnati to see the Bearcats into the International Bowl in early '07.

      Now, the situation has similarities, but the stakes are much higher. Those bowls were rewards for "also rans", the Allstate Sugar Bowl means your program is one of the best in the country.

      "The coaches and the players need to circle the wagons," said Quinn (already with the coachspeak down). "It's a tremendous responsibility and a tremendous challenge for me."

      The challenge will be getting everyone on the same page as the author of this book decided to forgo the final chapter last Thursday prior to the team banquet. That left coaches and administrators in precarious positions and players with hurt feelings.

      Fortunately, Mike Thomas has kept the current staff in tact (minus Kelly) and that continuity should help aid the team in preparation. After all, as some of the disgruntled players noted after being informed officially of Kelly's departure, they made the plays on the field, not Brian Kelly.

      If you think about how almost a completely new staff got UC ready for that International Bowl after Mark Dantonio took just about everyone to Michigan State, you have to feel good about this situation. It doesn't make it any easier, but if ever a group of players wanted to prove a point--now's the time.

      The Bearcats will have five practices prior to Christmas and then will reconvene after a holiday break to head south and get ready for the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl. Not a bad platform to prove your worth if you're Jeff Quinn. He's obviously reached the point to where he'd like to "call his own shots" if the right opportunity came along.

      While it may not be here, Quinn's presence and answers for the media gathered Tuesday showed that he's ready to step forward if the right thing came along.

      For those worried about recruiting, all prior commitments will be honored. "Right now, nobody has reneged on that," said Quinn.

      For those worried about the backlash of what happened Thursday night at the Westin, with several seniors expressing displeasure....

      "This now becomes their football team," said Quinn. "We've talked to them from the beginning, it's their time, but not their team. Now, we need in the family structure to be able to move forward and have those young men step up. Be professional, be mature, be responsible young men and obviously a lot of work is going to need to take place with our seniors. I'm going to rely very heavily on them and I trust them."

      Something different about this interim appointment is that Quinn is slated to lead the Bearcats into the Sugar Bowl regardless of the result of the coaching search. When Mark Dantonio left in '06, Pat Narduzzi was made the interim. However, once Brian Kelly was named head coach, Narduzzi left to join Michigan State and Kelly's coaches were left to staff two bowl games.

      "The only way I'm not going to be there is if I'm sitting next to the dear Lord above," joked Quinn. "They're not going to take me that soon. I've made it clear and we have an agreement that I will coach this football game regardless and our coaching staff and entire support staff will be here."

      While much has been made over the departure of the head coach, the feeling around the hallways is the players now want to finish the plan, finish the job, finish the process. Many stated as much in defiance the other night. If ever there were a time to turn anger into positive energy, it is now.

      "These kids came here to compete at the highest level," said Quinn. "We asked them to follow the plan and they have done that. At 12-0, one of the top football teams in the country, these young men are great competitors as I am."

      Quinn believes that competitive edge can be built upon and wounds that were opened after the Pitt game can be healed quickly. That's exactly why he gave them immediate time off and had them return to their families. He needed them to be consoled and guided by family and role models that have influenced them in the past. With their return, he hopes his influence can guide them to a Sugar Bowl trophy.

      "This is going to be another unique situation that I'm going to learn an awful lot from," said Quinn. "What I do know is I'm going to be true to who I am. We need to rally the troops on the 'next man in' mentality. I'm no different than Zach Collaros, we didn't know what Zach could do until he was put in that position and here I am today. I'm not going to be any different than who I am. I'm a very compassionate, competitive son of a gun and I love UC football and I love the Bearcats. I have to finish the detail this season."

      That detail now means being the "face" of the program for the time being. Quinn joked afterward that his mother often complained about not seeing him on TV. Now, he'll be front and center in all HD glory complete with his diabolical plays that he's drawn up over the years with Brian Kelly.

      Only now, after designing the machine, he gets to drive.

      "We all knew that Brian made the majority of the calls and he was the one directing--I will assume that role," declared Quinn. "We will still have our entire offensive staff, Charley Molnar, Tim Hinton, outstanding football coaches, up in the box giving me advice up there. Then, I'll have Lorenzo (Guess) and Coach (Greg) Forest on the sideline. I'll call the plays, then I'll have my input from my coaches as we've done."

      While the actual play-calling part is an added responsibility, those close to the program know that Quinn has been very "hands on" with the design and implementation of what you've seen work on the field. 21 years of creativity and ingenuity is essentially crammed onto an elaborate, laminated card.

      "All of the things that Brian has on that sheet, those are the work of Jeff Quinn and our offensive coaches," clarified the UC interim. "With his great football mind, he (Kelly) had his ideas of how to attack teams and how to put points on the board, but the bulk of the work week-to-week was done by myself and our offensive coaches. We gave him the menu and he took the menu and had a feel for what he wanted to do. The good thing is you have the guy that did all that work and now I have an opportunity to make those calls on January 1st."

      At the very least, it's a well-deserved opportunity for Jeff Quinn. After 21 years, he obviously is looking to branch out on his own and it's not everyday that you get handed the keys to a 12-0 team with this kind of firepower.

      It could be the perfect ending to a perfect season...and a perfect springboard for something else should Jeff Quinn explore his options.

Lacrosse Makes Community First

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So, hey, anything going on at UC's campus these days?

Well, perhaps lost in all the Sugar Bowl, Crosstown Shootout, who's the new coach hoopla was a note on the gobearcats.com website that, if you kept the flash program in rotation, popped up about the UC Lacrosse team.

Pretty heady stuff, this announcement is: The Bearcats have been awarded the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) Team Community Awareness Award. The award recognizes the Bearcats for their hard work and dedication in the community.

So, what have they done? Well, they've participated in Winners Walk Tall, in which the team went into inner city schools and became character coaches to teach younger kids about making right decisions. They've planned and worked Bingo Night for the Kentucky Police and the elderly community.

They've helped our servicemen and women through projects such as Cell Phones for Soldiers and Adopt a Troop. They worked at Bras Across the Bridge to support breast cancer awareness and did pop tab collections programs to support the Ronald McDonald House.

You want more? They worked at the Kids' Zone at each football game and promoted the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, created and dedicated to raise public awareness regarding pediatric brain tumors, at various games. And, they helped out with the Nearly Naked Mile and the Adopt a Family at Christmas program.

And yes, they'll have lacrosse to play this spring. Season starts Friday, March 5.

This is what head coach Lellie Swords had to say in the University release:
"Being active and engaging with the community is a point of emphasis that I stress to the team. It's important for us to give back to the community."

Teams don't do this for the awards, or the recognition. Teams do this because they feel a responsibility to give back to the community, to help youngsters have positive role models, to help make lives better.

In a historical perspective, lacrosse is relatively new to campus. These players haven't waited around to get involved, though. This is just one example of how Bearcat teams give back to the community, and the school, they represent. Congratulations to lacrosse, and thanks for all your good work.

 

Another classic Shootout

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   So many reasons to love the Crosstown Shootout this year - and every year.

   I know both coaches hate it, but it's such a great, intense game. I would think Mick Cronin and Chris Mack, when watching video with their teams, will tell their guys they need to play with that kind of passion every game. You know, like against UAB on Wednesday night and Lipscomb (Lipscomb? Really?) on Saturday.

   Had major computer issues last night and found later that blog posts never posted. Thought today I'd throw out a few observations from the thriller in Cintas.

 

·         The first half of XU's 83-79 victory told you all you need to know about why this game is different. Fights almost broke out twice. Players had to be restrained. Coaches and staff ran out on the floor. That's not happening against Miami University, folks.  The beginnings of these games are often sloppy because of the level of intensity with which everyone comes out. Also guys try to too hard. While I personally like some pushing and trash-talking because it keeps the rivalry heated, unfortunately for the Bearcats they kind of lost their composure and let a seven-point lead disappear. "You've got to be able to walk away," Cronin said later. "True toughness is dealing with the environment and dealing with the game. My guys lost their cool. We were concerned about everything but execution." No question. The guys acted like they've never been in a physical game before. "Just a little talking going on," Rashad Bishop said. "It just kind of escalated a little too far." Cronin stressed composure at halftime, and the players seemed to get the message.  The second half was great ball on both sides.

 

·         It's always interesting to see who rises to the occasion in these games and who doesn't. Obviously Xavier's Terrell Holloway (career-high 26 points, 11-of-11 free-throw shooting) and Jason Love (19 rebounds, five blocks) were sensational. UC freshman Lance Stephenson scored a career-high 22 points and is really tough to stop one-on-one.  "I felt like every play I could make the basket," said Stephenson, who was allowed to speak to the media for the first time since arriving at UC. "This was a very competitive game. I didn't know it was this tough."

 

·         Holloway, like Stephenson from New York, told Mack during the game that he wanted to guard Stephenson.  He did a decent job, making Stephenson work for his points. Stephenson has averaged 19.5 points in the last two games and is clearly UC's go-to guy. Deonta Vaughn had a career-high nine rebounds, but it took him too long to get going offensively. Coming off zero points against Miami, he didn't score against Xavier until 2½ minutes into the second half. He finished with 13 but missed a layup in the final seconds of double-overtime.

 

·         By the way, Mack indicated that Stephenson was, uh, talking to him during the game. Stephenson could not seem to recall that.

 

·         Both coaches used lots of players (9 each played at least 10 minutes) and lots of combinations. Cronin did not start Yancy Gates but needed him quickly when Steve Toyloy picked up two fouls in the first 2½ minutes. Mack didn't start leading scorer Jordan Crawford. Said he wanted to try a different lineup. Uh huh.  Darnell Wilks strikes me as very productive: He had eight points and five rebounds in 14 minutes and was 2-of-4 from 3-point range.

 

·         Some stats: This was only the sixth overtime game in Crosstown Shootout history and the first to go into double overtime. "A Shootout to remember," Mack called it. Xavier has won five of these games; UC's only OT victory was in 1967. ... The Musketeers have defeated UC three straight times for only the second time ever. The first was 1984-86, the Byron Larkin era at X. XU has never won four in a row in the series.  ... UC has lost 10 of the last 14 and has not won at Xavier since Dec. 14, 2001.

 

·         Bearcats were just 10-of-22 from the foul line and may have lost the game because of poor free-throw shooting, which also hurt them in their other loss to Gonzaga. UC missed a free throw in first OT and missed three in the second overtime that could have won it. Xavier, meanwhile, was 28-of-36. "We're not finishing on the interior," Cronin said, reminding that UC also missed close-range shots and layups. "We've got to learn how to close out a game." Cincinnati is shooting just 60.2% from the foul line for the season.

 

·         Wonder if ESPN will broadcast the game next year. Seems relegating it to ESPNU was not the best decision. No matter where in the country you live, that was a great game to watch.

 

·         Pretty cool that both coaches are home-grown (Cronin went to LaSalle High School; Mack to St. Xavier). "Half my family hates Xavier and they root for UC," Mack said after the game.

 

·         Perhaps the best thing about the Shootout is it's so unpredictable that it's predictable. The fact that UC was ranked going in combined with the fact that Xavier had been playing horribly only meant one thing: The Musketeers would have a great chance to win.  But that was anybody's game and a blast to watch.

 

 

 

 

Crosstown Shootout Rock 'N Roll Party

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I think Xavier coach Chris Mack said it best when he entered the postgame presser and said simply, "A shootout to remember."

 

Indeed it was. The double overtime, the play of UC freshman guard Lance Stephenson (22 points, six rebounds), the clutch shooting of Muskies guard Terrell Holloway (a career-high 26 points, 11 of 11 from the foul line), and, of course, the almost-fight.

 

So, what should we talk about? The fight, right?

 

"Just a little talking going on," said Rashad Bishop, who got into it with Xavier guard Jordan Crawford. "We got heated at some points in the game."

 

Um, yeah. Before the near brouhaha, UC was leading by seven points. By the time it was over, Xavier went into halftime with a 31-26 halftime lead.

 

"You have to walk away," Mick Cronin said. "You shouldn't be starting it, first of all. If you're not, you have to walk away. My guys lost their cool. We were concerned about everything but our execution."

 

But you talk about intensity, and yeah, this game had plenty of that.

 

"It was intense," confirmed Xavier guard Dante Jackson. "How many times did the official have to break us up? Both teams really wanted to win."


Said Crawford: "I don't think a fight was going to happen. They were trying to come in here and be the bullies. We wanted to be the bullies too. We were coming too, and that put them back on their heels."

 

In the end, though, it wasn't the near-fisticuffs that took place that cost UC the 83-79 loss. It was the fact the Bearcats offense didn't get into a flow, shooting 37.6 percent from the floor, 21.7 percent from the 3 and 45.5 percent from the foul line.

 

"We missed layups," Cronin said. "You can only play so much defense. You're only going to stop them so many times. Finishing at the rim has been a problem."

 

--Lance Stephenson made a statement on national TV by hitting 9 of 19 attempts and taking big-time shots with the game on the line. He also apparently made some statements to Mack during the game. Asked after the game what he thought about Stephenson's performance, a very tight-lipped Mack said, "He's a very good player."

 

Then, somebody asked him if Stephenson had said some words to him during the game, and Mack confirmed that account. When Stephenson came into the interview room, he said he didn't remember talking to Mack.

 

Stephenson and Holloway, who had been teammates and opponents while growing up in New York City, had a nice battle going, and during a huddle in the game, Holloway announced to Mack that he wanted to guard Stephenson. Holloway said it was a New York City thing.

 

"OK, I'm from Cincinnati," Mack said. "Guard him."

 

--Ibrahima Thomas, in his first game for the Bearcats, didn't have much of an impact (unless you count the fact he walked through the middle of a Xavier huddle that led to the bench-clearing scenario in the first half). He finished with two points on 1 of 6 shooting (0 for 2 from the 3) and blocked a shot in seven minutes.

 

"Obviously he wasn't in the flow tonight. We need to get him incorporated before Big East play starts," Cronin said. "That's something we've got to do. I didn't know what I was going to see. I see him in practice every day, and he makes shots and plays well. But when a guy hasn't played in a year, it's pretty tough to come out."

LIVE from the Shootout

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The one thing you know about the Crosstown Shootout is that it's not going to go the way you think. If one team is ranked high, the other is likely to win or make it close.

And so with Xavier looking awful in the last few weeks and UC ranked 19th in the country, one could only assume the Musketeers would have a decent shot at winning this year for the third straight time.

Xavier leads 31-26 at halftime. It's been physical, of course, and at least two UC players have had to be restrained by teammates or coaches.

I, for one, like the intensity of this game. Would be great if both teams played with this kind of fire every night. I don't like that the game has had less buildup and media coverage this week in the wake of the Bengals and Brian Kelly. Because I know when the game is about to be played, it's going to be as intense as any game any time.

That's what makes it the rivalry it is, even though both coaches hate this game.

Quick thoughts on first half:

-- What's going on with Deonta Vaughn? How can one of UC's all-time leading scorers go scoreless for a game and a half (he went scoreless against Miami on Thursday night and hasn't scored yet tonight)?

-- Xavier's Jordan Crawford only has four points; he averages 18.5 ppg.

-- Ibrahima Thomas is making his UC debut. He airballed his first shot and has one basket (*a dunk) in the first half.

-- Best student chant of first half: Bri-an Kel-ly, Bri-an Kel-ly.

 

 

Crosstown Shootout LIVE blog

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Live from Cintas Center:

Starting lineup for UC: Wright, Vaughn, Stephenson, Bishop, Toyloy. No Yancy Gates.

Starting lineup for Xavier: Lyons, Holloway, Jackson, McLean, Love. No Jordan Crawford.

As little coverage as this game received this past week - and rightfully so - the atmosphere in here, as always for the Shootouts, is pretty damn strong.

Cashmere Wright, taking his first free throws in this game, is long with the first one and sinks the second. Dante Jackson buries a 3 for an answer. And he's answered by a 3 from Stephenson.

Jason Love blocks Toyloy on two consecutive layup attempts. Then when Toyloy with his second foul of the half with 17:33 to play. Gates comes in to relieve him.

Holloway picks up his second foul with 16:52 to play by tripping Vaughn. Jordan Crawford in to replace him. Well, I guess the officials are going to see who caused the foul. Looking at the replay. Never mind, the foul is on McLean, not Holloway.

Xavier builds a six-point lead, and hte crowd, is well, excited about that.

Jeez, Love just blocked Gates. He's got like four blocks in the first 4:15.

Xavier 10, UC 4 (15:45 to go)

This from Mo Egger's Twitter: "'Catholics always win' with pic of BK sign in the student section. Nicely done."

Ibrahima Thomas in for his first action with 15:18 to go. His first shot draws nothing but air. Then, he picks up a quick foul.

Gates and Thomas in the game together. Xavier has Kenny Frease and Love in there at the same time. Lot of big men in there right now.

UC inbounds with two seconds on the shot clock, and Mick tells Davis to shoot the ball. Instead, he catches and dribble and the shot clock goes off. Mick asks him why he didn't shoot.

UC is shooting 26.7 percent from the field. Xavier is at 36.4.

UC 12, Xavier 12 (11:01 to go)

Wilks, from the top of the key, gives UC a 15-12 with his second 3-pointer of the game.

Xavier students have now started a "Bri-an Kel-ly" chant.

Great ball movement from Stephenson and Wilks to get Gates an open 6-footer. Which he drains. Xavier, meanwhile, taking plenty of 3-pointers and missing them.

Jamel McLean picks up his second foul with 9:18 to go. He's out of the game.

Anthony McClain makes his first appearance with 8:17 to play.

Xavier has missed its last nine shots and have gone 8:24 without a field goal.

UC 17, Xavier 12 (7:56 to go)

Bishop and Crawford are ready to throw down after a hard foul by Wright on Dante Jackson. He's being pulled away, and Bishop briefly escapes and goes after Crawford again. Technicals are being doled out right now.

Bishop and Crawford are given double technical fouls.

With Jackson's FTs, it's the first points Xavier has scored in about 7 1/2 minutes. Thus, ends a 15-2 run for UC. After a Crawford layup, that ends a stretch of 9:32 without a Muskie FG.

Wilks, by the way, playing reall well so far. He's all over the court. 'Course, then he turns it over.

Holloway taking over this game. He's scored the last six points and is penetrating the paint.

This is freakin' nuts. We've basically got a bench-clearing situation.

After a turnover, Stephenson going in for the dunk, but Love fouls him hard enough to draw the intentional foul. From there, it just escalated and escalated and escalated. The officials are meeting with both coaches at mid-court.

Xavier 24, UC 21 (3:20 to go)

Pretty pass from Stephenson to Thomas, who jams it hard to tie the game 26-26.

Cashmere Wright continues to miss layups.

Stephenson puts up a shot off the side of the backboard and his next shot hits the underside of it.

Holloway has to be helped up from the court and slowly walks to the bench. That, folks, is the healing power of Xavier trainer Mike Mulcahey.

Everybody is watching carefully as the two teams cross the court to head to their respective locker rooms for halftime. No fights.

Xavier 31, UC 26 (half)

Halftime stats: UC is 28.6 from the field, 30 percent from the 3. Xavier is 40 and 30 percent, respectively. Stephenson leads UC with eight points. Gates with four rebounds. Holloway has 11 points for the Muskies and Love has 10 rebounds.

Toyloy and Bishop back in the game to start the second half.

Lyons hits a 3 on Xavier's first possesion for the eight-point lead.

Toyloy with his third foul 1:21 into the half. He's got about the same number of fouls as minutes played. Twelve seconds later, he picks up No. 4. Good-bye Steve. Hello Yancy.

Vaughn, with the layup, scores his first points in the past three halves.

Xavier 37, UC 31 (16:57 to go)

Gates and Frease apparently don't care for one another's company. Gates backs him down, bumps him out of the way, misses his shot and lays in the rebound.

Xavier 41, UC 35 (14:51 to go)

A big 3-pointer by Jordan Crawford gives the Muskies a 10-point lead.

UC, BTW, is 4 of 10 from the foul line.

With 13 minutes to go, UC's fouling puts Xavier in the bonus. Muskies are gonna be shooting a lot of FTs.

Xavier 45, UC 39 (11:40 to go)

Vaughn starting to heat up. A short baseline jumper and then a 3-pointer. Then a trey that goes in and out.

Toyloy is back in the game. Over-under on how long before he fouls out?

Cashmere Wright misses another layup.

Great defense by Bishop on Lyons, and then Stephenson nails a 3 to cut the lead to 2.

Xavier 51, UC 49 (7:42 to go)

Another long jumper by Stephenson ties the game. Wright's layup gives UC the lead.

Gotta say, UC's defense has been really good in the past few minutes.

UC 55, Xavier 51 (5:37 to go)

Gates misses two FTs. Gotta start making those.

Crawford with a heck of a shot to give Xavier the lead.

Xavier 57, UC 55 (3:08 to go)

Bishop drives the lane and makes a tough runner to tie it. Holloway with the layup, as Gates just misses the block. Vaughn misses the 3 and Bishop should have got the rebound, but Stephenson tips it away from him. Xavier ball.

Xavier 59, UC 57 (1:32 to go)

Jason Love loses the ball out of bounds

Xavier 59, UC 57 (1:15 to go)

Frease with the foul on Gates, which might be a good situation for Xavier. Considering the way UC has shot FTs. One and one for Gates. Makes both. Tie game 59-59.

Holloway with a mid-range jumper. He was guarded by a Vaughn. Frease created a screen, Vaughn went behind him and Holloway hit a 12-footer with 31 seconds to go.

Xavier 61, UC 59 (0:27 to go)

Who gets the final shot? Stephenson or Vaughn?

Stephenson blows right by Jackson for the finger roll to tie the game with 14 seconds left. Other end of the floor, Holloway's shot is off the mark. Jackson with the rebound and puts in the shot, a millisecond after the buzzer.

UC 61, Xavier 61 (overtime)

According to Michael Perry, this is the sixth OT in Shootout history. Xavier has won five of them. 1967 was UC's only win.

Cashmere Wright is not in the game. Vaughn is running the point.

Gates with the rebounded putback and Stephenson with the step-back jumper. On the other end, Love misses a short jumper and then a Xavier turnover. UC up by 4.

Lyons with a runner and then hits both FTs to tie the game at 65-65.

Gates with a crazy with two Muskies on him and he hits it. Then, he hits the deck trying to get a foul called on Frease. No call and Frease with the easy layup.

Bishop hits 1 of 2 FTs. 68-67 UC.

Crawford misses low-percentage jumper. Wow, Stephenson with the reverse layup. That was a stunning play to put UC up 70-67. He's got 22.

Crawford misses the 3, and Vaughn with a layup.

Holloway out of control, but Vaughn fouls him, which causes Mick to jump about 2 feet in the air. Hits both FTs to make it 72-69 UC.

UC 72, Xavier 69 (:51 to go)

A UC turnover, and Gates fouls him. Holloway with FTs with 27 seconds to play. Hits one and UC calls timeout.

UC 72, Xavier 70 (:27 to go)

Holloway hits the second to make it 72-71.

Dion Dixon's turn to try FTs with 25 seconds to go. Hits both. Up by 3.

So, why would Parker not just let Holloway either drive by him for the layup or foul him hard enough so he couldn't get up a shot? In fact, why is he even in the game? Holloway hits the FT for the 3-point play to tie it at 74-74 with 19 seconds to go.

Xavier with the press. UC breaks it, and Mick calls timeout.

UC 74, Xavier 74 (0:07 seconds to go)

Stephenson takes the step-back 3, but it's short off the rim. Putback fails. Buzzer.

UC 74, Xavier 74 (2nd OT)

No Crosstown Shootout has ever gone to double overtime.

Gates, guarded by Love, misses his shot, but Xavier knocks it out of bounds. Cashmere Wright is fouled by Crawford and hits one. 75-74 UC

Great defense by Gates on Love as he misses the shot. Vaughn with a tough layup to put UC up by 3. Holloway with a tough, tough shot, and he hits the jumper.

Gates with the layup to make it 3 points again. Stephenson fouls Crawford, and he makes on. 79-77 UC.

Gates with the travel. Love over Bishop to tie the game. Stephenson called for the offensive foul, and Mick is going berserk. Crawford with an inadvisable shot. Still tied at 79 with about 1:20 to go. Vaughn misses a layup, Toyloy with the rebound and Andrew Taylor with the foul. Toyloy gets two FTs. He misses both. X timeout.

UC 79, Xavier 79 (0:56 to go)

Great pass from a driving Holloway to Love, who lays it in.

Xavier 81, UC 79 (:35 to go)

Stephenson dishes to Dixon, who is short with the 3-pointer. Xavier rebounds. Jackson will shoot 2 FTs. He hits one. Xavier up 82-79.

Vaughn misses the layup, Gates with the foul. Game just about over. Love with two FTs. First bounces off the back of the rim and goes in. Second is no good. Doesn't matter. Shot is missed and game is over.

Xavier 83, UC 79 (final)

BRIAN'S (SWAN) SONG

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OK, OK we all held out hope but in the end the dream job won over the dream season. Brian Kelly is the new head coach of the fighting Irish and and with his last name, its a bit of Irish irony. Good luck and thanks for leaving the program better than it was handed to you.

Brian Kelly wasn't born in Cincinnati; didn't graduate from UC; didn't marry a lady from Cincinnati or do any of those things in Ohio like you or I. So leaving really wasn't that hard. Dream job; it is what we all want but many of us are scared to chase for fear of that dream job slipping through our not so confident fingers. Not Coach K; super confident, sure of his movements and calculated like a politician; which begs to ask: what can you take away from his tenure here? He took a program that was on the rise thanks to Coach Dantonio and the AD's who went after coaches from high profile programs, and raise the UC name higher than its ever been before. He put the 'Cats on national TV repeatedly, game of the week, prime time and started keeping local talent at home. As a result of that coaches who would have never consider UC as a plum job are taking a second look. I think coordinators from the SEC who desire to be head coaches are looking at this job, the Big 12 as well. Its a top 3 program this year playing in its second straight BCS game and has a stockpile of talent. So what's not to like about UC? 

So instead of being mad at Brian Kelly which is youth and selfishness, celebrate the success that he brought to this program and the path he laid for the next guy. Mike and Mike, that's Thomas and Waddell, the AD's have done a great job of hiring football coaches and they won't stop now. UC football has an identity now and it "swag" comes standard as do sellouts and support. So any coach that walks in here knows he has something to work with. 

Will he have you? this is a business and business decisions have to be made in the best interest of the family. Not the football family but your family. I love people who say he should've stayed but if they were offered their dream job, would want you understand. We need to rally around the new coach and staff and show them UC football was and is more than Brian Kelly or any other individual. Keep showing up at games and keep wearing your "gear".  It's not time to cash in your fan investment its time to invest more. 

Brian Kelly I'm glad I got to know you and I'm glad you were fair with me during my time on the air. I couldn't have ask for any more. And as you start your dream job, I wish you success across the board. I might actually root for Notr...naw never mind. I just want him to do well and I want you to accept the fact that in college sports, coaches are like free agents in the pros; free to leave if they get a better offer. Its just unfortunate the kids can't do the same. For every kid that committed to UC, prove to the world this program will be better with you here. Prove that Brian Kelly was right when he offered you a scholarship.

In parting the only thing I think the NCAA should do is make coaches sit out a year like the players do; Unrealistic at best but it sounds good and more coaches would stay because sitting out a year would drive their wives crazy with them around the house. It drives me crazy to see coaches leave but clearly I understand. Dreams, opportunities and yes money aren't  bad reasons to leave, they're real reasons and ones you can't argue. 

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

Something to think about

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   Not to change the subject, turn the page or move on with life ... but here's a thought:

   Is there a better moment to get behind Mick Cronin, support the UC men's basketball program, pray that he continues to build on this early season success and takes the Bearcats to the next 20 NCAA Tournaments?
   Here is a home-grown guy who is not going to stand up in front of a crowd at another school and proclaim it his dream job. He is not Brian Kelly pining for Notre Dame or Thad Matta bolting for Ohio State.

   Cronin has his dream job. You think if he leaves and someone else is brought in, it's going to be theirs?

   Root for the guy. Hope like heck he duplicates Bob Huggins' success at UC - and then some.

   It was another bad, awkward week for collegiate sports in this town. Why, oh why, can't coaches learn how to gracefully exit?

   Skip Prosser was the model when he left Xavier for Wake Forest. He came back to Cincinnati, told his players in person he was taking a new job, met with the media and answered all questions, paid proper homage to his roots here, got choked up, hugged everyone and moved on.  And everyone wished him well. Is that so hard?

   It stinks right now that players and fans are angry and bitter toward Kelly when less than a week ago he was the toast of town. What he accomplished at UC is nothing short of remarkable and was truly unfathomable when he took the job. It's a shame his final chapter in town played out the way it did.

   I'd find it hard to root against the guy, though. For now, you can be mad at Kelly, Notre Dame, Charlie Weis, the NCAA, the BCS, the guy who kicks off for Nebraska ... take your pick. But there is no substitute for what he gave the program and the city: A reason to believe, incredible electricity in a sold-out Nippert Stadium, Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl appearances and, well, Mardy Gilyard.

   Good luck to Kelly. He should always be part of UC somehow.

   Better luck to Jeff Quinn, who now owns the monumental task of preparing the Bitter Bearcats for Urban Meyer and Florida.

   And, circling back, best luck to Cronin, who wants to be here.

 

  
  

  

I TAKE MY HAT OFF TO HIM

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    Back in my radio days of covering Bearcat football, I had to interview Rick Minter.  During the week, before the game, at halftime and after the game.   I've probably interviewed Rick Minter more than most.
    Minter had a lot of sayings he'd refer too (as most coaches do).  Whether or not he borrowed these from Lou Holtz, I don't know. 
    One of them was, "Some days you drink the wine, some days you stomps the grapes."  So naturally, the column I wrote in the old Bearcat Sports Digest as "Parting Scott" when Minter was fired was, "It Was A Grape Stompin' Day".
    Another Minterism was, "I take my hat off to him....".   Often, when the Bearcats would fall short, Rick would start talking about the other coach or players by saying, "I take my hat off to him....".    We once tried to tally in a game how many "hats" Rick would take off during his comments.  I believe the record was eight.
     Now, I'd like to borrow from one old coach as I write about another old coach.  And, I'd like to take "my hat off" briefly.
     You see, I have "two hats". 
     There is the Scott with the media background who tries to objectively cover all sides and angles and be fair (often, it ain't easy).  Then there is the Scott that grew up a UC fan, that graduated from UC in 1983, whose wife graduated two years later and whose son graduates this spring.  My family has had season tickets in football and basketball since 1993, we've been to conference tournaments, NCAA tournaments and EVERY bowl game since the Bearcats made their return back to the post-season in 1997.  My kids have gone to football camps, basketball camps, and baseball camps at UC.  My oldest was fortunate enough to be on the football support staff twice and has been blessed with two bowl rings .
     That doesn't make me special, but it does give you an idea of my background.  Suffice it to say, you get plenty of good information from talented media folks here and from a number of places.  However, based on my history, I don't think everyone can meet my passion on the topic of UC athletics.
      In the media world, some will look down on you if you confess to being a fan.  It's the "no cheering in the pressbox" mentality.  I get it, I abide by it when I have to, heck--I even read the disclaimer when I act as the internal PA guy in the Nippert pressbox.  But, I am human.  I have emotions, I have passions, I have strengths and weaknesses.
     Make no mistake about it, I am happy over every UC win and extremely disappointed in every Bearcat loss.
      So, I ask that you "cut me some slack" here as I throw some things out as an alum and a fan aboutt Brian Kelly.
      I was excited about his hire and clearly Mike Thomas hit the bullseye by bringing him here.   I've always said that in Cincinnati, you couldn't play Big 10, "run and grind it out" football games that finished 7-3 or 10-3.  You needed "butts in the seats".  You had to have flair.  Scoring brings flair (and winning adds to that).
     Combine BK's offense with his Barnum & Bailey salesmanship and political savvy and he was able to charm us all into a frenzy of unprecedented support.  Brian was able to speak to everyone as if he cared.
     Personally, when his initial press conference came around, I was having ongoing struggles with my voice and had temporarily lost it after a botox treatment misfired on me.  While I was on temporarily leave from work, I went to the press conference and scribbled him a note of welcome, pointing out that I couldn't speak.
     I waited around 30 minutes after the press conference to do so.  To his credit, I think Brian remembered that and when I was finally able to speak again, he was always very gracious.
     While I know BK could blow a gasket and was a taskmaster on the football field, he was never ever unkind to me and was always pleasant and courteous.  He actually agreed to meet with me after I lost my radio job and allowed me to use him as a reference.
     This is what I struggle with today.
     Brian's as smooth as they come in dealing with people at all levels and his political background rises to the top in every group situation.   Politics get ugly though and the football banquet Thursday was as awkward as they come.
     I've been to many football banquets and usually it was a guest and not media.  I have relationships with many long-time supporters and I've gotten to know many coaches, families and players.  The banquets are supposed to be for the players and families.
     I'm not sure this one was.
     And, I don't hold anyone at fault but Brian Kelly on this one.
     While he was able to brush aside the media and work the crowd and podium as if nothing was going on, nearly EVERYONE knew something was going on.  For a guy that has been so savvy in his public dealings, this just came out wrong.
     Again (remember my media hat is off)  players that worked their tails off for a 12-0 season were finding out from out-of-town texts that their coach was leaving.  They weren't told officially until after the program in a side room.
     It kind of resembled having a prom date who immediately afterward broke up with you.
     Then, a guy that was normally bubbly , approachable and effervescent in front of microphone, turned evasive.   He walked past many that he had openly engaged as if he'd never seen us before.
     It almost felt like I was in a movie, as I kind of wandered about with my mouth open.   Players were upset, staff members were put in awkward positions and a lot of people were left in limbo.
     I know I can't help it, I know I can't change the rules of football coaching searches and I know money talks.   That doesn't mean I have to like it.
     When you preach integrity and loyalty , you should live by it.  I'm not privy to all of the past few weeks' happenings, but somewhere along the line, some trust was violated.
     I think Notre Dame made the right hire.  Brian Kelly has all the skills to succeed in college football as we know now.   I'm just not sure all of those skills are good at the moment.
     I wish him well.  I don't wish ill will on anyone chasing their dream.   I just wish people wouldn't get stepped on during the pursuit.
     I take my hat off to him.  Good luck.
    By the way, "hats off" to the guy that gets this job next.  Thanks to BK, it's a much better job than it was in '06.
     Mike Thomas awaits with your C-Paw hat for your press conference and the keys to this "scoring machine" that keeps replacing parts and moving toward the ultimate goal.



A Messy End But A Great Ride

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Perhaps the most memorable gift that Brian Kelly ever got for his dad occurred in 1987 when BK used his college coaching connections to provide 50 yard line tickets to a Notre Dame/USC game in South Bend.    

 

I can't remember whether the occasion was a birthday or anniversary, but I do know that it was a huge deal for Paul Kelly who - like many Catholics growing up in Boston - rooted for the Fighting Irish but had never seen a game at Notre Dame Stadium.

 

Brian's father will be seeing a bunch of them in the future.

 

As a Bearcat fan, I'm obviously sorry to see Brian Kelly go.  He's a brilliant coach with an engaging personality and I've enjoyed working with him immensely.  We've had many conversations over the past few years about the likelihood that he would stay at Cincinnati, and I genuinely believe that this was a difficult decision for him.

 

And while he once told me that Notre Dame was not his dream job, I understand why he took it.  After 20 years of building programs at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati, he's going to where no construction is required.  At Notre Dame, budgets and infrastructure are never an issue; all you have to do is recruit and coach.

 

Oh yea, and you had better win.

 

I am disappointed by how things ended.  As soon as BK accepted the job, he should have flown to Cincinnati, called an immediate team meeting and let his players know exactly what he had decided.  It's such an obvious thing to do that I'm shocked that his guys were forced to twist in the wind waiting to hear it from him while every media outlet aside from Al Jazeera was running a "Notre Dame Hires Kelly" story. 

 

For a guy who usually has impeccable P.R. instincts, that was awful.

 

And it's not his fault, but the fact that UC will try to complete a perfect season without its head coach is ridiculous.  Perhaps this will lead the NCAA to consider a rule that would prevent coaches from interviewing for jobs until their seasons are finished.  The NCAA banned text-messaging to help student athletes - how 'bout allowing them to know that their head coach won't bolt before the biggest game of their lives?       

 

Still, there haven't been many bad moments during his three years at UC.  Brian Kelly obviously leaves behind a much better program than the one he inherited.  His eventual replacement will take over a roster that should be able to contend for the next two Big East titles with a junior class that includes Armon Binns, Ben Guidugli, Demetrius Jones, and Jacob Rogers and freshman/sophomores like Zach Collaros, Isaiah Pead, Drew Frey, Adrien Robinson, J.K. Schaffer, Walter Stewart, and D.J. Woods.  UC will have a new practice facility and indoor bubble built by the fall, and with the Sugar Bowl ticket allotment of 17,500 already sold, this year's BCS bowl appearance should pump some badly-needed revenue into the athletic department's coffers.   

 

Brian Kelly's biggest contribution to the program was making us realize that there's no such thing as impossible for UC football.  The Bearcats can play in the biggest bowl games, pack Nippert Stadium, finish as the highest-rated team in Ohio, and yes, compete for a National Championship. 

 

Not 5 or 10 years from now . . . now.

 

You know what else we learned from him?  That nobody is irreplaceable.

 

To use his favorite phrase, "Next man in."    

 

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-Miami Rock 'N Roll Party

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Let's talk about Charlie Coles for a minute. Let's talk about how funny he is in the postgame pressers. Let's talk about how amusing he is, even after his Miami squad fell 63-59 to No. 19 Cincinnati.

 

Mick Cronin knows it. After Coles left the podium to plenty of laughter from the assembled media, Cronin entered the room and said he wasn't going to try to compete with Coles in the arena of news conference delightfulness. He knew Coles would dominate him.

 

Here's Coles talking about Miami's 64-42 loss to Temple on Tuesday.

 

"Temple just took us apart. I'm going to write a $50 check out to Miami. I know it cost more than that, but just say, 'This is for last Tuesday. I really wasn't at the game. I'm sorry I missed the game. I get paid for working. Here's $50."

 

And then some sneaky former TV guy who was sitting next to me (not Dan Hoard) said to me, "Watch this," and proceeded to ask Coles if he'd ever played against a UC team that only had committed 10 fouls on his RedHawks. Then, he nudged me in the ribs.

 

Said Coles as he eyed on the box score: "Well, let's see. Let's look at the free throws. They shot 32. We shot 3. I'll play along with you. No, I've never played against a UC team that was as timid as this one was. Let's leave it at that."

 

He was certainly the highlight of the night, and it's why Coles should be a national treasure.

 

--The Bearcats full-court press definitely hurt Miami, which committed 14 turnovers.

 

"The first half, we were a little passive," said Miami guard Kenny Hayes, who led both teams with 19 points on 7 of 13 shooting. "We were a little timid instead of just blowing straight past it. When you went past them, the zone was kind of soft. If you took care of the ball, you'd be OK. The second half, we did a pretty good job in the press-break and got some easy looks at the basket."

 

The only problem with the press was that UC didn't capitalize on the turnovers it caused. Despite the eight steals - including three from Lance Stephenson, who led the Bearcats with 17 points and eight rebounds - the Bearcats only managed 13 points off turnovers (the same total as the RedHawks) and eight fast-break points (compared to six from Miami).

 

"We didn't give up layups, we only gave up one basket off our press, and we were able to wear them down a little bit," Cronin said. "We got some key steals, but we didn't convert layups. Cash and Dion had some layups they didn't convert."

 

Speaking of Cashmere Wright, he played well down the stretch despite not starting for the first time this season. He finished with 12 points on 4 of 8 shooting.

 

"I just came in and did whatever the defense gave me and played with that," Wright said. "They let me go to the hole. I kept making shots, and they kept giving it to me. It really doesn't matter who starts. At the end of the day if we win, it doesn't matter."

 

--Cronin said Lance Stephenson took an elbow to the eye and that he needed two stitches after the game. He expects Stephenson to play vs. Xavier on Sunday.

 

Said Miami forward Nick Winbush: "Lance Stephenson and Cashmere are two really good players. They might be freshmen, but they don't play like freshmen. We had a big emphasis on guarding them. I didn't think they necessarily killed us. Some other stuff killed us. I mean, yeah, they kind of killed us. They're two really good players.

The band is playing Three Dog Nights "Joy to the World." I would imagine that doesn't reflect the mood of many people inside U.S. Bank Arena tonight.

Well, we're up in the hockey press box area. It will not be easy seeing much of anything here tonight. I'd say 75 percent of the people in this place have better seats than we do.

Starting lineup for UC: Vaughn, Bishop, Stephenson, Toyloy, Jaquon Parker.

About 90 seconds in, Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright and Darnell Wilks are in the game. They replace Parker, Stephenson, and Bishop.

Man, Stephenson and Dixon really working the glass so far.

UC 4, Miami 2 (15:43 to go)

Tough start for Yancy Gates. He misses two free throws and then he doinks a layup. His teammates aren't shooting much better.

UC playing a little full-court pressure. It's already resulted in two Miami turnovers. Make that three. And make that four.

Brian Kelly's picture just popped up on the scoreboard. Some people booed.

Two nice three-point plays from Stephenson. Really athletic moves.

UC on a 9-0 run.

Miami is shooting 25 percent from the field. UC is at 41.7 percent.

UC 13, Miami 6 (11:42 to go)

The wireless keeps going in and out. Oh, U.S. Bank Arena, how I love thee.

Methinks the game is going to be a grind.

UC 17, Miami 15 (7:49 to go)

Stephenson continues to impress. He missed a jumper, followed it, got the rebound, and made a sweet dish to Toyloy, who laid it in and drew the foul. Three-point play.

Mick is yelling at Cashmere Wright about something, but he's about 50 yards away from me. So I don't know what he's upset about.

UC's defense is playing well. Miami has run up against the shot clock about three times so far.

Stephenson leads all scorers with 10 points and four rebounds.

UC 22, Miami 18 (3:54 to go)

UC is 0 for 7 from the 3.

With the clock runningn down, Ballard drives the lane and attempts a runner that would give Miami the first lead since 7-4. It bounces off the rim.

UC is shooting 33.3 percent from the field. 0 percent from the 3. Miami is also shooting 33 percent. Both teams are 9 for 27. Both teams have seven turnovers. Both teams are not particularly exciting to watch. 

UC 24, Miami 23 (half)

Wright opens the half with UC's first 3-pointer of the game.

Somehow, Rodney Haddix picks up his fourth foul with 18:48 to go. Naturally, he heads to the bench.

UC 34, Miami 28 (15:54 to go)

Geez, that's at least three air-balls for Miami. And a couple missed layups.

Deonta Vaughn has taken one shot so far. He missed it.

UC 43, Miami 35 (10:52 to go)

Miami is starting to hit its 3s.

UC 46, Miami 43 (7:34 to go)

One of the Bearcats is hurt, but I can't see who it is. We're awfully high up here in the stands.

UC 51, Miami 47 (3:32 to go)

Cashmere Wright has really done a nice job the last few minutes of put the Bearcats on his back. Also Parker hits a mid-range jumper to give UC an eight-point lead.

I guess Stephenson was the one who was hurt. They just showed him on the scoreboard with a bandage over his eye.

Don't have any stats for you. The monitors have been off and on all night.

UC 63, Miami 59 (final)


 

 


A BK timeline (via @Twitter)

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Basketball game starts in 35 minutes, so real quickly, here's what I wrote about on my Twitter account today (You really should be following me, BTW).

(5 hours ago) FYI, the football banquet that was open to the media is now closed. Some 1 on 1 availability from 5-6 p.m. But no filming and no admittance. (This was when I figured that this was the beginning of the end).

(4 hours ago) #Bearcats fans thoughts: Brian Kelly (two weeks ago) = the greatest man ever. Brian Kelly (today) = scum of the earth.

(4 hours ago)
Food for thought. @iPead writes "Damn Bryan... say it ain't so dogg." Maybe he's talking about a Bryan who spells his name w/ a 'Y.'

(3 hours ago)
From the South Bend Trib: "ND athletic dpt employees have been put on notice that 'casual Friday' has been canceled. Bus. attire required."

(3 hours ago)
Tony pike: no players meeting today. We know what you guys know. He told us we would be the first to know.

(3 hours ago)
Tony pike: mood of the team is anxious. We want to find something out.

(3 hours ago)
Pike: we feel he has been honest with us. Dont think he would go behind our back.

(2 hours ago)
John goebel says he expects kelly here tonight. Saw him today at Uc.

(2 hours ago)
Kelly enters. "no word. We are here to celebrate our seniors."

(2 hours ago)
Brad jones: you cant blame him. Its a tremendous amount of money.

No. 19 UC-Miami (Ohio) preview

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The offense has changed for UC's basketball team. It's no longer about finding a way to get guard Deonta Vaughn a shot. It's no longer about wanting one guy - the only player who could score on a consistent basis - to take as many shots as possible.

 

Instead, Mick Cronin wants a free-flowing ball-movement style of play where any of the five players on the floor can take a shot - and make it. It's a change of pace for the Bearcats, and it's partially why the UC offense has struggled for much of this season. The Bearcats are simply trying to find a new way to score points, and it's taking plenty of time for them to learn how.

 

"That type of offense takes some time to develop," said Cronin, whose squad takes the U.S. Bank Arena floor at 8:30 tonight to face Miami (Ohio). "It's easier to say, 'You're going to pass it, you're going to screen, you're going to shoot.' We were that way in the past with Deonta because we had other guys who were struggling to score. Now, we're trying to be a well-balanced team.

 

"When we get to a point where we're playing this way offensively, we'll be much harder to deal with because we won't be predictable. We'll have five guys that can score and three guys out there that can beat their man. We're going to reap the benefits of it as the season goes on, but we haven't looked fluid because we've got guys who are being asked to make plays that are freshmen."

 

The defense is the reason UC enters tonight's game with a 5-1 record. Yes, the Bearcats average 75 points per game, but if you throw out last week's 94-57 domination of a bad Texas Southern squad and the 92-68 decision against a completely overmatched Toledo team, that number drops to 66 points per game. Don't expect a waterfall of points tonight either. For one, RedHawks coach Charlie Coles' squad will do its best to slow down the ball as much as possible and keep the game in the 50s. For two, UC, Cronin said, is still a month away from playing as fluidly as he wants.

 

"But," he said, "it's going to help us in the long run."

 

For now, the easiest way for UC to score points is from the foul line. The Bearcats haven't spent much time there this season. In the three games in Maui, they took an average of 13.7 free throws per game, while their opponent shot 29.7. That ended up being a difference of nearly 11 points per game. If the UC defense hadn't been so good in the Maui Invitational, that disparity could have been an absolute killer.

 

"We're trying to become a team that gets to the foul line," Cronin said. "We're not there yet. We have to let our big guys catch it deeper and get fouled more. We have to get our perimeter guys on wing-to-rim drives and get themselves to the free throw line. True scorers get layups and free throws. If you're going to be a high-scoring team, you'll probably have to get 15-17 layups and 20-30 free throws. If you can get 45-50 points on layups and free throws, you can be a high-scoring team. We don't just live on jump shots. When we do, we struggle offensively."

 

Junior wing Rashad Bishop knows this, though. He likes this offense better than the one before.

 

"It's more of a fast-paced offense," he said. "It's not the half-court things we did last year. We have enough people who can get out and run a full 40 minutes. It's a lot more fun. It's just fun getting up and down the court, running and showing our athleticism. In the past, it had to be more structured, but now that we have more talent, there's more freedom. He lets us do what we can do."

 

--Freshman guard Lance Stephenson is averaging 10.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, but Cronin says you haven't seen anything yet.

 

"He has not played well offensively," Cronin said. "He plays unselfish offensively. He has not played like he plays in practice. There are days in practices he never misses a shot. It's scary how hard he is to defend. He hasn't had that kind of game. But to his credit, all he's worried about is playing defense, playing hard and winning."

Comedian Wilks trying to make an impact

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Darnell Wilks is a funny guy. Last week, when he was summoned to talk to the media, he let his personality shine through. He went into his Allen Iverson impersonation: "Practice?!? We're talking about practice?!?" and when I pointed out that he needed a new shtick, Wilks thought for a moment and said, "Homework?!? We're talking about homework?!?

 

More requests poured in. Come on Darnell, do your Cashmere Wright impression. Suddenly the junior wing transformed his voice into a high-pitched squeak and said, "Hey man, I'm a point guard, man."

 

Cracked us up. Told about Wilks' exploits, Mick Cronin said, "That's good. Another comedian out of work."

 

But there's been nothing funny about the work Wilks has put in the past year to transform himself from an afterthought - a guy who could dunk with the best of them but didn't get to show off his skills until the garbage time of a UC win - into a player who could have a real impact for this year's Bearcats squad.

 

"Because of our situation (the past three years), we had a lot of guys being asked to play that probably weren't ready to play," said Cronin, whose squad will face Miami University at U.S. Bank Arena at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. "In normal programs, normal freshmen, it takes them a year or two to figure out what it takes to be a good player at this level. Darnell is no different. He fits into that category, and I'd say that's 80-90 percent of all freshmen. He's a junior and he understands his strengths and how to accentuate them. He's worked on his weakness. He still has improving to do, but he's really worked on his ability to make open shots. We're trying to turn him into a great offensive rebounder."

 

In the first five UC games, that mindset wasn't evident. True, he only averaged 6.8 minutes per game to go with 2.4 points (for his career, he averaged 7.0 and 1.7, respectively, coming into this season), but Cronin didn't like the fact he only procured two offensive rebounds in those five contests. Cronin told Wilks he wanted more.

 

Against Texas Southern, he listened. During UC's 94-57 win last week, Wilks played 22 minutes and recorded 12 points and six rebounds (four of which were offensive boards). Perhaps, he's turned a corner. He's gone from being a comedian to being a legit impact player.

 

"I always wanted to play," Wilks said. "Coming into this year, I saw who we were bringing in, and I was thinking that I didn't want to be that guy that you see on a lot of teams that's a junior or a senior and not playing. I wanted to work on defense, which I still need to work on, And just making a difference in rebounding. Scoring isn't what they really need me to do, even though I can do it when I'm given the opportunity. If I can step up on defense and get rebounds, I'll probably play more.

 

"When I'm in practice I try not to come out to show them I can play for long periods of time and showing them they can trust me on defense and rebounding the ball. That's something they tell me I need to do."

 

He's also tried to alter his shooting form. Coming into this season, he had shot 37 percent from the 3-point line, but so far this season, he's made 3 of 6.

 

"I thought I always shot good; I just didn't shoot," Wilks said with a big smile on his face. "Nah, it was work in the summer. When I was in high school and I used to shoot, I would jump too high. I would over-jump. When I got here, they told me not to jump as high. They told me to work on my footwork and keeping it the same and having a high arc. I've been trying to perfect it."

 

In doing so, he's showing his teammates his desire to improve.

 

"He's finally starting to understand that he has to play hard and smart," junior wing Rashad Bishop said. "You can't just go out and play hard. You have to play smart. He's probably the most athletic player on the team. But he just didn't have the fundamentals."

AIN'T BEEN EASY IN "THE BIG EASY"

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      It's time to turn this thing around.

      "This thing" being New Orleans.

      It sure is a fun city. The weather's generally nice, the food's great, there's a wide variety of music and there's plenty of sights to be seen (some of which you just don't see in Cincinnati). For a full review of the city, I'd have to refer to radio play-by-play man Dan Hoard who used to go to New Orleans like some of us around here pack the Airstream for Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg.

      Dan's a "foodie", he knows the restaurants in the French Quarter and the Garden District (and whatever other districts exist in "The Big Easy").

      Me?

      I can't tell you much about the food there other than that Dan's steered me to a few good places and pretty much told me what to order. So, if you want New Orleans food advice, see Dan Hoard.

      For entertainment, Jim Kelly's your man. In my fortunate years of being involved in the radio broadcasts, Jim was always up for finding a good time somewhere. Turns out in New Orleans, it's all over. Of course, it's up to you to weigh what's a good time and what might get you lit up on You Tube or Facebook.

      Bourbon Street is kind of like being morphed into a kid again, taken to Toys-R-Us all jacked up on Yoo Hoo and having the run of the place. Of course, the same rules apply...you can look, but you better not touch.

      There are a lot of rules in New Orleans, one of those being the "Hurricane Rule". Again, I'd have to refer you to Jim Kelly on that one (or if you see me in person, I can explain).

      The problem with New Orleans has nothing to do with the nightlife, food or atmosphere. It has to do with the distractions.

      Nothing there is like here. The weather's warmer, the city's noisier and the stadium is indoors.

      It's the Louisiana Superdome.

      As you enter the city, it looks like something that landed in any number of alien invader movies. As you enter the dome, you definitely know that you're not in your typical football stadium.

      There is no wind factor, the seats are much further away than Nippert, and you kind of get the feeling that you're taking in a game in the world's largest rec room. There's no advantage for the cold weather team or the warm weather team. It's indoors on fake turf and as artificial as it comes.

      Not that it's a terrible place, it's just that UC's history there is lousy and THAT'S where this thing has to turn around.

      Perhaps this is the year, as this particular team has guys that have experienced wins indoors at the International Bowl (Rogers Centre) and twice at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.       However, as for playing inside in New Orleans, the UC Bearcats haven't won since beating the Tulane Green Wave 21-14 in 1976.

      Not trying to be a downer here, just stating the facts over the years in the Superdome. After Tony Mason's '76 'Cats won, Ralph Staub's '77 version fell the next year 16-13. Then comes a slew of games I'm more familiar with.

      In 1990, I had moved back to Cincinnati from Tampa and got to meet UC coach Tim Murphy. Real nice guy, but the team was awful and had a brutal schedule. That 1-10 group had Iowa, West Virginia, Florida State and Alabama on the menu that year. They also had a game in the Superdome with Tulane. As I recall, Tim Bray and Dave Lapham did it on Channel 19 and it was painful television with UC losing 49-7.

      Then, there's the four games I did in New Orleans with the radio crew. In 1997, it was UC's best chance to win as they had a lot of talent (five were drafted into the NFL off that Humanitarian Bowl winning squad). The Bearcats jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, but then Tommy Bowden's Green Wave led by Shaun King (who later QB'd Tampa Bay under Tony Dungy) came back strong beating up the Bearcats 31-17. Deontey Kenner actually played quarterback late in that game his freshman year and led UC to a "garbage time" score. He wouldn't take another snap 'til the bowl game in Boise some three and a half months later. That loss in New Orleans was one of four that season for a team that should've been no worse than 10-1.

      The highlight of that trip (the one I can print)?

      Dan Hoard and fellow food fanatic Brian McCann (former UC football SID) got us reservations at Emeril's. McCann was so excited that he seemed somewhat flushed while gazing at the menu on the Delta charter heading south. Pretty exotic and ritzy food. I never knew a meal could last three hours.

      Plus, we ran into former Bengal Jeff Blake as we were leaving ("Shake and Blake" was a Saint then). Still, I'd take Popeye's Fried Chicken and a win over French cuisine and a thumpin'.

      In 2000, UC and Rick Minter returned. This time Deontey Kenner was the starting quarterback. Didn't matter--another loss in "Nawlins" 24-19. I honestly don't recall a bunch about this game other than I met a rep from the GMAC Bowl in Mobile on the sideline and he gave me a lapel pin. My guess is you can probably blame my memory lapse on a violation of the Hurricane rule.

      In 2002, the Bearcats got a pair of trips to the Crescent City. This was a typical Rick Minter season that saw UC underachieve early and then rally back to make a bowl of some form. The first visit came in October where I believe Gino Guidugli got dinged up and UC ended up getting buried by Tulane again 35-17. I do remember Minter taking a couple knees around the 1:00 mark before halftime and I voiced my displeasure on the radio (part of me is always fan).

      Later that season, after starting 2-5, UC finished 5-1 (with the one blemish being the infamous first trip to Hawaii). After rallying to beat East Carolina on December 6th (game was rescheduled due to hurricane storm flooding earlier in the fall) UC earned a trip to the first New Orleans Bowl just 11 days later.

      The downside was that the schedule didn't allow UC to get its allotted 15 bowl practices in and it really showed during the game with North Texas. While UC jumped out early in the Superdome once again, the Mean Green defense took over from there. In the end, after stubbornly "sticking to the run", Gino Guidugli was forced into obvious passing situations and just had one of his worst nights ever throwing five picks.

      Really, as bad as the game was, the highlight was actually UC basketball that night. The roundball 'Cats were playing Oregon in Madison Square Garden in a game they were widely picked to lose. All I remember is having Mo Egger yelling in my ear about, "Tony Bobbitt going nuts". After Minter's Bearcats racked up the 24-19 loss, we all found a TV in the Superdome to gather round and watch Bobbitt and company beat the Oregon team featuring the bushy-haired "Lukes" (Jackson and Ridnour).

      After we all returned to the hotel, being young and ignorant, we went out to the French Quarter (note: not advised if you have an 8 a.m. flight). I believe we got pictures with cheerleaders, UC players and North Texas players. Pretty much anyone.  It was fun.  New Orleans is a fun town.

      But, I'd trade all the fun and silliness around for a Sugar Bowl win over Florida. I'll sign that deal right now. Bearcats over the Gators and you can meet me in the New Orleans Marriott lobby with milk and cookies and a checkerboard.

      In the land of the Mardi (Mardy we hope) Gras, you can King me!

      It's time we turn this thing around.....



UC's new president has extraordinary story to tell

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   He practiced basketball every day all summer long.  Gregory Williams badly wanted be a Muncie Central High School Bearcat. And for that, he was willing to do just about anything. So he'd play 10 to 12 hours a day. Even after football practices started, Williams would come home afterward and play basketball in the evening.

   "I learned that if you really want to do something you have to be totally committed out-of-your-mind to it," Williams says now.

   He had started his junior season on the varsity basketball team but was demoted around Christmas to the "B team." Williams was driven to make the varsity as a senior.

   As you read along in Williams' book, "Life on the Color Line," you're certain he will achieve his goal.

   And then all of a sudden - he doesn't.

   Williams was cut from the team.

   "That was a disappointing time," he says. "I learned that sports were not necessarily as fair as I thought they should be - because I don't know what went into that decision. I hope what went into it was could I contribute to the team (and) was I a good enough player to stay?"

   He wonders.

  

*

   You walk into the outer office of new University of Cincinnati President Gregory Howard Williams and you can't help but notice the walls. They are adorned with promotional posters of his best-selling book and photos and letters from dignitaries and celebrities - folks like President Clinton, Colin Powell, Tom Brokaw, James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall and the Prince of Asturias, heir apparent to the Spanish throne.

   There are more in Williams' office.

   UC's 27th president, who officially started on the job Nov. 1, brings more than a lifetime of academic achievements to his new position. He is an accomplished author who has appeared on "Oprah," "Good Morning America," "Larry King Live," "ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel," "Dateline NBC with Tom Brokaw" and National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross.

   He has traveled the world and counts Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, as a friend.

   When asked who he would want at his "ultimate dinner party," Williams mentions many of those people. But he starts with his father, who died at age 61.

   "I'd like to have my dad at the dinner table - sober," Williams says. "Actually, he did die sober. It was a great thing that he was able to move forward in his life. He was a great story teller and a guy of great wisdom and understanding."

   James "Buster" Williams was a driving force in his son's life. Buster was an alcoholic. He was often unemployed. He had more than his share of personal struggles. But he never lost sight of encouraging Gregory to succeed academically.

   "His message continued to drive me for many, many years," Williams says. "My dad had his problems but he was totally committed to me as well as he could be dealing with his own alcoholism. And he believed in me when not everyone believed in me.

      "I had high aspirations. I had high goals. My dad said, 'Greg you can be president one of these days.' It turns out he was right. I did turn out to be president of two great institutions."

 

*

   Williams started growing up in Virginia. In 1954, when he was 10 years old, his parents separated, his father lost his business and Buster Williams took his two sons to Muncie, Ind., where his family lived.

   It was on the bus ride to Muncie that Buster first told his children that they were part African-American and they were going to live with African-American relatives in an African-American neighborhood. Until then, Gregory Williams had been told his father was half Italian and believed he was white.

   "Life is going to be different from now on," Buster Williams said. "... People in Indiana will treat you differently."

   Suffice it to say, the next several years were filled with highs and lows that are described in the book in candid detail.

   Through it all, Gregory Williams never wavered in his goal to be a lawyer.
   "What I really learned is perseverance and to stay focused," he says.

   In his book, Williams refers to a conversation with his high school football coach who questioned him about dating white girls. In reality, it was the basketball coach who had that discussion with Williams.

   To this day, he does not know if that played a factor in his not making the basketball team as a senior.

   There were hard lessons learned in Muncie.

   "Realizing that it's not going to be a day at the beach," he says when asked what he learned most from being cut in sports. "If something's really worth doing, then you really have to deal with whatever adversity or obstacles might be in your way. Be able to walk from it saying, 'OK, maybe I wasn't successful, but I did the best that I could do.' There was never any question that I, as they say, left everything on the field."

   Oh, did we mention Williams was Muncie Central's starting quarterback?

*

   Whatever it takes.

   Williams graduated from Ball State University, earned a masters degree at the University of Maryland and a law degree, masters and Ph.D. at George Washington University.

   Whatever it takes.

   At the University of Iowa, he was a law professor, associate law dean and associate vice president of academic affairs. At Ohio State, he was dean of the law school. At City College of New York, he was president of the university.

   Whatever it takes.

   Williams has always had a special drive. His father was a great motivator and set high goals for his son. Miss Dora, a family friend, took in Gregory and his brother six months after they arrived in Muncie despite making just $25 a week as a maid.

   "She did everything she could for us," Williams says. "There would be days where I thought, Well, I've had enough; I'm going to give this up. Then I'd say, No, no. There are too many people who supported me, people that supported me during a time when there was a price to pay for being a friend of Greg Williams, people that I felt I just couldn't let down.
   "Athletics played a role, as well. It's one thing having that dream; it's another thing being able to kind of achieve that dream and figuring out what it is going to take.

   "A combination of all of those things created perseverance, that strong will, that desire to achieve, to be competitive and reach for those goals."

 

*

 

   Over the years, Williams says, he talked with many students about obstacles they were facing and he shared "bits and pieces" of his own story. Many of those students told him he should write a book. His wife, Sara, also encouraged him to tell his story.

   Well, not just his story.

   Williams was back in Muncie and asked friends and family there what they thought of the book.  

   "Greg,"  they said. "This is not your book. This is our book. You told our story. "

   "That's what I really wanted to do - tell the story of what it was like to grow up in a very racially divided community," Williams says. "But, of course, it's not just about racial division.  It's about overcoming obstacles. It's about living in a dysfunctional family. It's about dealing with poverty. It's about trying to survive. It's about trying to make sense of teen-age years.

   "I go back to Muncie at least once or twice a year. I see folks that I grew up with whose life didn't really turn out the way I thought it should have or they thought it should have. Doors of opportunity were closed to them. Some of them closed those doors themselves. I had two close friends I played football with die of acute alcoholism in their late 30s. But I've had others who simply things didn't happen for them.

   "People tell me they like the book. What that means for me is they like the stories that I told about the people that are close to me and they feel positive about them in the way that I tried to portray them in the book."

  

 

 

 

  

A Love Letter To New Orleans

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Are you trying to decide whether you should make the trip to the Sugar Bowl?

 

Here's something to consider:  New Orleans is the greatest city in the world to attend a big sporting event.

 

Trust me, I speak from experience.

 

For starters, everything is within walking distance - the downtown hotels, Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, the Superdome, live music clubs, tremendous restaurants, and great shopping.  Before the handsome lad was born, it was the number one place that my wife and I loved to go for a short vacation.

 

And it's ideal for a big sporting event because nearly all of the fans congregate in the French Quarter every day and night wearing their team gear.  You'll see everybody you know that made the trip, and will undoubtedly run into friends you haven't seen in years.  Additionally, you'll see the Florida fans every day and in New Orleans - where the perpetual vibe is to relax and have a good time - the interaction stays friendly.

 

My first taste of The Big Easy was in March of 1987 when I covered the Final Four for the Syracuse radio network and sat almost directly behind Bobby Knight when Keith Smart's last-second shot gave Indiana a 74-73 win over Syracuse for the National Championship.

 

And speaking of first tastes, the trip marked my introduction to the Hurricane - the unofficial cocktail of New Orleans that is as sweet as Kool-Aid but packs a lethal punch.  Fortunately, I was given valuable advice by a taxi driver on my way into town from the airport.  He said, "A hurricane is like a woman's bosom . . . one is not enough but three is too many."  That advice has served me well.

 

Hurricane re.jpg 

 

I returned to New Orleans nine months later for the Sugar Bowl between Syracuse and Auburn - a game that ended in controversy as Tigers' coach Pat Dye played for the tie with one second remaining (before overtime was added in college football).  Syracuse ended the season 11-0-1 and bitter 'Cuse fans mailed Pat Dye more than 2,000 ties in the week's that followed.  SU coach Dick MacPherson ripped Dye after the game and even took a classic shot at Auburn fans by saying, "They brought a $20 dollar bill and one pair of underwear on a bowl trip and didn't change either one."

 

Attending the Sugar Bowl gives you the chance to ring in the New Year in a city where "last call" doesn't exist.  I've celebrated New Year's Eve in Times Square, but I think it's less crazy and more fun in New Orleans. 

 

I vividly remember doing the countdown to midnight in five time zones on Bourbon Street.  Five, four, three, two, one - Happy New Year in New York . . . New Orleans . . . Denver . . . Los Angeles . . . Anchorage . . . Honolulu . . .

 

I was tucked away in bed by the time they got to Auckland.

 

While working for Fox 19, I covered the 1997 Super Bowl in New Orleans between Green Bay and New England.  The Packers' young quarterback led the franchise to its first Super Bowl win in nearly 30 years.  I wonder what Brett Favre is up to these days?

 

Favre was the big story all week because he was from nearly Kiln, Mississippi.  Like nearly every reporter covering that Super Bowl, Fox 19 photographer Dave Smith and I dutifully made the trip to Kiln to do the "Favre's hometown" angle.  While there, we ran into a fledgling musician named Stevie T. who had written a tribute song to Favre called "Brett's on a Quest."  These priceless lyrics are forever seared into my brain.

 

Daddy was a coach, showed him the way

Team, fight, win . . . that's the form-u-lay

 

My best New Orleans experience came as a fan, as Peg and I attended the 2003 Final Four to see our Alma mater beat Kansas for the National Championship.  It was like a college reunion set in the Big Easy as most of our closest friends from school showed up unannounced for the weekend.

 

It's the one and only time that I've busted out this hideous orange Hawaiian shirt.

 

Peg and Dan before tip.jpg 

Between business and pleasure, I've probably been to New Orleans 15 times.  Here are some of my favorite places to eat, drink, and visit:

 

Hotel:  The International House.  It's somewhat pricey, but worth it.

 

Restaurants:  K-Paul's.  If you like stuff "blackened", nobody does it better.

 

Irene's Cuisine.  Get the rosemary chicken.

 

NOLA.  It's an Emeril Lagasse restaurant, but cheaper and easier to get to than Emeril's.

 

Brennan's.  The ultimate "gain 5 pounds" brunch - Bananas Foster is a must.

 

Commander's Palace.  Take the trolley to the Garden District and splurge.

 

Clover Grill.  A dive where you can get a burger cooked under a hub cap after hours.

 

Hanging Out:  Café du Monde.  It's famous for its coffee and beignets (little powdered donuts) and open 24 hours a day.  I witnessed a powdered sugar fight there at 3 am once.

 

Bars:  Pat O'Brien's.  It doesn't get much better than enjoying Hurricanes (remember . . . stop at two!) around the fire fountain in the outdoor courtyard.

 

Napolean House.  Usually not that crowded since it's not on Bourbon Street, so it's a good place to meet friends.

 

Whatever is designated as the "Bearcat" bar.  One of the spots in the French Quarter will cover its walls with UC gear and become the unofficial home of Cincinnati fans.

 

Music:  Maple Leaf Bar.  It's a short taxi ride and always features great bands.  If the Rebirth Brass Band is playing, it's a must.


Wherever
Marva Wright is singing.  She suffered two strokes this year so I don't know if The Blues Queen of New Orleans is performing again.  If she is, you'll have a blast. 

 

Aside from the BCS Championship Game, the Sugar Bowl would be my pick for the Bearcats bowl destination every year.

 

I'll get there on December 31st.  See you on Bourbon Street.

 

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

 

A deeper statistical look on Gilyard

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Only two receivers have ever won the Heisman Trophy: Desmond Howard, Michigan, 1991; and Tim Brown, Notre Dame, 1987.

Just checking to see how Mardy Gilyard's season and career stack up. I'd say "pretty well."

Not saying he has any chance to win the Heisman (he doesn't), but he sure should have been in the conversation:

Brown (1987): 846 receiving yards. 144 rushing, 456 kick return, 401 punt return, 1,847 total yards, 7 TDs
Howard (1991): 985 receiving yards, 180 rushing, 412 kickoff return, 282 punt return, 1,859 total yards, 22 TDs
Gilyard (2009): 1,150 receiving yards, 16 rushing, 1,074 kickoff, 202 punt, 2,442 total yards, 15 TDs

CAREER
Brown:
2,493 receiving yards. 442 rushing, 1,613 kick return, 476 punt return, 5,024 total yards, 22 TDs
Howard: 2,145 receiving yards, 249 rushing, 1,211 kickoff return, 337 punt return, 3,942 total yards, 35 TDs
Gilyard: 2,962 receiving yards, 26 rushing, 2,450 kickoff, 202 punt, 5,640 total yards, 31 TDs (with one game still to play)

UC going to Sugar Bowl to play Florida

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With the scoreboard at Fifth Third Arena showing the BCS bowl selection show, the crowd of about 1,000 got to do its fair share of booing. Boo TCU. Boo Boise State. Boo the words that came out of analyst Charles Davis' mouth when he mentioned the Brian Kelly to Notre Dame rumors.

 

But when the screen showed that UC was going to face Florida in the Sugar Bowl, the place went crazy. Players hugged, fans cheered, and offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn couldn't stop shaking hands.

 

This, the team realizes, is a huge opportunity. National TV with a chance to play -and beat - perhaps the most-respected squad in the nation.

 

"'I'm licking my lips," senior receiver Mardy Gilyard said. "I can't wait to get in film. I'm going into film tomorrow now that we know who the opponent is. I'm anxious to get to the film. Nobody is going to pick us to win this game. We understand that. But we know that if we play Bearcats football, we'll be all right."

 

Said senior quarterback Tony Pike: "It's an opportunity we've been looking for. Last year we came up short on the national stage, and that's something we worked hard at. We'll get another shot this year."

 

Brian Kelly thinks about the Sugar Bowl, and he ponders something else - the pageantry of this particular game.

 

"The one thing about the Sugar Bowl is the tradition and history," he said. "The great Alabama-Penn State games and what it conjures up. It's college football. When you're in the Sugar Bowl, it's real. Then the opponent. Come on. Who's a more recognized program in the past five years than Florida? You're playing probably the most recognizable program in the country in the Sugar Bowl."

 

--I asked Pike, Gilyard and Kelly if they thought UC should be playing for the national title. Pike danced around the question, Kelly never really answered, and then there was Gilyard. Of course, he gave me an unequivocal yes. I asked him if he was disappointed the Bearcats weren't playing in it. He said no.

 

"We all wanted to play in the big show," he said. "But we know a couple things had to pan out. On paper, we pan out good. But we're so happy we're in the Sugar Bowl. This is our national championship."

 

After the team returned from Pittsburgh on Saturday, Kelly walked into the suite he owns at 5/3 and turned on the TV to watch the Big 12 championship game, the game that could have landed the Bearcats a shot at the national title.

 

"It was very difficult," Kelly said. "I'm not a big sit-down-and-watch-the-college-game (kind of guy), but after the trip, I came over to the basketball suite and sat there and watched the game. It was the closest proximity to a TV. Obviously, it was a tough one at the end.

 

"We were within one second of playing for a national championship. It's not crazy (for UC) to play for a national championship."

 

--Don't know if you remember, but two spring practices ago, Florida coach Urban Meyer visited a Bearcats practice. Gilyard remembers one specific comment. And it offended him.

 

"The one thing I can remember is him saying this used to be a rinky-dink program. That's the only thing I remember," Gilyard said. "The team knew we weren't a rinky-dink program. That just kind of fueled me."

 

After last season, Kelly traveled to Gainesville and met with Meyer to share some coaching insights.

 

"We shared some ideas about some things," Kelly said. "That's the fraternity of the coaching business. We certainly weren't looking at a matchup with Florida on our regular schedule. We run some similar things offensively. We share some similar ideas in terms of practice. Tim Hinton is very closer to Urban. There will be some close ties. But that won't mean much when the game gets started."

 

For Meyer, though, he came away impressed.

 

"Watching practice, I walked away saying that this was an SEC-caliber team," he said.

 

--If you were wondering which coach gave the Bearcats his No. 1 vote, it was Kelly. He voted UC No. 1. Then Alabama, Texas, TCU and Florida.

 

"Hey, 12-0. show me why we can't be No. 1," Kelly said. "We won all of our games. We can only play the games they scheduled. After watching Nebraska-Texas last night, we're as good as anybody."

Bear-ly Winning Counts Too

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Oh what a collective sigh of relief we let go of after UC's win over Pitt Saturday. I honestly thought they would win the game but rest assured I was glued to the TV looking for a sign and then I saw it; a missed extra point by Pitt and I knew it was going to happen. UC with that much time on the clock, weapons galore, and a coach who isn't scared to use them all has the makings of a classic come from behind win as sure as I'm blogging. 

And now they're undefeated, headed to the Sugar Bowl to play Florida who was number one for most of the season. Two straight years we're headed to a major Bowl and as of right now the best team in Ohio is the University of Cincinnati, not Ohio State. I didn't get into the debate but the facts are simple: UC is undefeated and headed to a BCS Bowl and Ohio State isn't. UC has appeared as the jewell game on ESPN and ABC and Ohio State hasn't (as much).

So now the challenges are two fold; make a better showing than last year when the deer in the headlights kept them from showing the country just how good they were and yes, keep Coach K in Clifton. The first one might be harder than the second one as Florida is upset after their embarrassing loss to Alabama and needs to gain their respect and swagger back. I really think Coach K knows he's building something so special here they will eventually name buildings after him, allow him to do fundraisers of epic proportion and ask and get whatever he wants. What he wants is a first class program that has his name on it. Notre Dame has more names on their program than congress has disagreements.

But for the moment, put it all aside and like a beautifully rolled cuban cigar, enjoy the taste of a winner. An undefeated, BCS bound, Big East champion blend. How aromatic; can you smell it...ahhhhh its a championship team in your own back yard. Congratulations UC Football, history has been made and its yours to enjoy!

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

Think Gilyard isn't Heisman material? Guess again

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Been racking my brain all season because Mardy Gilyard has reminded me of someone, and I couldn't figure out who. Until yesterday it struck me.

When I worked at a newspaper in Indiana in the 1980s, I remember covering a Purdue football game at Notre Dame early in Tim Brown's final season. Brown was electrifying. You could not turn your back, go to the concession stand or restroom when Brown was on the field because you might miss something special.

I have felt that way about Gilyard all season. I am not alone. Nippert Stadium buzzed when the guy dropped back to receive a kick or punt.

So, remember that Brown became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy? He had 1,847 all-purpose yards and seven TDs as a senior in 1987, and 1,937 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns as a junior.

Ready for Gilyard's season stats? Try these:

2,442 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns. That's almost 600 yards and more than twice as many TDs as Brown when he won the Heisman. Gilyard even has 304 more receiving yards, and he has still has one game left.

Want more?

Brown's stellar college career ended with 137 receptions, 22 touchdowns and a Notre Dame-record 5,024 all-purpose yards.

Gilyard has 197 receptions, 31 touchdowns and more than 5,600 all-purpose yards.

And for the capper: The Fighting Irish went 25-21 (and 0-2 in bowl games) during Brown's four seasons. The Bearcats are 37-13 in Gilyard's four seasons.

Brown, of course, went on to a 16-year NFL career and very well might end up a Hall of Famer.

Just sayin'.

UC-Pitt thoughts

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What an unreal game for the Bearcats, who win their second-straight Big East championship. Here were my thoughts:

 

First half

 

I don't see how the snow doesn't bother UC's offense, and on the first series, that seems pretty apparent. The Bearcats don't look exactly comfortable. Meanwhile, Pitt looks very comfortable. The first 15 plays of the game go to Dion Lewis (14 rushes, one pass reception), and the Panthers, facing a fourth and 1 on the UC 23, Lewis gains four yards (though Dominique Battle had a chance to tackle him behind the line of scrimmage). Then, the four-yard TD run. At this point, UC looks in trouble. No offense + no defense = no Big East title.

 

Tony Pike to Ben Guidugli is the new Pike to Mardy Gilyard. Then, Isaiah Pead shows he does, in fact, want to play in this game. Snow apparently doesn't slow down his speed. Two-straight TD passes in the red zone, and Pead and D.J. Woods drop one apiece. The pass interference helps. Finally, four plays (five if you count the penalty) after UC gets to the 6-yard line, the Bearcats score to tie the game at 7-7.

 

Finally, Dion Lewis comes out of the ballgame. Probably due to exhaustion. Another fourth down converted by the Panthers, via Lewis. 2-for-2 so far today. Incomplete to Baldwin, but the officials will review. Yeah, his foot is clearly in bounds for the TD. That should be 6. Yep, TD, and a 14-7 lead for Pitt.

 

Well, the game has set up perfectly for Pitt so far. The Panthers are keeping the ball away from UC's offense, and except for that long run by Pead, UC's offense has been pretty ineffective. We'll see if the Bearcats can improve. Wow, just a great catch by Armon Binns. Just throw it up, and he'll likely come down with the ball. I was wondering if the refs were going to throw the flag on DeCicco for blasting D.J. Woods. Yeah, he went helmet to helmet. That's the right call. The next call, the pass interference call, was not the right call. Man, Pike was lucky he wasn't intercepted there on third and goal from the 2. Jake Rogers has to kick the 20-yard FG to cut the lead to 14-10.

 

That flea flicker didn't seem to fool anybody, but Stull finds Baldwin in the middle of double coverage and comes down with the 40-yard TD catch. Actually, on further review, the safeties were fooled. But Drew Frey had a chance to make a play on the ball, but he couldn't. Pitt leading 21-10.

 

Oh boy. A Pike interception gives Pitt possession in UC territory.

 

On third and two, Battle misses another tackle on Lewis behind the line of scrimmage. I guess you have to be at the point where if the Bearcats allow only a FG, their fans should consider that a victory. 24-10, Pitt.

 

Zach Collaros who? Pike runs for the first down on third and five.

 

I'll tell you what. Pittsburgh is just beating up UC. And then the blocked punt. Oy vey.

 

31-10, Pitt. Yeah, I'd say UC is in some trouble here.

 

Well, how about Mardy Gilyard with the 99-yard kickoff return? That was ridiculous. He just made some great moves. 31-17, Pitt.

 

Man, another fumble by Lewis. But it goes out of bounds yet again. That would have been a huge recovery by UC on the Pitt 11. On Lewis' 29th carry of the half - are you kidding me with that? - the Bearcats stuff him and will get the ball back with 44 seconds left in the half. Then, the Bearcats are helped from a personal foul. Well, so much for that. Another interception by Pike. And the answer from Aaron Webster, getting the pick against Stull. Jake Rogers misses the long field goal.

 

Well, UC has some work to do. But it could have been so much worse.

 

Second half

 

That's a nice opening half stop by UC's defense. J.K. Schaffer with the big tackle on Lewis on third down to force the punt. And an ugly opening series for UC as well. Pike sacked twice.

 

Back to back three-and-outs by Pitt. And Kerry Coombs is excited about the developments.

 

For all this talk from ABC about Collaros possibly coming in to replace the starter, Pike is back out to take snaps. For the record, I didn't think he would. Wow, Mardy Gilyard again. A 68-yard TD from Pike. He's having a great final regular-season game of his career.

 

Aside from that blocked punt, how bad has Pitt's special teams been? You've had shanked punts, slips on kickoff returns, fumbles out of bounds on kickoff returns. Man, nobody touched Schaffer on the sack. That's a big play - third and 24. Pitt has to punt again.

 

Pike is starting to heat up. And soon as I wrote that, Pike is picked again.

 

It has become a battle of the interceptions. Heck of a route run by Dominique Battle to pick off Stull. Seriously, where was Stull going with that ball?

 

A three and out for UC.

 

Not a good punt by Rogers. And BK is talking to Mike Elston about it. And Dion Lewis strikes again, giving Pitt a two-touchdown lead with 12:26 to play.

 

Gilyard again with the kickoff return. Geez. It leads to a quick score, a short TD pass from Pike to Woods. And Jake Rogers doinks the PAT. Collaros looked to have a tough time putting the snap on the ground. I wonder how big that will be.

 

Huge sack of Stull by Derek Wolfe, but give Alex Daniels plenty of credit. He forced Stull to move up in the pocket and into Wolfe's arms.

 

Haven't seen much of Jake Ramsey today - other than his touchdown. It's been mostly Pead. And another 15-yard penalty by Pitt. And yeah, it was a late hit. No matter how much the crowd didn't like it. Well, Binns' foot might have broken the plane of the goal line. But the ball didn't appear to do it. Collaros in for the first and goal from the 1. He's short of the goal line. On second down, he and Pead collide, and again, he doesn't get it. But an offsides penalty on Pitt. Repeat second down. And Pead scores to cut the lead to 2. Pike back in the game for the 2-point conversion. Pike to Gilyard in the end zone. Tie ball game. 38-38.

 

It is officially a shoot-out.

 

Pitt has done next to nothing on offense in the second half. You have to wonder if Lewis, who had a ton of carries in the first half, is worn out. Huge 15-yard penalty on Walter Stewart for hands to the face. Bearcats might have gotten lucky that the facemask penalty on Matthews was picked up by the officials. Stull with a big play to Baldwin, catching UC in zone coverage. And then a Lewis 6-yard TD. And the holder loses the ball on the PAT, and Pitt can't convert. The Panthers lead 44-38 with 1:36 to play.

 

Another nice return by Gilyard, and UC starts the drive at the 39. Pike to Woods for the first down. This is exciting, no? Ball on the Pitt 44. Pike scrambles, and Gilyard comes back to catch the ball for the first down. Timeout UC. The ball is on the Pitt 29. Oh, and an amazing TD catch from Pike to Binns for the 29-yard TD. An unreal play with so much on the line. And the Rogers PAT is good.


Pitt takes over with 28 seconds to play. Three-straight incompletions from Stull, who is then sacked on fourth down, and the Big East championship - and the BCS bowl game that comes with it - is UC's. Heck of a game.

What a day!

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It's often a sore subject across college campuses all over the country how much attention gets paid to athletics.

Today is a prime example why -- right or wrong -- that is the case. The drama of the games involving the nation's top teams can't be matched.

No need to recap UC's thrilling come-from-behind victory at Pitt. But that was just the start of the nail-biting. Tonight's Nebraska-Texas game played out the same way, going down to the last second. Literally.

If not for the Nebraska kickoff going out of bounds ... if not for the horse-collar tackle and penalty ... if not for one second being put back on the clock ... UC just might have had a shot at playing for a national championship. Which even as I write it seems completely unfathomable.

And so for close to 12 hours today, college football consumed us.

How much fun was that?

 

MARDY GRAS

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Sure, thanks to a tweet from former co-worker Rich Walburg, I'll borrow that headline (and I'm probably not the only one). It appears our halftime plans of driving to Charlotte has now been diverted south Bearcat fans.



From the Muffler Bowl to probably the Sugar we go (official word coming tomorrow). Realistically, since UC didn't blow out Pitt, I'd have to think TCU would get the nod over the Bearcats in the event Nebraska beats Texas (based on what I'm hearing).


But, enough of that later. How 'bout that game!


Most unpredictable ending I've ever seen in terms of Bearcat games. 45-44 and the guy that missed an extra point and had a blocked punt, wins the game on an extra point (Rogers). Of course, before that, you had a key extra point miss from Pitt after the Dion Lewis TD with 1:36 to go.


Then, key passes and receptions to move down the field until Tony Pike miraculously finds Armon Binns in the endzone with 33 ticks left.


That would be Armon Binns who played the game with a separated shoulder according to Brian Kelly after the game. Of course, in terms of shoulders, you'd have to wonder if no one's is as sore as Mardy Gilyard.


That would be Mardy "Should At Least Be Invited To The Heisman Festivities" Gilyard. Even Bengals QB Carson Palmer was intelligent enough to include Gilyard on his ballot (behind Tebow and McCoy).


Down 31-10 late in the first half, Gilyard had what was the "key" play of the game in my opinion...a 99-yard kickoff return to pull the Bearcats' collective heads out of their fannies and get them back in the game.


He followed with a 68-yard TD reception in the third quarter and finished with five grabs for 118 yards, seven kick returns for 256 yards and 374 yards of total offense. Mardy came to play, led by example and willed UC to win that game when things were looking bleak.


If I'm the UC bookstore, DuBois or Dick's, I'm ordering heavy on the #1 Bearcat jerseys. Gilyard got it done, and when he didn't Binns did, and when Binns didn't, D.J. Woods was huge with seven clutch catches. All three of Tony Pike's main targets found the endzone at Heinz Field.


Also, while the running game was nothing compared to Dion Lewis' day (47 lugs for 194 yards and three scores) Isaiah Pead was able to chew up 76 yards and Jake Ramsey did punch one in.


The defense?


They've redefined winning ugly. Their stats are awful. They give up big running yards. They give up big plays. And...they're 12-0. Winning ugly beats a pretty loss anyday.


In their behalf, after getting shredded for 31 points in the first half, it's amazing they only gave up 13 in the second half. Aaron Webster and Dominique Battle both took advantage of poor decisions by Bill Stull and the halftime adjustments on the run game were enough to throw Pitt off just enough. In the end, in a forced throwing situation, the defense stood up. In the last two games, UConn and WVU were able to zip down the field and the Bearcats held up, eventually sacking Stull to set up the Pike victory formation.


On Tony Pike...I'll admit, I was leaning toward a hook at one point for Collaros. So was BK. He told Zach to warm up.


Outside of three redzone appearances late in the game (he eventually handed off to Pead for a score) Collaros stayed next to Kelly.


In baseball terms, Kelly made the proverbial "trip to the mound" and stuck with his starter. I suppose that's why Brian's a coach in demand and I'm (other than my UC gigs) unemployed.


The good move was no move and BK and Tony Pike have the Big East championship hats to prove it.


Tony finishes the day 22-44 for 302 yards, three picks, but three touchdowns. Lost in those totals is the fact that he completed his last 12 throws. When it was crunch time, Tony Pike delivered.


Actually, if we all had access to UC's tape session later, we'd probably see that Tony threw a number of catchable balls that weren't caught. Not making excuses, because Pitt's defense was tough, but the field and weather conditions played a huge part in that. I saw a lot of slips and misses and I think UC would've had a chance at pulling away on a dry, artificial field.


But, you play what you're dealt and UC's experience in winning was what pulled this one out. Looking at trends and momentum, you would've guessed with Pitt's running game rolling and the lousy weather that a 21-point lead would hold up.


Thankfully, Mardy Gilyard paid no attention to trends and momentum today. What you got was the wildest ending I've seen since Gino Guidugli hit Jon Olinger on a 4th and 27 in Memphis one year and then hit him three more times to pull out a win in Elvis-land for the first time.


However, some of you won't remember that and it doesn't even compare to the magnitude of what happened today. Back then, that game caused a cheer in Shoemaker from what I was told (basketball game going on at the same time). Today, cheers erupted at Redsfest and in every bar, store or home with a TV signal. That final drive will be replayed ad infinitum (fancy Latin there) and will be retold to Bearcat fans forever.


Your University of Cincinnati weathered what looked like a "perfect storm" for a perfect season.


12 up, 12 down.


Next team in?

UC-Pitt preview

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The UC football team can talk all it wants about taking the season one game at a time, about not looking past any opponent to the onrushing landscape up ahead. And for the most part, that's probably true. A team caught overlooking an opponent oftentimes finds itself trying to pick itself up off the canvas.

 

But after the Bearcats football schedule was released, it was hard for them not to look toward the final game of the season. They saw Pittsburgh on Dec. 5, and they saw the potential of an unofficial Big East championship game on the turf of Heinz Field.

 

"This began in January after the Orange Bowl," junior tight end Ben Guidugli said. "It's been at spring football, training camp, the regular season. We knew the Big East championship was going through Pittsburgh. We're ready to go. We've put our work in. Pittsburgh was the team to beat to win the championship when we saw that at the end of the schedule."

 

The wish came true. That's exactly what Saturday's noon game will mean. If Pitt wins, the Panthers and the Bearcats will share the conference crown, but the Panthers would take the BCS bowl berth. If UC wins, it wins the league title outright, and the Bearcats, for the second straight year would head south to a big-time bowl game (unless they go west).

 

"They didn't come this far not to win a championship," Brian Kelly said. "It comes down to one week and one game."

 

For the Bearcats to win, they'll have to stop senior quarterback Bill Stull, who leads the Big East in pass efficiency (10th nationally) and total pass yards (2,294). And they'll have to slow down freshman running back Dion Lewis, a national freshman of the year candidate who ranks fourth nationally in rushing (131.45 yards per game).

 

"(Lewis) is a special player," Kelly said. "As a freshman, with his balance and vision, you can't get a hard hit on him. He's bigger than Jacquizz Rodgers. He's an outstanding football player. He's emerged as a star. We have our work cut out for us."

 

Said senior linebacker Andre Revels: "They have the heart of the team, which is the offensive line. The running back is doing great things, but the offensive line looks mean on film. They come off the ball aggressive. It's almost reminiscent of the Steelers and the Bengals when they play together. It will be a hard-hitting game. It will be one team's will against the other."

 

The Bearcats offense also will face some concerns.

 

The Panthers pass rush has paid huge dividends for the squad this year. Pitt averages 3.82 sacks per game, good enough to lead the nation, and its 42 sacks are the most since 1988. Defensive end Greg Romeus is the one UC will have to watch the most - he leads the squad with eight sacks - but the entire front four (which also includes defensive end Jabaal Sheard, defensive tackle Mick Williams and nose tackle Gus Mustakas) will be a concern for the Bearcats.

 

--So, what happens if UC loses? Well, as unfair as it might seem to Bearcats fans, the squad probably will fall to the Meineke Car Care Bowl (do you remember how much people wanted to go to that bowl in 2007 and how unfair people thought the PapaJohn's Bowl game was?).

 

Not that Kelly has pondered the possibilities.

 

"That has not even gone into my thought process," he said. "I haven't looked at all those. The people upstairs who work in marketing and promotions are working on it. I don't even know what the other options are."

 

And as for possibly sharing the Big East title: "We're not playing for co-championships. I'm sure it will go in the media guide that way, but we would be extremely disappointed."

 

--Prediction: I haven't picked the Bearcats to lose this year, and I'm undefeated in my selections. So, why should I change now? I think this game might be a shootout, but I'm not sure Pitt can outscore UC.

 

Say, UC 38, Pittsburgh 30

What to do about the defense

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So, at what point do the Bearcats start to worry? At what point does it become a problem? I ask, because, at this point in time, they don't seem to be concerned with the defense.

 

Now, before we get into our talk about the defense and how it's struggled, let's get this out of the way. In the grand scheme, the defense hasn't cost UC any victories. The Bearcats, of course, are undefeated and continue to have a slim chance to play for a national title. And for much of the season, the defense has been just fine (15 points to Rutgers, 3 to SEMO, 13 to Miami, 10 to Louisville and 7 to Syracuse).

 

But what about now? What about a Bearcats squad that allowed 45 points to Connecticut on Nov. 7 and 36 points to Illinois last week? Shouldn't that be worrisome to a team that's set to play an opponent in Pitt that ranks 11th in the country in passing efficiency and 22nd in scoring offense (its 32.2 points a game rank fourth all-time in school history)?*

 

*Just to get the other side of the story: Pitt is 32nd in rush offense, 56th in pass offense and 46th in total offense.

 

What do you think about it, senior linebacker Andre Revels?

 

"We're winning, and that's what really matters," he said. "We're 11-0. I can't complain about anything."

 

Yeah, but hasn't the defense been a bit of a problem?

 

"I don't feel like you can have problems if you're winning," Revels said

 

Maybe the Bearcats will feel differently when they face a balanced Pittsburgh attack this Saturday that features a quarterback in Bill Stull who's playing the best football of his career and a freshman running back in Dion Lewis who needed just eight games to reach 1,000 yards during his rookie campaign.**

 

**Lewis had 1,029 yards after his eighth game, compared to Tony Dorsett who had 1,142 in his first eight appearances. LeSean McCoy needed nine games during his freshman season to reach 1,000 yards. So, I guess you could say that Lewis is better as a freshman than McCoy and almost as good as the legendary Dorsett. Right now, he's 1,446 yards.

 

"The only thing we're concerned about is throwing up 'W's,'" Revels said. Right now, we're doing a good job of it."

 

Still, the trend is a bit disturbing. Especially when UConn gains 462 yards - the most since UC allowed Fresno State 443 - and then gives up a season-high 476 vs. Illinois.

 

"They're battling," Kelly said. "All I can tell you is it's tough to stop people, especially when you have dynamic players - like Illinois and like West Virginia - and when you have a physical team like Connecticut. It's a difficult chore. We're battling the best we can. We certainly don't help them in the style of offense we play. But I'd rather put more points on the board at the end of the game. We're close to last in the country in time of possession."

 

That's something UC has struggled with all season. Since the offense is so quick-strike, the defense finds itself on the field more often that it would like. But after the Illinois game, Kelly said that while he could slow down the offense to give the defense more rest, he wasn't inclined to do so. Why bother buying a Ferrari if you're only going to go 35 mph in it?

 

That attitude could turn the Pitt game into a high-scoring affair.

 

"They're called on to a lot more than they should in these circumstances," Kelly said. "I have a great deal of confidence in our defense. We've given up some points, but I'm confident we can compete and keep the score to where it doesn't have to be a shootout."

The Big Story That Most UC Fans AREN'T Talking About

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UC fans are understandably obsessed with any and all rumors coming out of Notre Dame (no matter how absurd), but there is a potentially huge story that isn't getting nearly enough attention - the Gator Bowl's publically stated desire to select West Virginia as its Big East representative.

 

In a story in the Florida Times-Union on Monday, Gator Bowl selection committee chairman Brian Goin (yes, that's Bob's son) said that the 8-3 Mountaineers are their number one choice to face an ACC team.

 

"There's no question West Virginia is in the driver's seat," Goin told the Jacksonville paper.

 

If Cincinnati beats Pitt on Saturday and earns a BCS bowl bid, the Gator Bowl story doesn't mean much.  But if the Bearcats lose, they could wind up in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on December 26th in Charlotte, despite an 11-1 record and a possible Top 10 national ranking.

 

How do you suppose Brian Kelly would feel about that?

 

The Gator Bowl says it wants West Virginia for two reasons.  First and foremost, the Mountaineers have been to the game six times and have always brought a large contingent of fans.  Secondly, bowl officials have targeted Florida State to be the ACC representative, making it a regional draw for fans who would buy tickets to see Bobby Bowden's final game.

 

"The cool matchup would be to play coach Bowden against his former team," Gator Bowl President Rick Catlett told SI.com on Wednesday.  "One of the interesting things we've found is that [Bowden's] streak of 27 straight bowl games started with Florida State over West Virginia in the 1982 Gator Bowl."

 

This is potentially a huge embarrassment to the Big East.  In fairness to league officials, it's the final year of the Big East's deal with the Gator Bowl, so they don't have much leverage to convince officials from that bowl to pick the most deserving team.  Next year, the Big East's #2 team will go to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.

 

But here's my question.  Why haven't Big East officials been screaming at the top of their lungs about Cincinnati deserving a BCS bowl bid win or lose on Saturday?  Right now, most of the credible bowl projections show Iowa getting a BCS bid.  Would the 10-2 Hawkeyes be more deserving than an 11-1 Cincinnati team?  Sure, Iowa fans have a proven track record of traveling to bowl games, but did anyone notice how many Cincinnati fans made it to the Orange Bowl last year?

 

Again, it's a moot point if UC beats Pittsburgh on Saturday.  If the Bearcats win, they'll go to New Orleans, Miami, Glendale, or yes, even the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena.

 

If UC loses, it looks like they'll spend Christmas in Charlotte.

 

At the moment, I'm more bothered by the stories coming out of Jacksonville than South Bend.

 

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

Van Exel determined to get degree

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   Nick Van Exel wants to practice what he's preaching.

 

   As an assistant coach for Texas Southern University, he tells the players to make sure they graduate and how that will help them in the long run. And so 17 years later, Van Exel is going to work on finishing the requirements needed for his college degree.

 

   "I want to get that done," he said Tuesday night after UC trounced Texas Southern 94-57 at Fifth Third Arena. "Probably (it will take) one year. It's something I want to do. It's something I need to do. If I had this brain about 20 years ago, I wouldn't be here talking about that.

 

   Van Exel said he's received his transcripts from UC and plans to finish at Texas Southern.

 

   "For me, it's very personal that I had that opportunity and I let it slip by," he said.

 

   Before the game, Van Exel was recognized upon his return to the arena in which he helped lead the Bearcats to the 1992 Final Four and the 1993 Elite Eight. He averaged 15.2 points, 3.6 assists and totaled a then-school record 147 3-point field goals while playing two years for Bob Huggins at UC. Van Exel was named third-team All-America in 1993.

 

   "It was fun to be back," he said. "It brought back a lot of memories."

 

   The crowd gave him a nice welcome home. Then many scratched their heads and thought, "Nick's coaching at Texas Southern? Huh?"

 

   Van Exel, who lives in Houston, retired from the NBA in 2006 after a 13-year career in which he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs.

 

   He is among the top-10 all-time in 3-point field goals made (1,528), and he finished with 12,658 career points, 5,777 assists and a 14.4 ppg scoring average.

 

   He always knew he wanted to go into coaching and planned to take off two years after retiring before launching his new career.

 

   "Where I made my mistake (was) when I was finishing up playing in the NBA, I wasn't vocal about it," he said of his desire to coach.  "Before that third year came I really wasn't ready mentally. I sent out a few calls to the NBA, to a few teams, but that didn't work out. 

 

   "This opportunity presented itself. I said, 'I'm going to go ahead and give it a shot and let people see that I'm really interested.'  When you take a job like this ... it opens up people's eyes, and that's what I wanted to do."

 

   Texas Southern, which plays in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, is 3-5. It's hardly the big-time of college basketball. That's OK with Van Exel. He knows he's gaining valuable experience.

 

   "I love it," he said. "I love this level. The guys listen. They're receptive. It's a learning experience, and I really need it. Being an athlete you think you can just jump into something and do it. I'm learning a lot of things.  I'm learning more about myself. I'm learning how to talk to the kids. I like it a lot.

 

   "I'm totally the opposite of Huggs as far as (being) volatile. I'm very quiet, laidback. I don't have a lot of yelling in me. But his material was great. I still use it."

   One thing Van Exel could live without: The bus rides.

 

   Here's a guy who traveled in luxury as an NBA player and now he's taking 9- to 13-hour bus rides to and from games. After the loss at UC, Texas Southern was heading out for an 8- to 9-hour ride to Wichita State for a Thursday night game. Then it will be 9 to 10 hours back to Houston. And it will take 12 to 13 hours for a Dec. 23 game at New Mexico State.

 

   "That's the tough part," Van Exel said. "But you have to adjust. I didn't come from the NBA as far as my life, my growing up. I can get over that."

 

   He wants to coach. And he wants to get as far as he can in the profession.

 

   "I'm a point guard," he said. "That's what point guards do. I have a lot of passion for the game. I have a lot of knowledge of the game. And I have a lot of playbooks."

 

   He smiles.

 

   We're standing outside the Texas Southern locker room. Former UC teammates Anthony Buford and Herb Jones are nearby.

 

   Van Exel is asked about his year's Bearcats, which are ranked No. 22 this week.

 

   "They're very good, very talented, very big,' he said. "They use their bodies. They beat you up. We were expecting that. We tried to get our guys prepared for that.

  

   "There are some big bodies out there. One thing about playing at this level as opposed to the level we're on, you're not going to get anything easy; you're not going to get anything cheap coming through that lane. Guys are going to knock you all over. We weren't ready for that."

 

 

 

UC Women's Basketball Gets Gold Medal Endorsement

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So I'm talking with Rebecca Lobo the other day...

Oh, did I say Rebecca Lobo? Well, yes, indeed I did...hey, if you're gonna namedrop, make it a big name.

Rebecca Lobo, the NCAA champion, gold medal winner, WNBA founding member, was kind enough to chat with me this past week for my WVXU sports radio interview show, "The Front Row." You'll be hearing her complete interview in the coming weeks, but let me give you just a preview of what she said about UC's new women's head basketball coach, Jamelle Elliott.

Jamelle, you see, was a teammate of Rebecca's on that first UConn national championship team in the mid '90s. So she knows Jamelle the person, Jamelle the player and Jamelle the assistant coach. "Jamelle was one of these players who was always passionate about the game. And I promise you, she'll have her players hustling, playing all out and playing with the passion she had on our team."

Nice words, coming from someone who's seen the best the world has to offer in women' basketball, in college, in the pros and in the Olympics. And in her current job as an analyst for women's basketball for ESPN, she sees the best in the current teams, too. While she gives props to UConn, Tennessee and Baylor for this upcoming season, she also heaps praise on the UC program.

"Give her some time, and Jamelle will have them playing at the top of the conference," said Lobo. "I know that the Bearcats were projected to finish 16th in the BIG EAST this season, and I also know she'll work hard to get them to finish anywhere but last."

It's been amazing how the UConn family has rallied around Jamelle Elliott and her staff as they rebuild the Bearcat program. From Geno Auriemma coming to her inaugural news conference to the UConn team making a welcoming video for her at her first UC game, Jamelle has had all the backing and well wishes of Husky Nation that anyone could ask. Rebecca just solidified what most of us believe: Jamelle Elliott was, and is, the correct choice to take this program to the next level, to the BIG EAST elite. Stick around and watch what happens.

 

Kelly doesn't see any distractions

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There was only one direct question about the Brian-Kelly-to-Notre-Dame rumors at today's weekly news conference. It was: are you saying you won't talk to Notre Dame about its open position?

 

 "No," Kelly said. "We're focused on Pittsburgh 100 percent."

 

Kelly, like Florida's Urban Meyer and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, was given the chance today to stand before a Bob Goin team meeting room filled with media and pledge his allegiance to the Bearcats. Not surprisingly - and I think it was the right move - he didn't go that route. He said Notre Dame wasn't an issue this week and that there were other times to talk about matters like that.

 

Later, he told Bill Koch of the Enquirer that he hasn't been contacted by Notre Dame.

 

"It's irrelevant," Kelly said during the presser. "We are in lockdown mode. This is what we've been working for. We haven't been working for anything else. If you guys want to stay busy on that topic, go right ahead. We are focused on Pittsburgh. All that stuff will have to wait for another time. It's been hard to get here. We were unranked coming into the season. We have fought our way back. Everybody associated with this program is 100 percent focused on Pittsburgh."

 

Yeah, but it seems like it'd be easy for the Bearcats to become distracted. You can't turn on a TV sports channel or sports talk radio or Twitter or Facebook or whatever without hearing somebody blaring on about the BK to ND rumors. If you're a sports fan, it's hard to ignore it. Hell, I did a 15-minute interview on Bill Cunningham's radio show Monday on just this very topic. I'm doing a radio interview today with a station in Gainesville, Fla.Gainesville, Fla.?!? - who wants to know about the issue. Fans around the country have become insatiable.

 

And if it's not a conversation about Kelly, it's Bob Stoops of Gary Patterson or Tony Dungy or whoever to ND.

 

So, how does this team not see the distractions?

 

"It doesn't bother them," Kelly said. "They want to play football. They want to win a championship. Last week, that was a distraction. You get around here when 16 seniors are trying to find tickets for Senior Day when the NCAA ONLY GIVES YOU FOUR TICKETS (his emphasis). That's a nightmare. That's distraction. Sending them home for Thanksgiving and worrying about getting them back, that's a distraction. They don't care about his stuff, I'm telling you."

 

Perhaps, but junior tight end Ben Guidugli told reporters today that he wouldn't mind having Kelly address the team regarding the rumors.

 

"When they go out on that practice field, they're not thinking about anything else," Kelly said in response. "They better do it right, or I'm going to be all over them. That's what they're going to be thinking about it.

 

"They'll be all right. I'll have them ready. We've done it 17 times in a row. We're going to be OK. We're going to stay focused. We'll put them in a great position to win on Saturday. I hope that makes your day a little bit better."

 

We also asked senior linebacker Andre Revels about the distraction or lack thereof. Seems like all he cares about is focusing on winning Saturday's game against Pittsburgh.

 

"We don't think about it, because it's not going to help us win any games," he said. "That's the main goal. We're not worried about what the TV is talking about. We're worried about what Pittsburgh is going to do. We're not watching TV right now. We should be inside the film room studying. It's a real hush subject. That has no concern for us."

 

--Kelly said redshirt freshman safety Drew Frey - who left last Friday's game with a concussion - passed a neurological test today and that he would practice today. He also said he expected senior running back Jake Ramsey - who's missed the past two games with a foot injury - to be part of Saturday's gameplan.