January 2010 Archives

UC-Providence Rock 'N Roll Party

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So, a really good win for the Bearcats, especially considering what could have happened if they had lost. Now they're 5-4 in the Big East and in sixth place. A couple points I want to make:


-Cashmere Wright surprised the Friars tonight. He scored a career-high 24 points, and Providence didn't seem to have anybody that was capable of stopping him. Remember, this is the same Cashmere Wright who hadn't started since the Dec. 16 UAB game and had played 6 minutes against UConn, 7 minutes against Rutgers, 4 minutes against Pitt, 9 minutes against St. John's, 4 minutes against South Florida and 0 minutes against Notre Dame.


Although Providence managed to keep Deonta Vaughn, Yancy Gates and Lance Stephenson in check (they scored a combined 31 points), the Friars were stunned by Wright, who made 9 of 11 shots.


"Definitely surprised," said Providence guard Sharaud Curry. "Our main concern was Vaughn and Stephenson. They threw us off balance by throwing him in the starting lineup. He came out and shot the ball great and he was big for them."


Said Wright: "I was just playing my game. Things started falling and that's how it happens sometimes."


Mick Cronin, though, wasn't surprised. Those are the kind of performances he witnessed when Wright played at Urban Christian Academy in Savannah, Ga.


"It has been a learning experience for him," Cronin said. "He went to an excellent school academically, but it is also very small. His high school is not allowed to play the other public schools in Georgia. Consequently, he hadn't had a lot of real game experience. He didn't get to play in big games. He played in front of 15 people - friends and family only. I think that hurt him, combined with sitting out for a year."


-Lance Stephenson didn't start, Cronin said, because he's suffering through a lower abdominal strain.


"There was a thought that he might not even play," Cronin said. "He struggled to get loose in walk-through. He came in and shot after the women's game. He felt much better. I know it bothered him a little bit."


-Darnell Wilks had quite a game as well, scoring 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting to go with four rebounds in 16 minutes of action.


"It was me listening to what coach says and being patient," Wilks said. "When I get the ball, not rushing it."


-One last thing to address: the abysmal free throw shooting that nearly cost UC the game. After tonight's 20 of 41 performance from the foul line, the Bearcats are shooting 63.0 percent.  That would rank 15th in the Big East and 311th out of 334 teams (using the statistics from before today's games).


Said Cronin: "We won't be able to do that on the road at Notre Dame. I'm a big believer in the law of averages. Deonta Vaughn hadn't missed a free throw since Gonzaga. Dion Dixon hadn't missed one in eight games. It is eventually going to catch up. Let it catch up tonight when we have a 14-point lead. If we do that Thursday, we will not win."

UC-Providence LIVE blog

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Live from 5/3:

Before the game, there was a little FT competition between Anthony Buford and former Providence star Dickey Simpkins, both of whom are analyzing tonight's game for TV. Buford made four FTs in 30 seconds; Simpkins made 5. This will have no impact on the game tonight. But I thought you should know anyway.

FASHION ALERT: Mick and his coaching staff come out in khakis and black short-sleeve windbreakery type things with sneakers (Coaches vs. Cancer and all that). Mick is wearing gray long sleeves underneath his shirt. The Friars coaches are sporting suits and sneakers. Again, no bearing on the game.

Starting lineup: Ibrahima Thomas, Yancy Gates, Rashad Bishop, Deonta Vaughn, Cashmere Wright. No Lance Stephenson.

After Jamine Peterson hits a 3 to start the game, Wright answers with a 3 of his own.

After Providence follows with two more 3s - Sharaud Curry and Brian McKenzie - Mick takes a timeout. Replaces Thomas with Darnell Wilks. Of course, Wilks then doesn't block out McKenzie, which leads to an easy rebound/layup.

Wright scores the first seven points for UC. Then Bishop with a short jumper and a 3.

Providence makes 6 of its first 7 shots.

Providence 16, UC 12 (15:19 to go)

Gates airballs his first FT, and he can't help but smile. Perfect on the next. Toyloy in for Gates. Still no Stephenson.

Providence has hit its first 6 3s of the game. Also making 9 of first 10 shots. With about 13 minutes to go, the Friars finally miss a 3.

Stephenson finally in the game with 14:31 to go in the first half.

Providence 24, UC 18 (11:49 to go)

Brian McKenzie picks up his second foul with 11:24 to go. He'll go to the bench. Thomas picks up No. 2 59 seconds later. That's probably not the worst thing in the world. He has not been good so far. Then, with 9 minutes to play, Wilks gets foul No. 2 . He stays in the game.

Remember when Cashmere Wright got off to that really good start? He's been on the bench forever.

Couple nice shots by Wilks, and Stephenson finally gets on the board with a left-handed layup. Bearcats have cut the lead to 1, forcing a timeout from the Friars. A Stephenson 3 ties the game.

UC is shooting 68.8 percent from the floor. Providence is 57.9 percent from the floor; 70 percent from the 3.

UC 30, Providence 30 (7:55 to go)

UC takes its first lead on a nice dish from Wright to Bishop for the layup.

Crazy sequence: Bishop has a chance to extend the UC lead to 5, but blows an absolute gimme dunk. Then, transition to the other end where Duke Mondy buries a 3 to tie the game again.

Wright and Bishop lead the way with 10 points a piece. Peterson has 10 for Providence as well.

Providence 40, UC 37 (2:59 to go)

After making its first six 3-pointers, Providence misses 7 of its next 9.

UC, meanwhile, contiunes to remain hot from the floor. A turnover by Providence and a layup by Wright gives UC a one-point lead.

Gates called for an offensive foul for swinging his elbows. He can't believe it and the crowd goes crazy. I don't understand. Looked pretty blatant to me. A layup from Peterson gives Providence the lead again.

Wright with two FTs. He makes one with 4 seconds left. A missed 3 from Council means the Friars missed eight of their last 10 threes of the half.

Wright has 13 points, and Peterson has 14. Providence is outrebounding UC 17-16. But not a whole lot of missed shots to rebound. The Friars are 50 percent from the floor. UC is 51.5 percent.

UC 44, Providence 44 (half)

No Gates to start the second half. Instead, it's Toyloy. I guess 0 for 2 from the floor with 1 point will keep you on the bench to start the second half. Stephenson also starts the second half next to Mick.

A 3 by Peterson ends Providence's slump from the 3, but Vaughn hits one on the other end.

Peterson picks up foul No. 3 with 16:02 to go. He heads to the bench.

But the Friars continue to hang around, and Kyle Wright rebounds a miss and makes the layup as Gates fouls him. A free throw upcoming.

Providence 54, UC 53 (15:45 to go)

Stephenson makes his first second-half appearance 5:57 into the half.

You know who we haven't seen tonight? Dion Dixon.

If UC can't pull out this game, that would be a bad, bad loss.

Providence 60, UC 59 (11:58 to go)

A great drive and shot by Wright. He's been really, really good today.

All of a sudden, Providence in sloppy with the ball, and the Bearcats are making the Friars pay. UC goes on a 13-0 run. After a Wright 3-pointer, another timeout for Providence.

UC 70, Providence 60 (9:16 to go)

Gates picks up his fourth foul with 8:54 to go.

UC 73, Providence 63 (6:54 to go)

UC, of course, playing very well, so this is nit-picking (though not really). The FT shooting has been abysmal (7 of 19). The Bearcats should be leading by 17 or 18.

UC 75, Providence 65 (3:58 to go)

A Dion Dixon sighting. After Stephenson tried to dribble through about 300 Friars players before ultimately turning it over. Mick taps Dixon to get into the game.

Really, a heck of a job in the final 12 minutes of the game. For a minute there, it looked like UC was out of it. But then, the Bearcats defense started forcing turnovers and Wright and Bishop continued to play so well on offense. A much-needed win for the Bearcats.

Wright obliterates his 12-point career high with 24 points. Bishop has 16 and six rebounds. Stephenson gets 12 points and nine rebounds.

UC outrebounds Providence 38-33.

But geez, how bad was UC's FT shooting? I'll tell you how bad - 48.8 percent bad. The Bearcats were lucky to escape with the win.

UC 92, Providence 88 (final)


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      The Bearcats haven't beaten Providence since Devan Downey was around in '06, which should tell you how this series has gone of late. Since then, Downey's become a South Carolina Gamecock (that single-handedly gave Kentucky their first loss) and Mick Cronin's 'Cats are 0-for-the Friars.

      Now, both schools are even in the Big East at 4-4 and this game is clearly vital to both squads.

      "Every game's a must win," said Cronin. "Let's be honest. We approach every game in the Big East like it's the last game on the schedule. I think everybody does, that's why the league's so competitive."

      All you have to do is look around: St. John's gives Pitt some trouble; South Florida knocks off Seton Hall (who beat the Bearcats); and UC beats Connecticut--who then beats then #1 Texas--then falls this week to Providence.

      "If you get caught not playing with urgency in our conference, you will lose," observed Cronin.

"Everybody's got good players and everybody's good enough to beat you."

      After dropping four straight to Providence, Mick Cronin is more than ready to hang an "L" on Keno Davis' Friars. But, as noted, both teams need the win. Providence wants win #13, UC's looking for win #14 and both schools need to inch toward the magical "20" to be in the hunt for any postseason consideration.

      "I have no feeling either way on it," said Cronin when asked how many wins the 'Cats may need to get in the "discussion". "I feel like we need to beat Providence. Joe Linardi (ESPN bracketologist) and I have become pen pals and e-mail pals, I'll leave that up to him. We have quality wins already, we just need to try and keep getting better and make sure we win our next game. What I will say is the obvious...you've got to win at home. You don't want to put yourself in a situation where you've got to win road games."

      Point well taken. UC's only Big East loss at home was to Pitt. Their only Big East road win came nearly a month ago at Rutgers. Not holding serve at Fifth Third Arena against Providence could prove to be disastrous with an upcoming schedule that includes five ranked teams.

      As for the style of play you can expect from Providence, it's a little different. Xavier's the only team to score in the 80s on the Bearcats--Providence will try to be the next.

      "They will shoot the early three-point shot, more so than anybody in our conference," said Cronin. "Defensively, you've got to be prepared to guard them on the first pass from the three-point line. Just because Providence is a good offensive team, we're not going to concede them 80-something points. If they come in here and get 80-something points, I'll be very unhappy."

      When UC has the ball, Providence will be throwing another wrinkle into the picture...the dreaded match-up zone.

      "They'll change defenses, but (it's) primarily match-up zone," said Cronin. "They try to make you shoot a lot of jumps shots. (They) do a lot of switching and packing it in. (They) try to confuse you more than anything and bait you in to taking a lot of jump shots. Nobody in our league plays zone the way that they play zone."

      Given UC's season long shooting woes, a match-up zone could be alarming. However, things have improved recently as the Bearcats hit 50 percent of their threes against Louisville and shot 44 percent altogether.

      "I've felt good about our shooting all year, because we've shot it good in practice," said Cronin. "Shooting comes and goes. Everybody's worried about our shooting, we're 10-20 at Louisville, 6-8 in the second half from the three-point line, and lose the game. So, what does that tell you? Defense wins."

      Cronin's delivered that mantra all week on the floor and in the video room. The second half of the Louisville game left a lot to be desired defensively.

      As for the ever-changing point guard situation, Cronin was non-committal about who will start Saturday night.

      " Well, we have three of them, so it's a good problem," Cronin dead-panned. "Last year, I had one. I was the back-up in practice. They'll all play at that position. Deonta won't play point guard the rest of the season as much as he had to for awhile there. The freshmen are playing well. I'm excited about the way they're playing."

      The excitement continues Saturday night as UC plays their last game in the month of January. A brutal February looms ahead and then the drive toward March.

      If UC has aspirations of meaningful games in March, Saturday night's game is as necessary as they come.

Coaches vs. Cancer

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It's been a year now since Kay Yow has been gone; Jim Valvano, since 1993. But their legacies live on and will be visible at Saturday's UC women's basketball game.

UC coach Jamelle Elliott and her coaching staff will wear sneakers instead of dress shoes with their suits during the game against South Florida as they participate in the Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Awareness Weekend in support of the American Cancer Society. Fans are also encouraged to wear sneakers to the game to show their support. South Florida's staff also will join in the effort.

Now, no one plans to have his or her legacy written by the disease they battled, and both Coach Yow and Coach Valvano had made their marks in their profession before, and in Yow's instance, during, their battle with the cancer that eventually took them too soon.  But what the coaching community has done since their passing has truly been an effort in teamwork that reaches across schools and conferences.

The "V Foundation" has raised more than $90 million since Jimmy V's "Never Give Up" speech, with ESPN initiating much of the fundraising efforts to raise money for cancer research. In 2007, the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund was started by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and the V Foundation for Cancer Research, on which Coach Yow served as a member of the board of directors.

It is a credit to both of these coaches that they saw the value of continuing their legacy for the benefit of others in the future who might be stricken with their disease. It is a credit to the coaching community that it chooses to embrace the cause, and continue the inspiring work that Kay Yow and Jimmy V began.

If you're coming to the women's game Saturday, wear your sneakers. And think of the two coaches who left a legacy of inspiration, not just for their players, but for all of us.

My interview with Butch Jones, part III

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Two weeks ago, I was invited into Butch Jones' office for a little question and answer session. I hadn't met Jones yet, so I was interested to see him in his new digs, how he was adjusting to his new job and how he would answer my questions. Here's part III of III of my interview. In case you missed part I, click on this link. And part II is right here.

Part III begins here:


Josh Katzowitz: I saw a little Skyline Chili gift basket outside your office. Have you been to Skyline yet?


Butch Jones: Oh yeah, I've been to Skyline a number of times. You saw the basket? That's one example of the support we've received since coming here.


JK: There's a Skyline neck tie in there. Are you going to wear the tie?


BJ: I may. You know what? I've been so busy I haven't been able to look at it too much. I went right for the crackers. I may sport that tie every now and then again.


KOTC: That's the major headline. Jones: I May Sport that Skyline Tie Every Now and Again. Anyway, getting back to talking about Nippert Stadium and making it a tough ticket to get. Obviously you're getting some new practice facilities, and there's a lot of talk about expanding Nippert. Were do you stand on that?


BJ: The thing that excites me is the term they use about Nippert being the Wrigley Field of college football. You look at it and look at the great tradition that's been played in Nippert Stadium and the great atmosphere and the great environment. It's our job to put a product on the field that people want to come and watch. Also, the gameday environment: it's fan friendly, it's family friendly. I want to make it an event, and when you do that and people witness that, they want to keep coming back. I haven't really thought too much about (stadium expansion). But it's something to be said about college football and the environment and the nostalgia that comes with gameday. We obviously have that here, and I'm excited to witness that and build upon that.


JK: What's going on with the practice fields? Is it still on for this year?


BJ: It's still going. I'm very excited. That's the continuation of the building process of this football program. To be able to have a practice facility like that, to be able, when the weather gets cold for bowl prep or November games, to go inside a climate-controlled practice facility, it's going to be big for our program.


JK: You guys had that at West Virginia, right?


BJ: Yes, and we had it at Central (Michigan) too.


JK: Invariably, the comparisons to you and Brian Kelly are going to continue to exist. I don't know much you had that at Central. I imagine it was a little bit ...


BJ: Big.


JK: Obviously, you're not the same guy, you're not the same personality, you're not the same coach. How do you deal with that?


BJ: I don't spend too much time thinking about it. My sole focus is working hard each and every day to make everyone proud of the UC football program. Building upon the championship culture that exists here and making this program better each and every day. I don't lend myself to comparisons between myself and Brian Kelly. I don't even know what's out there. The big thing is it's about the kids, our players. It's about developing our players on the field and off the field.


JK: You guys are similar in the way in that you spent some time in Division III football (at Wilkes University). How did that work in your development?


BJ: It really lends itself to your development. There are so many things you have to do coaching at those levels. It makes you appreciate the game. You're coaching for the love of the game. You're having to do the laundry, you're having to coach other sports. When I was there, I was the head men's tennis coach and the intramural director. The passion you have to have to coach football, the sacrifices you have to do that are associated with that. It really lends into your development.


JK: Were you a pretty good tennis coach?


BJ: No.


JK: I think that's about it. Anything else I should be asking that you want to get out there?


BJ: We want high expectations. But people also need to be realistic. We've been through it, we've taken over a program and built upon it. There were growing pains at first. But if you look at how we developed the program there ... when I took the job at Central Michigan, I said we were going to be a top-25 football program. Everyone looked at me and they laughed and chuckled and said that can't be done at Central Michigan. We finished 23rd in the country this year. Any time you go 12-2 in the MAC with an out of conference schedule that includes Michigan State, Arizona and Boston College, that doesn't happen by mistake. We know how to take a program to the next level.


"We beat Northern Illinois for the first time at their place in years. Three years ago, we beat Western Michigan and it was the first time we had won at their place since 1993. We did it again this year. We took them to three straight bowl games. That had never been accomplished. The top-25 ranking is huge. Been there three years and two conference championships. We were getting everybody's best shot. We were the hunted each and every game.


JK: It strikes me that you can have a great season next year. You could go 9-3 and go to, say, the Meineke Car Care Bowl and it would seem almost like a step down. How do you deal with that?


BJ: You just continue to build a football program. You just look at the world of college football. There's parity everywhere. What separates winning and losing is inches. It's maybe three or four plays in a game. It's a decision here or a decision there. Winning is very fragile and staying on top is very fragile as well. But you wouldn't want it any other way.



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jaquon parker.jpegcashmere wright.jpeg

      The point of the matter is the Bearcats do not have anyone established at the point. Is it Cashmere Wright? Jaquon Parker? Lance Stephenson? Larry Davis? Rashad Bishop? Or, back to Deonta Vaughn?

      This year, it's been pretty much "all of the above".

      Early on this season, the job belonged to Cashmere Wright. When he faltered, several Bearcats had the chance to step in. Just over a week ago, it looked like Jaquon Parker had stepped to the forefront.

     Then, Cashmere Wright comes roaring back with a decent game at Louisville.

     The latest solution appears to be a "platoon" system. This coming off Parker having a 15-point, five assist game against South Florida, with Wright coming back with a 12-point effort against Pitino's Cardinals (matching the career-high he'd had twice before).

      "They're doing well," said Cronin when asked about the rotation. "Both those guys have really maintained a good work ethic throughout the season. Fortunately, it looks like they finally got to a point where they're both playing well and playing confident--to a point where if Deonta needs a rest they may both play together."

      Vaughn himself has take a few turns at the point, but the game plan this season was to let him play at the "two" so that he'd get more shots. He feels the two freshman are finally getting a grasp on how hard it is to play the point in the Big East.

      Looking at numbers, Wright is slightly the better scorer per game (4.8 compared to Parker's 4.3).

     However, Wright's played 317 minutes this season compared to Parker's 184, to put it in better perspective. In terms of shooting, Parker's 50 percent from the field, 36 on threes, while Wright's hitting 35 and 34 percent respectively.

      "Right now, they're probably our second and third-best perimeter shooters," said Cronin.

      Breaking down the tandem is tough, as they both can bring positive aspects to the game. Deonta Vaughn has observed each player in practice and in games.

      "Cash shoots it better, Park is strong for a guard," he said. "Jaquon's more vocal than Cash and is a better rebounder."

      Different players, different games. Wright appears to be "quicker to the hole" (he just needs to convert the lay-ups). Parker looks like the better defender. Neither can be pinned down as the reason for the loss at Louisville.

      "They weren't the culprits," said Cronin. "Our turnovers were more from Rashad (Bishop) and Dion (Dixon) and Deonta really. Cash and Park really weren't the cause of any of our turnovers. Against Louisville's pressure they didn't turn it over one time all day."

      That's a key stat. Road turnovers can kill you as the Bearcats have experienced a time or two this season.

      "Those guys are doing a pretty good job right now," said Cronin of Wright and Parker.

" We've got to get our interior defense shored up and we've got to get our pick and roll defense cleaned up."

      Oh yeah, and they've got to get ready for another Big East foe that'll be far from a cupcake in Providence. The Friars play a different brand of ball and Mick Cronin has yet to have a team beat them.

      "One thing about Providence, they can score (and they beat UConn Wednesday night)," said Cronin. "They'll shoot it quick, they shoot it early in the shot clock more so than most of the teams we play. They're a lot different that some of the teams they play. They play a match-up zone which no one else in the conference plays."

      Whether or not the starting point guard will be Jaquon Parker or Cashmere Wright probably won't be decided 'til Saturday night. They've won with both and they've lost with both. The long-term look is that both of these guys are going to be around three more years after this season.

      While it continues to be a "crutch", the fact is the Bearcats have at times started just one senior (Vaughn) with another upperclassman that's really only played organized ball for about four years (Thomas). From there, it's two freshmen (Stephenson and Wright/Parker) and a sophomore (Gates).

      For those pounding their head and grinding their teeth at night, you get tired of hearing it, but better days ARE ahead. It's just that most of us would just as soon see those days begin with this Saturday.

Recalling the night Logan outscored UC's opponent

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   When I heard back in the summer that Steve Logan was going to be inducted into the UC Athletic Hall of Fame, I was excited for him. I was the UC beat reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer during Logan's junior and senior years and found him to be one of the most exciting players I covered during my 11 years writing about college basketball.

   Of course, I was saddened a short time later when I read that he was arrested in Cleveland on charges of rape and gross sexual imposition. Just last week Logan removed himself from the Hall of Fame induction this year while dealing with his personal issues. The Hall of Fame banquet is Feb. 19.

   I haven't seen Logan since late in 2004 when he was at a UC game. The next day he spontaneously did a book signing ("Tales from Cincinnati Bearcats Basketball") with me and Corie Blount at the Barnes & Noble at Newport on the Levee.

   When I think of Logan's playing days, one of my favorite memories was a game on Feb. 15, 2002, when he did something I had never seen before: He outscored an opponent all by himself.

   The Bearcats blew out Southern Mississippi 89-37 that night - and Logan himself had 41 points.

   James Green, the coach at Southern Miss back then, said his team tried to deny Logan the ball, tried to double-team him, tried everything. But Logan still went 12-of-18 from the field, hit 8 of 13 shots from 3-point range and added nine assists and six rebounds. He also made 9 of 10 free throws.

   "To do it in a game like there was nobody in the gym with me, it's amazing," Logan told me the next day. "I was just in a zone, I guess."

    The 5-foot-11 guard was Conference USA Player of the Year two years in a row, was first-team All-America as a senior and finished as the No. 2 scorer in school history. He also won the Francis Pomeroy Naismith Award as the top player in the country 6 feet and under.

   In one of those life-altering situations, Logan fell out of the first round of the 2002 NBA draft and was the first pick in the second round (by Golden State). The misfortune of this? There was one less first-round pick because Minnesota had forfeited its first-round selection. If Logan would have gone in the first round, he would have received a guaranteed contract.

   Instead, his agent and the Warriors could not agree on contract terms and Logan never played in the NBA, though he did spend some time playing in Poland and Israel.

   I always thought it was a shame. It would've been interesting to see how Logan, despite his lack of height, could have fared in the NBA. His will to succeed and will to win were incredible. Though he was short, I always wondered whether he had the intangibles to make it in the pros.


*           *           *


   You can catch former Bearcat Trent Cole in the NFL's Pro Bowl this Sunday night (7:30, ESPN). The fifth-year defensive end had 90 tackles and 12.5 sacks this season for Philadelphia. He is playing in his second Pro Bowl (2007). Cole, 27, is fifth all-time on the Eagles career sacks list with 47.

   As for the Super Bowl (Feb. 7), UC fans can watch for Troy Evans, an eighth-year linebacker and special teams player with the New Orleans Saints. This is his third season with the Saints after five with the Houston Texans. The Lakota High School graduate had 29 tackles this season.




Bearcats trio out to impress at Senior Bowl

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So much of the attention the first few days of the Senior Bowl has been focused on Tim Tebow and Terrence Cody*. But there are others - a few of them you might actually know - who are doing their best to make a mental mark on the scouts and coaches assembled in Alabama for the annual all-star game/meat market.


*Especially if he's going to walk around for photos like this.


If you happen to catch the game Saturday at 4 p.m. on the NFL Network, here's who you'll want to be watching.


Tony Pike: There are, as you probably know by now, a few knocks on Pike as he begins his offseason of prepping for the NFL Combine, working out for whichever teams decide to bring him to their complexes before the Draft and participating in UC's Pro Day. He's got good height for a QB, but he's thin (he weighed in at 212 pounds this week) and he seems to be a bit brittle. That will be a concern and why, instead of becoming a late first- or early second-round pick (as some had him before he was injured in this year's South Florida game), he might drop to the middle rounds. Also, you have to wonder if he is a (dreaded) system quarterback


But he's got an NFL-ready arm, and he seems like a smart, well-reasoned, calm individual - on the field and off it. That certainly counts for something.


During his first day of practice, he performed well, and, according to the Sporting News, he "definitely looked like an NFL quarterback ... and really could help himself if able to play at this level all week."


But ESPN's Todd McShay isn't sure about Pike. Before the Sugar Bowl in a teleconference call with national reporters, McShay didn't seem so impressed with Pike, and earlier this week, he reiterated that opinion by writing:


Tony Pike is accurate and tall enough to develop into an NFL backup and possibly a starter down the line. However, his ability to read NFL coverage is a concern and there are questions about his overall work ethic, so he may never reach that potential.

His ability to take advantage of and learn from the Detroit Lions coaching staff throughout the week will either amplify or dampen these concerns. In addition, Pike must prove he can make the transition from the spread attack of his college coach Brian Kelly to a pro-style system.

Not sure I agree with the work ethic thing, but OK, I'll buy most of that.


Mardy Gilyard: I'll be really interested to see where Gilyard goes in the draft. He's got first-round talent, but a late-rounds body. He weighed in at a light 179 pounds, and at 6-1 (though I'm pretty sure he's shorter than that), that's not going to help impress the scouts who think those measures are so important.


We both know, though, that Gilyard is an NFL talent. He's not the fastest receiver in the country, but he's got great hands, quick moves and he knows how to use his body to his advantage. Plus, he's one of the best kick returners in the nation.


According to the Sporting News, he had a strong first day, showing "good quickness and agility in his routes, getting out of cuts quickly and flashing the ability to make tough catches." But not everybody was quite as impressed. Like Dallas Morning News scribe Gerry Fraley, who wrote that Gilyard had stiff hands after dropping three passes during Tuesday's practice. And like Lions receivers coach Shawn Jefferson.


Check out this passage from strong Butch Hobson in his Bengals.com story from Tuesday:


MOBILE, Ala. - Call it Mardy Gilyard's first professional chewing out after Monday afternoon's first Senior Bowl practice for the North.


In a not so intimate huddle Lions wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson lit into his group for their inability to keep up with the speed of the game and since Gilyard is considered by many to be the best of the lot at this all-star game despite the 113 catches of Missouri's 6-4, 220-pound Danario Alexander and the 4.38-second 40-yard dash time of Clemson's 5-8 Jacoby Ford, Jefferson seemed to be staring at him much of the time during the tirade.


"I think he has potential, but it seems like the game is a little too fast for him," Jefferson said later. "Maybe I'm too hard on him, but in this day and age there is no time to get these kids ready. They have to be ready now. Today was a bit overwhelming for him.


Moments later Jefferson walked over to Gilyard kneeling on one knee and patted him on the shoulder and Gilyard told him, "I'm going to look you up tonight," after Jefferson challenged them to spend extra time with him to learn the plays.


Gilyard then fired on himself in a passionate diatribe for coming out so passively.


"When I ran my first comeback and it got picked, I was saying, 'What's going on? What am I doing?'" Gilyard fumed at himself. "I'm being coached hard and with intensity. I need that and it's something that I love. I got frustrated. Then once I relaxed I got a little bit better toward the end. I need to take what I did at the end and transfer it to the beginning and just keep moving."


If I had to guess, though, I think Gilyard goes before Pike in the Draft.


Mike Windt: You ever notice him on the field for Bearcats? Probably not, and that's probably a good thing. A long-snapper is there not to be noticed, but to be solid on every single snap. And Windt has been exactly that during his UC career.


Honestly, I didn't expect to find much news on Windt, but along came this little passage on kcchiefs.com:

Some things are universal. At NFL practices, the specialists hang in packs (packs of three to be precise) and that's no different at the Senior Bowl, even if the trio just met within the past 48 hours. Specialists are also typically the first ones to arrive at practice and usually display some sort of "abnormal behavior" in the process.


This morning, the few people at Ladd-Peebles Stadium 60 minutes prior to the North's start-time were treated to a sprinting Mike Windt (LS - Cincinnati) singing the U.C. fight song. Odd behavior among specialists seems to be world-wide.


On a side note, don't think that coaches and scouts simply watch practice and leave to review the tape. These NFL talent evaluators join media members on the field for post-practice interviews of their own with the college prospects. Even though the Chiefs seem set at both kicker and punter, that didn't stop special teams coach Steve Hoffman from gathering all three North specialists for a post-practice chat.

The Home Stretch

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So were you at the UC-Georgetown women's game last week? If you weren't, you missed a pivotal moment in the season, maybe the future, of the Bearcats' franchise.

Yes, the Bearcats lost that game, but they led for most of the contest. They played hard until the very last second. And they went toe to toe with a top 20-ranked team and didn't blink.

And it showed what the Jamelle Elliott era is, and will be.

We haven't seen that in a while, but it was there. We saw a team that hustled, we saw a team that worked hard, and we saw a team that, even though they were out-numbered (the Bearcats played only six players during that game), play through the exhaustion and frustration to stand up to a very well coached, talented Hoya squad.

Yes, it was a four point loss, and I know that coaches will never say that there is a 'good' loss, but it was a seminal moment, I believe, in this program. In the past we would have seen these players frustrated, with their heads hanging. Not this time. During this game, these players believed in themselves. We saw it in their first BIG EAST win against St. John's, when, toward the end of the game and the Bearcats holding a fairly comfortable lead, Kahla Roudebush glanced over at fellow senior Michelle Jones lined up in the lane for a foul shot and smile.

Those two have had a UC career that neither one expected. But they are now part of the foundation that will take this team, and teams in the future, to new heights. We're fortunate to have some great women's basketball action in this city. Go watch it.

My interview with Butch Jones, part II

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Two weeks ago, I was invited into Butch Jones' office for a little question and answer session. I hadn't met Jones yet, so I was interested to see him in his new digs, how he was adjusting to his new job and how he would answer my questions. Here's part II of III of my interview. In case you missed part I, click on this link.

Part II begins here:


Josh Katzowitz: Not many people have talked about this, but what kind of defense do you run?


Butch Jones: First of all, we'll be real multiple with a four-down and three-down front. We'll be very, very aggressive, but we're going to be fundamentally sound. We'll be a great, great tackling team. We'll pride ourselves on playing with great fundamentals, not only on defense but on the other phases as well.


JK: Obviously, they went from a 4-3 with Joe Tresey to a 3-4 with Bob Diaco last year. Is it a hybrid of that for you, or is it a wholesale change?


BJ: It's not a wholesale change. It'll be a hybrid. We'll do some things with a standup defensive end and also have him down in a three-point. It's probably a combination of both defenses.


JK: What do you like about that defense?


BK: It becomes real multiple. You're able to disguise coverages. You're able to be sound in the run game and the throw game. It allows you to bring pressure from the field and from the boundary. It allows you to be multiple yet maintain some simplicity as well.


JK: It's interesting with these offensive head coaches who run spread and what their defensive philosophy is, because that defense has to go against the offense every day in practice. I wonder if they're always thinking about how they would stop their own offense. I know Brian thought the 3-4 was right because it could stop what he was doing.


BJ: Obviously, you look first and foremost at the offenses in the Big East and what you're going to have to be defending against. That's the first thing. When your defense is going against your offense, it's imperative you're able to have the schemes in place that they're going to be seeing on a week-to-week basis in the Big East conference. A lot of people tend to think of spread offense as four and five receivers all the time and throwing the ball around and the term "finesse" comes out. We're far from being a finesse offense. We'll play with a fullback; we'll play with a tight end. We'll be in multiple personnel groupings. You need that - you need to take pride in being a physical football team. In order to be a physical football team, your defense has to see a physical style of football from your offense day in and day out.


JK: You'll play with a fullback, huh? We haven't seen that here in a while.


BJ: Yeah. Well, it's a fullback/h-back, which is a little different. It's not 21 personnel and getting high formation. I'm talking about doing different things with the tight end off the ball and moving him around - more of an H-back type.


JK: Because you were in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl and because it was such a blowout loss, do you worry about losing any kind of momentum from a fan's standpoint? There was so much hype going into that game and then the team kind of fell flat. Do you worry about that?


BK: No, I think part of being great fans is the term "loyalty." Fans have great loyalty to our program and our football players. We have great tradition. You couldn't help but see the excitement in New Orleans. The fan support was incredible. I don't think we lost any momentum at all. What it's done is been a renewed spirit and renewed energy level for our players and propelling us into our offseason strength and conditioning program. It was a very special season. Any time you go undefeated, that's legacy. I don't think there's been any momentum lost at all. It's refocused our players. They now understand what it takes to play on a national stage and the things that are associated with those types of games. I don't think there's been any momentum lost at all.


JK: How much do you have to do with fans because the coaching transition, at least at the beginning, was ... well, frankly, it pissed a lot of people off. I wonder if there's something you need to do to mend fences. What are your thoughts on that?


BJ: Well, I'm going to be extremely visible as the head football coach at the University of Cincinnati. I'm going to get into the community. They're going to know me, they're going to know my family. They're going to see mine and my staff's passion for UC, for Cincinnati in general. You can't hide that passion. They'll see that passion portrayed out on the football field with our football teams. We have great fans here, very passionate fans. I'm very excited to be a part of that process. There will be a process that goes along with it. People here have been outstanding. Everybody told me that we were moving to a great community. I've seen that. People have gone out of their way to say hello and welcome us to the area. You can see that passion. You go back to the Sugar Bowl. That was an unbelievable scene. It led me to believe that UC football is very important to the people.


JK: I'm not from Cincinnati, but moving here and working for the Post and seeing it from an objective point of a view, I've seen that if you're not winning, people don't really care about the team. Even the Bengals this year, for the playoff game, it didn't sell out and there was nobody in the tailgating lots 2 ½ hours before the game. It's great for you that you had 25,000 people that went down to New Orleans. But I wonder how difficult it is to maintain that enthusiasm. 


BJ: I wouldn't say we're going to maintain that enthusiasm; we're going to build off the enthusiasm. We're going to make that even better. I expect season tickets to increase. I expect it to be even harder to get into Nippert Stadium than it's ever been. I think of building upon it and building upon what has been established here and taking it to even greater levels.


JK: Do you do that by being out in the community?


It's a number of things. We talk about being a family and developing pride and "Representing the C." But first of all, it's our players representing extremely well, our players being visible and our coaches being out there. Our student body, our fans, our alumni, they see us as one of them as we are in this thing together. It's the way we'll perform on the field and all the little things. They will know us. It does become a pride thing. It does become a pride for great support. I think you just continue to build upon that.


(To be continued later this week) ...










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It didn't go the way we hoped for, UC's last trip to Freedom Hall but it was indeed their last time thier as the Cards prepare to move into thier new digs. So many memories over the years I'm curious as to what yours are? I think of all the games and both teams being ranked and playing a home and home which made the rivalry even more intense. I don't like the fact that's not an annual occurance anymore but blame it on the Big Beast.

Anyway here's to a historical building of hoops where so many games have become the basis of tall tales that grow annually; and now that the building will no longer house the 'Ville, the stories will grow beyond life size. UC and U of L are both struggling this year and that just doesn't seem right as they were always kings of the hill in the past but with the creation of mega-conferences that is a thing of the past.

But here's to all the games good and bad, historical and not so, and to the memories of a place I've had the pleasure of watching many a game. Freedom Hall has given way to suite deals and corporate influence and hopefully in the transition the game of basketball will maintain its rightful place as the main attraction. In Kentucky the thorobreds should always have center stage on the track and on the court. That's the way I see it...Sitting In The Box Seat

UC-Louisville LIVE blog

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Live from the basement:

Sounds like Lance Stephenson is going to play today. Will be interested to see how effective he is with his ankle injury.

The starting lineup for UC: Deonta Vaughn, Lance Stephenson, Jaquon Parker, Ibrahima Thomas and Yancy Gates.

Also interested to see how Gates matches up with Samardo Samuels.

I'm still confused about how Mick sees Thomas. Sometimes, he plays 7 minutes in a game. Sometimes, he starts. Today, he starts and immediately hits a 3-pointer.

Looks like Stephenson is fine. He rebounds a Thomas miss and puts in a short jumper and then hits a 3 from top of the key to give UC a 8-0 lead and forces a timeout from Rick Pitino. Later, he rebounds a Vaughn miss and slams it home.

First Yancy Gates foul 2:02 into the game on a hedge 25 feet from the basket. Mick, like he said he would, yanks Gates and puts in Toyloy.

Two minutes later, Toyloy commits his first foul (an offensvie foul), and McClain enters. I'm sure Samuels likes that matchup.

UC is killing Louisville on the boards.

UC 12, Louisville 4 (14:44 to go)

Lance Stephenson with yet another 3-pointer.

UC struggling against the full-court pressure and then against the Cards' zone. Parker catches a break when he's fouled with 1 second on the shot clock. Lucky because he had no chance of getting off a shot.

UC 17, Louisville 8 (11:35 to go)

A couple threes by the Cards, and suddenly, Louisville is right back in the game.

10-second violation for UC, thanks to Louisville's full-court press.

UC 23, Louisville 16 (7:48 to go)

Jaquon Parker, as was to be expected, isn't quite as sure of himself handling the ball today.

Cards go on an 8-0 run, but Vaughn hits a 3 to move the lead to 4.

After missing a 3-pointer, Thomas plays nice defense on Samuels on the other end. First, Samuels basically airballs a layup and then Thomas swats away his second-chance attempt.

The Bearcats have one field goal in the last 6 minutes.

UC 26, Louisville 23 (3:35 to go)

Sosa hits a 3 with 1:40 to go to tie the game at 28-28.

UC goes from pretty good on offense to absolutely horrendous in the span of about 7 minutes. Louisville's press is really hurting the Bearcats.

Vaughn misses the layup, but Gates is there to rebound and dunk to cut the lead to 1. Sosa misses a last-second 3.

Louisville 31, UC 30 (half)

Stephenson leads the way with 12 points and five rebounds, and Gates has eight points. UC is outrebounding Louisville 19-14 and is shooting better from the floor.

Samuels has eight points, but Delk has been pretty impressive as well with seven points and five rebounds.

First three trips down the floor for UC in the second half: a turnover and three bad shots. Bad, as in advisable.

A turnover by Parker, and then Sosa drives right by him for the easy layup.

Louisville on a 26-12 run.

Louisville 40, UC 35 (15:24 to go)

I'll tell you what: UC looks like it has no clue what to do on offense.

Gotta watch out for Sosa. UC doubles the post, leaving Sosa open in the corner. He drains it for the 7-point Louisville lead.

Announcers have been talking about the experience of Vaughn. But he commits an intentional foul on Siva, and the Cards take two FTs and get the ball back.

Whatever happened to Stephenson?

Louisville 48, UC 38 (11:54 to go)

Vaughn hits a 3 from the top of the key to keep UC close.

Louisville 54, UC 47 (7:26 to go)

Cashmere Wright scores five straight points. He's done a nice job today.

UC cuts the leads to two, but Dixon misses a 3 and the commits an offensive foul. Meanwhile, Delk hits a 3 and Samuels hits a turnaround jumper to increase the lead to seven again.

Cardinals definitely outhustling the Bearcats.

But Wright hits another 3 to cut the lead to 4. He's scored the team's last 10 points.

Louisville 61, UC 57 (2:28 to go)

For some reason, Mick takes out Wright and inserts Parker. My tweeps argue it was for defensive reasons, but I still don't like the move.

Sosa hits a 3 to increase it to 7.

Samuels misses a 3 with 1:05 to play, and Delk gets the rebound. Yep, this one is about over.

Louisville 64, UC 57 (1:00 to go)

Vaughn hits a 3 to make it 66-60, but that's as close as the Bearcats will get.

Vaughn, Gates and Stephenson each finish with 12 points. Stephenson has seven rebounds and Vaughn with five assists. UC didn't shoot terribly, but its 17 turnovers hurt.

Louisville 68, UC 60 (final)


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      He's played him once in Cincinnati and twice in Louisville. Mick Cronin is 1-2 against the Cardinals and his one-time boss, Rick Pitino. Sunday, they do battle again in Freedom Hall in the last game ever at the old arena between the 'Cats and Cards.

      "Yeah, Freedom Hall's a great place," said Cronin. "I know the people talk about it, the media doesn't like where they sit and all that stuff and the cramped quarters. Freedom Hall's a neat place. I've been fortunate enough to coach there in a lot of games. Glad I'm going to get a chance to coach there this year. It'll be great to know that you coached a game in the last season ever at Freedom Hall."

      Cronin has the rare honor of having coached in Freedom Hall on the Cardinals bench and on the opposing bench with the Bearcats. After five years on the staff of Bob Huggins with UC, Cronin spent two years as Rick Pitino's Associate Head Coach. While Huggins gave him his college start, Cronin's "head coaching stock" took off after his time in "the 'Ville".

      "All I can tell you is what he's done for myself as well as numerous other coaches in this business is probably unparalleled in the history of college coaching," Cronin said of Pitino. "I don't know that anyone other than Dean Smith would compare to Rick Pitino as far as developing college coaches."

      Because of that, Cronin and other Pitino proteges have had a difficult time with the bad press the Louisville coach has received over an extramarital encounter that became public.

      "That's why it's been hard for me to watch what he's had to go through in the last six to eight months," admitted Cronin. "It's been brutal on a lot of us. You sit around and talk to guys like Billy Donovan and Herb Sendek and try to figure out, 'How can we help him?' At the end of the day, what we've all found out is he's alright. If anyone's going to be able to handle the whole situation with class and dignity and deal with a mistake that he had to go through--it's him."

      There's no question, Cronin is a Pitino follower. Except when it comes to flashy suits the Cardinals coach has taken to wearing on occasion.

      "I don't own a white suit, nor do I own a red suit," said Cronin. "I'd look like some sort of elf or cartoon character."

      A lot of Pitino's influence can be seen in Cronin off the court. These days, there's a lot more to coaching than roaming the sidelines.

      "Dealing with media, dealing with fans, fundraising, all of the above--aside from the X's and O's," said Cronin of what he learned from Pitino. "People don't really know his generosity and how he goes out of his way for other people."

      21 former Pitino players and coaches have gone on to become Division I head coaches. Included on the list are Florida's Billy Donovan and Minnesota's Tubby Smith (both winning national championships). Arizona State's Herb Sendek, and of course, Mick Cronin are also on that list and Cronin's lessons from the Louisville master have been priceless.

      "The biggest thing that I noticed when I got with him was understanding that in every game you've got to prepare for that game to be close," said Cronin. "Every team is good at certain things. If the game becomes close, you can't lose your mind and get frustrated with your players. You have to adjust and find a way to get the win. I think he probably got that from the NBA."

      Best case scenario against Louisville is that Cronin gets to put some of Pitino's advice to use. As long as its close, the Bearcats have a chance for a rare Big East road win. Cronin did it two years ago with considerably less talent.

      As they say in another popular sport, "Any Given Sunday".

My interview with Butch Jones, part I

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Last week, I was invited into Butch Jones' office for a little question and answer session. I hadn't met Jones yet, so I was interested to see him in his new digs, how he was adjusting to his new job and how he would answer my questions. Here's part I of III of my interview.


Josh Katzowitz: So, you've been here a couple weeks. How's everything going?


Butch Jones: The transition has been extremely smooth. We really benefitted from being here very early. Getting a head start on everything, a head start on recruiting. Being able to evaluate things, so all of a sudden after the Sugar Bowl, we've come in and hit the ground running.


JK: It's interesting the way the dynamic was. The last head coach came in and was caching the team for the International Bowl game. It was a little different situation with you. Was it OK for you? I don't know if it was an awkward situation, but it must have been nice to be able to take a step back and see who you've got.


BJ: It was great to be able to evaluate everything. I tried to stay as much in the background as possible. It was extremely beneficial to be able to take the time in hiring the staff and do due diligence there. We really benefited as a program of that time where we could sit back and see what was needed so we could hit it running once we were able to maintain a staff and go out and start recruiting.


JK: How's that aspect of it? How's the recruiting going?


BJ: It's going extremely well. We had our first official visit weekend (the weekend of Jan. 8). I thought it went extremely well, and our coaches did a great job. That's one of the great things about being at the University of Cincinnati. There's so much to sell, from great academics, to great facilities, great people, great city. A lot of times it sells itself.


JK: I wonder: you have these recruits that are already committed to UC. How do you spend your time keeping the guys you want and maybe there are some guys you don't want and going out and getting new recruits? It must be an interesting dynamic.


BJ: It is very interesting. You have to basically re-recruit them. We basically started the process of recruiting from scratch. But I'll tell you what: We have a lot of players in this class that are extremely loyal to Cincinnati. That's critical in the recruiting process. It's something special to be able to stay at home and stay in your hometown and represent your university. We've been able to get with our players that were committed and obviously bringing in some new players as well.


JK: I did a lot of research for my book, and every coach that came in always said, "We need to recruit Cincinnati, because there's such a good base of players here." Most of the guys were not successful. It began to get better with (Mark) Dantonio, and Brian (Kelly), with Kerry (Coombs), did a nice job. Is the base of the city still very important to you?


BJ: Sure, The foundation of our football program will be based from the greater Cincinnati area. And within a 200-mile radius. We'll also venture off and find the best possible student-athletes that will represent the University of Cincinnati. We use a term called "Represent the C." There are so many things that the C stands for, from character to championships to academics to University of Cincinnati, to city of Cincinnati. You're in a great state, one of the best states for high school football, and you couple it with a great area and the surrounding areas. The respect that we have on a national scope as well really lends itself to the recruiting process.


JK: At Central, I would imagine you're not as focused on more national-type recruiting. I'm sure you saw more of that (when you were an assistant coach) at West Virginia. How do you balance that here because Cincinnati is now becoming more of a national program? Is that something where you can compete on the national level?


BJ: First of all, at Central Michigan in last year's recruiting class, we had 12 different states represented. That's a byproduct of being on national television and this past year, we were a top-25 football program. You look at Cincinnati. We're going to win with Cincinnati players, with the state of Ohio first and foremost, but again, because of the national scope, we're able to walk into different areas and people understand what Cincinnati is all about. They understand the tradition that exists here. We'll continue to go anywhere and everywhere for players. But we're going to take care of home.


JK: Obviously, the first hire you made was Kerry. Why?


BJ: First of all, I've known Kerry Coombs for a number of years. I've had great respect for him - not only as a coach but as a person. Kerry brings so much to our football program. To me, that was critical. He's been instrumental in the transition phase - not only for myself but for our coaches as well. He means so much to UC football.


JK: I guess it is nice to have at least one guy who can transition the staffs and stay on recruiting.


BJ: No question. Coach Coombs is respected so much in Cincinnati, in the entire state of Ohio and surrounding areas. Obviously, he has a great passion and energy and great love for UC. He knows the ins and outs, and he's been a great asset to me and the rest of the staff.


JK: There's been a lot of talk about your (offensive) philosophies - that brand of exciting football, throw it down the field a lot. How would your characterize your offense? Is it spread, no-huddle?


BJ: We're a spread, no-huddle, up-tempo football team. We're up-tempo, and we're going to play fast in all three phases - offensively, defensively and with special teams. Everything we do, we train to play fast. We'll be very aggressive on defense and very sound in the kicking game.


JK: Who did you learn offense from? Who were your mentors?


BJ: I've benefitted with working for a lot of great coaches. It's not just been one coach, but it's been a number of coaches. I've benefitted from getting into coaching at an early age because of an injury in college. Being able to work in the National Football League for three years, it got my career jumpstarted a little bit. From the spread offense with Rich Rodriguez and being with him a little over two years and being with Brian for a year and some other coaches as well. I've really been a benefactor of working with and working for a lot of great coaches.


JK: Was that the Tampa Bay Bucs in the late '80s? Who was coaching?


BJ: Ray Perkins. 1987, 88, 89.


JK: What did you do?


BK: I was an intern and then a quality control coach.


JK: Is that a pretty good education for a young guy?


BJ: OH, it's a great education. Those experiences are invaluable.


Parts II and III of my Butch Jones interview will run next week.












Louisville Looms Large

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As painful as the St. John's loss was last week, if the Bearcats win at Louisville on Sunday, they can erase the bitter taste of that defeat.


That's one of the great things about playing in the Big East.  While it's brutally difficult, there are plenty of opportunities to redeem yourself after an early season loss and enhance your NCAA resume.


"We're not even near the half-way point in the Big East and there are 5 ½ weeks left in the regular season," Mick Cronin said after Wednesday's win over USF.  "There's a long way to go and we've got to continue to strive to get better."


The Bearcats have 11 regular season games left and only three of them are against teams that are currently outside of the top 75 in the RPI ratings (USF #84, Providence #92, DePaul #190).  If Cincinnati wins those three games, the 'Cats would still need at least two "quality wins" to finish .500-or-better in league play.


That's why Sunday's game at Louisville looms so large.  The Cardinals suffered heavy losses from the team that won last year's Big East regular season and tournament titles, but a win at Freedom Hall would still look great on Selection Sunday. 


Since Louisville plays at Seton Hall on Thursday night, UC will have an extra day to prepare - but with no guarantee that Lance Stephenson will be on the court.


"He's got a sprained ankle and it's the same ankle that he sprained earlier in the year," Mick told me.  "He's a tough kid - trust me, I'll have to tie him down to stop him from playing on Sunday.  But I'm not going to put him in any jeopardy - if he's healthy he'll play, if he's not he won't.  We'll give him Thursday off and see how his ankle reacts and go day-to-day.  He's too important to put him out there if he's not ready, so hopefully he can practice on Friday and Saturday and see if he's ready to go."


The Bearcats played well offensively without Stephenson in their win over USF, scoring 78 points on 56% shooting with only 8 turnovers.  But those numbers will be tough to match against Louisville on its home court.


"Our issue is consistency," Cronin said.  "We need to know that every night, certain guys are going to show up offensively and we really haven't had that.  We've had different guys play well at different times, but we have to strive to get consistent play from three or four guys every night on the offensive end."


The Bearcats won the last time they visited Freedom Hall in January of 2008, as a team with John Williamson, Adam Hrycaniuk, and Jamual Warren in the starting lineup, beat a Louisville squad that included future NBA draft picks Terrence Williams and Earl Clark.  Cincinnati is much more talented now according to Louisville senior Edgar Sosa.


"Cincinnati is a really tough, hard-nosed team that has most of its players back, and with a good recruit like Lance coming in, there's no telling how good they can be," Sosa told me at Big East Media Day.  "Cincinnati is definitely a team to watch out for in the Big East."


The Bearcats will look to prove Sosa right on Sunday.


* * * * *


Rick Bozich had an interesting story in the Louisville Courier-Journal on Thursday that makes the case that 10 Big East wins is the magic number for going to the NCAA tourney.


Since the Big East expanded to 16 schools four years ago, 27 of 30 teams that have finished above .500 in league play have been selected for the field of 65.


The exceptions were Providence (10-8 last year), West Virginia (9-7 in '06-07) and DePaul (9-7 in '06-07).


However, finishing at .500 has generally not been good enough since the league expanded as only one of four teams received an at-large bid.  Villanova qualified with a 9-9 record in '07-08, but Syracuse ('07-08), Providence ('06-07), and Cincinnati ('05-06) were left out with. 500 league records.


Syracuse finished below .500 (7-9) in '05-06, but rode Gerry McNamara to the Big East Tournament title.


* * * * *


Quick quiz:  What college basketball coach has made the following statements after his team's losses this season?


"The freshmen are trying ... but they haven't been through these wars yet.  If I live long enough, maybe it will help us a couple of years down the road. But I don't know if I can live through this."


"Some of our inexperienced players have to get experienced quickly, and a couple of experienced players have to play a heck of a lot better."


"We looked like a really inexperienced team in the first half. We reacted like an inexperienced team."


"This is the least experience and least depth I've ever had on the perimeter.  I always love big guys - but I've got to have guards. I've got to have perimeter players that know what they're doing."


"We both showed our inexperience.  We showed it in the first half and I think they showed it a little bit in the second half."


Answer:  North Carolina's Roy Williams.  His Tar Heels fell to 12-7 with a home loss vs. Wake Forest on Wednesday night.


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


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


UC-USF thoughts

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Perhaps it wasn't exactly the win the Bearcats - not to mention coach Mick Cronin - would have wanted, but UC will take it. The 78-70 victory against South Florida gives the Bearcats a 4-3 Big East record and slightly strengthens their resume for possible NCAA tournament inclusion. And yeah, there were some problems that need to be corrected before they travel to Louisville on Sunday, but maybe, they should just take a moment to reflect in a hard-fought win.


Particularly with the way the Bearcats shot the ball (55.6 percent from the floor) and with how little sophomore forward Yancy Gates played. Oh yeah, and the fact Lance Stephenson (sprained ankle) was missing as well.


"I'm really happy we got out with a win," Cronin said.


And he should be. But there's plenty on which the Bearcats can improve. Goal No. 1: convince Gates that he needs to stop getting himself into foul trouble.


Gates was coming off his stalwart performance on defense against Notre Dame's Luke Harangody and his game-winning shot to beat the Irish. Against the Bulls early, he looked ready for another big game, scoring six-straight points to give the Bearcats a 10-4 lead. But he picked up foul No. 2 just four minutes into the game and he took a seat on the bench as the Bulls went on a 6-0 run of their own to tie the contest.


In the second half, he was whistled for his fourth foul with 13:51 remaining, and once again, Cronin had to yank him from the game. Gates finished with eight points and two rebounds. He'll need to be more productive than that on Sunday in Louisville when he has to face Cardinals sophomore center Samardo Samuels, who's averaging 16.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the Cardinals.


"He has to adjust," Cronin said on his postgame radio show. "If he gets the quick early one, I'm going to take him out. And he was dominating. It's tougher for a big guy because your man could get by you and drive to the basket and then they may jump into him. It may not even be a foul on him. But he has to know in that situation that it's just not worth it early in the game. It affects us."


Luckily for UC, Steve Toyloy - who was battling a stomach virus - managed to play 28 minutes and finish with nine points and eight rebounds.


"Steve Toyloy gutted it out," Cronin said. "We had to sub him out because he was having stomach flu issues. He had to come out and throw up a couple of times. It wasn't a pretty sight from what I hear."


--Freshman guard Lance Stephenson sprained his ankle during Tuesday's practice, the same ankle he hurt earlier in the season, and after not playing him vs. the Bulls, Cronin said Stephenson was day to day. He could suit up against the Cardinals on Sunday, though. He plans to give Stephenson the day off from practice Thursday but would like to see him practice Friday and/or Saturday in preparation for the Louisville game.


Cronin, though, will not push him too hard.


"I'm not going to put Lance in jeopardy," Cronin said. "We have a long season. If he's healthy, he'll play. If he's not, he won't. I'm not going to throw him out there if he's hobbling. Our season is too long, and we have too many things to accomplish. He's too important to just put him out there if he can't practice."


--Although Cronin seemed pleased with the response he got from freshman point guard Cashmere Wright after Cronin benched him for the Notre Dame game because of a lack of effort during practice, he started freshman Jaquon Parker in his place. And Parker rewarded him with a 15-point, five-assist effort.


"Coach (Larry) Davis told me before the game just to be solid and get everyone involved," Parker said. "And when you score, just to make the best of it. Shots were going in. It was a good game for me. Oh man, that's good (on having five assists and zero turnovers). There were some close calls."


South Florida coach Stan Heath wasn't happy to see it.


"Very surprised," he said. "I won't be too happy with my assistant coaches for scouting. He stepped up. I didn't really know how to look at Lance not playing. I was afraid we let our guard down and relaxed. I was afraid that Deonta (Vaughn, who scored a team-high 20 points) would step up, and both of those things happened. A guy like Parker really stepped up and made some great plays and shots. He did a nice job for their team."

UC-South Florida preview

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Yancy Gates is a different player today than he was a few days ago. OK, that's not exactly true, but if you're like me, you don't look at him quite the same way as you did a week ago.


Yes, Gates isn't always as aggressive as you'd like him to be with the ball in his hands. Maybe you wish he'd stop taking quite so many mid-range jump shots (even if he does hit his fair share of them) and use his 6-foot-9, 260-pound frame to make strong moves in the paint. Maybe you wish he'd always play with as much intensity as he showed last Saturday against Notre Dame. Maybe you wish he didn't seem to take off certain plays (whether it's because he's fatigued or because he simply doesn't play hard every second on the court).


But after watching his performance vs. the Fighting Irish - particularly the way he played defense against Luke Harangody, perhaps the Big East's best player - I'm a little more impressed by Gates. He's shown stretches during the first two years of his career where he's looked like he could become one of the best forwards in the league (particularly when he runs the court effectively), but against Harangody, Gates has proven that, matched up against one of the country's top players, he can be just as good as anybody around.


"You'd have to say absolutely - against a player of that caliber," Mick Cronin said when I asked him Tuesday if his effort against Notre Dame was the best defensive performance of Gates' career. "It's effort, but it's also strategy. Yancy is a pretty smart guy, and he knew if, 'I don't give this guy layups and don't foul him and I make him make shots, he's got a chance to miss those.' Now, Luke has a tendency to make a lot of tough ones, but you're not going to make all those tough ones. You're going to miss a few. Yancy definitely got him to shoot a lot of the shots Yancy wanted him to shoot. He took away his low-post game. That was a big key for us, because it kept him off the foul line for the most part."


Overall, Gates, who got some assistance from senior forward Steve Toyloy against Harangody, forced Harangody into making just 5 of 20 shots for 14 points. (Two days later, by the way, Harangody scored 31 points on 13 of 26 shooting against Syracuse). He only shot six free throws and made just two of those. So yeah, a heck of a performance by Gates.


He wasn't too bad on offense either, scoring 11 points (including the game-winning layup) and grabbing six offensive rebounds (he had 13 overall).


"It meant a lot," Gates said Tuesday. "He just had 31 on Syracuse, and for him to only have 14 when he came here, that was big to me. It was mostly following the scouting report. The scouting report goes in depth, so I followed that and watched a lot of film. I went into the game with a defensive mindset - more than I probably ever have in my life. I wasn't too focused on scoring. I knew at some point in the game I would probably score a couple baskets, but I didn't expect to be scoring a whole lot."


--You look at South Florida and its conference record, and it's hard to be impressed. Actually, it's been that way ever since the Bearcats entered the Big East - has South Florida ever looked good in this conference? -  but the Bulls actually have won two of their past three contests against Cincinnati. So, there is the possibility the Bulls could pull the upset tonight at 7 at 5/3.


Especially with junior guard Dominique Jones averaging 19.5 points (third in the Big East), 4.2 assists (10th), 2.0 steals (third) and 5.9 rebounds per game. Based on those stats, is there anything Jones can't do?


"Dominique Jones is a great player," Cronin said. "It's hard to appreciate how good he is until you really start watching him on film. He scores in every way you can score - he's excellent in transition, probably as good as (UConn's) Jerome Dyson and that's saying a lot. In the half-court, he moves without the basketball as good as anybody in our league - his use of screens and backdoor cuts. With the basketball, he creates his own shot and he gets other people shots. He does it without forcing a lot of stuff. He's a highly productive player who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. The only thing you can say about him at times is that he's foul prone."


So, how do you stop him?


"Hopefully," Cronin said with a smile, "he fouls."


--And here's how freshman guard Lance Stephenson is feeling about his game at this moment.


"I don't think I've hit a wall," he said. "I'm just doing other things on the court to win the game. If I score a lot of points most likely, nobody else is involved. I'm trying to get everybody involved to win these next few games. As long as we're winning, I don't really care how I play. That's how I feel."


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(Photos courtesy New York Post and NJ.com)

      At 12.2 points per game freshman Lance Stephenson is having a pretty decent first year when compared to most collegiate newcomers. Thing is, Lance Stephenson isn't like most collegiate newcomers. Most, don't have the all-time scoring record in the state of New York. And, most don't come already with a nickname and reputation, "Born Ready".

      While some freshmen are able to come in and completely take over the college game, others need slight adjustments. In the case of Lance Stephenson, the raw talent is evident, but the adjustments are necessary.

      When you pretty much score at will in high school, it's hard to comprehend that you might not have it so easy in college. Stephenson is like many who find out the Big East is full of talent and the teams are as good as any across the country.

      "I expected wherever I went, I could play good," said Stephenson who admittedly set lofty goals for himself and the team. "I wanted to win every game, I wanted to go undefeated, but that's not going to happen. You win some and you're going to lose some."

      That the Bearcats have done. They've won games that many thought they wouldn't and they've lost games that should've been "in the bag". No one knows that more than the ever-competitive Stephenson.

      "Of course, I get mad every time I look back at the games," he said. "I watch a lot of film, so when I look at the game I go, 'Why did we do this, we should've done that," I just get real upset."

      Watching Lance evolve, you can see that he is as "in" to the game as you would want a player. He had "the look" that you just can't teach everyone. The most surprising thing I found about him was that he's not necessarily as selfish as you would think an accomplished scorer would be.

      The evidence shows that he shares the ball. He had seven assists in one game and five in a pair of others. Often, his passes aren't anticipated, otherwise he'd have plenty more assists.

      "Long as we're winning, I don't really care how I play," said Stephenson. "That's how I feel."

      Truthfully, you know his inconsistent play must bother him. However, there is no doubt that Stephenson wants to win as bad as anyone. You can see it.

      While at times he has been the "go to" guy, he seems content to let Deonta Vaughn, Yancy Gates, Rashad Bishop or anyone else that steps up enjoy the honors. That's been the upside, when Stephenson hasn't been hitting, someone else usually has.

      "I think it's better for me because I've got people on the team that can score just like me," he said this week. "It's better for me not using all that energy every game. It was my role in high school but I had to change in college where there's better players on the team that can hit the same shots I get."

      It's all been part of the learning process for Stephenson, who still is putting up numbers that most freshmen would envy. Plus, despite a few late game miscues, #33 from Brooklyn is still your best player creating a shot with the ball. It's just that the shots haven't gone down the way he's used to.

      While hitting about 45 percent of his shots, Stephenson's three-point shooting has been considerably off the mark at around 15 percent. That, in turn, has brought the team's average down from last season.

      "We're still getting there," said Mick Cronin of his team's shooting woes. "Something we're trying to work hard on, especially with Lance, is understanding that you can't try to make a play just because it's time for you to make a play. Regardless of whether you're winning or losing, you've got to get a good shot each trip, that's how you become consistent."

      That's where Stephenson has struggled, sometimes hoisting the ill-advised three rather than work for something closer in or finding a teammate with a better angle. He hasn't made (as of this article) a trey since December 19th against Lipscomb and is 0-for-13 since.

      Like many Bearcat fans, he hopes the rim gets wider soon for himself and the team.

      "I think we're taking the right shots because we make those shots," said Stephenson. "They're just not falling during the games. I make all my threes in practice but soon as the game hits, I'll be off sometimes. I'm going to get into it and try to get my three-point average up."

      Patience and practice are essential to upping those numbers. Still, UC has won games when not shooting well (just 32 percent vs. Notre Dame). When the shots do start to fall, you could finally see this team play to its potential and winning games they're supposed to win.

      "Sometimes when we get leads instead of pulling away a little bit, we're wasting some possessions on the offensive end," Cronin said of his team's difficulty in finishing some games. "Most of it is a lack of patience We have to work hard on getting someone the open shot. We can't drive the ball because we think it's time to drive the ball."

      In the meantime, Stephenson seems content to wait and learn. The talk of "one and done" has died down. Perhaps he will attract NBA attention, but it sure appears that at least another year of the college game would be in his best interests.

      Winning helps. No one can say that Lance Stephenson isn't a winner. Even though his numbers aren't where they should be, his heart is. This is clearly not a kid playing for stats.

      "We lost some games I think we should've won, but it happens," he said of the current campaign. "As long as we keep winning and make the tournament, I'm happy with that."

      As long as Lance Stephenson is happy, my guess is everyone else will be too.


Let's Hope The Experts Are Right

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So the early NCAA tournament projections have started to come out, and Cincinnati makes the field of 65 in all but one that I've seen.


Andy Glockner of SI.com lists UC as a #12 seed facing Clemson.


Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News has Cincinnati as a #9 seed.


Joe Lunardi of ESPN ranks the Bearcats as a #12 seed facing Temple.


Bracketville has the 'Cats in as a #10 seed facing Vanderbilt.


Jerry Palm of CollegeRPI.com lists Cincy as a #8 seed taking on Cornell.


The Hoops Report has UC as a #8 seed with a first-round matchup against North Carolina.


Collegehoopsnet.com ranks the Bearcats as a 12th seed.


The only "bracketologist" I could find that doesn't include Cincinnati in the tournament is Daniel Evans from onlinesportsfanatic.com, and he has UC listed among his last four teams out.


So what does that mean?




But it does go to show all of us that the season didn't end when the Bearcats gift-wrapped and gave away the St. John's game.


Saturday's win over Notre Dame was absolutely critical.  If you figure (as I do) that a 9-9 Big East record would put Cincinnati on the NCAA bubble while a 10-8 mark would give UC a strong resume heading into March, the Bearcats cannot afford to lose any more games that they are favored to win.


They also can't afford to keep shooting 32% from the field.


Fortunately, great defense, aggressive rebounding, and good offensive execution in the last 1:30 were enough to beat the Fighting Irish.


"We played with a lot of heart," Coach Cronin told me.  "It wasn't pretty, we didn't make many shots, and we made our share of mistakes.  But our heart was there and that's what carried us through."


No one embodied that more than Yancy Gates.  Mick likes to joke that instead of a "5-Hour Energy Drink", he wishes someone would invent a "2-Hour Angry Drink" for Gates to consume right before tipoff.


"The thing that I'm trying to get some of our guys to do - Yancy being one, Rashad being another - is to get serious and get mean," Cronin said.  "You've to play with some emotion and heart.  This is a game of wills and competitiveness and talent is only going to take you so far.  You have got to compete and show some emotion.  Lay your heart on the line out there because that's what the teams at the top of this league have historically done.  Those guys are good guys, but they have to get mean between the lines and that's what I have been challenging them to do."


Perhaps a few more shots will go in on Wednesday night vs. USF, but if they don't, a team that intends to stay in the bracketologist's projections has to find a way to win.


"I told the guys, you can't live and die with the jump shot," Cronin said.  "We have to live and die with the offensive rebound.  We have to go and rebound the ball because we are not going to win a game of horse.  A physical game, an athletic game, a rebounding game, a game of toughness and defense we can win."


* * * * *


In case you're wondering why Biggie McClain was not in uniform on Saturday, he took a nasty fall the day before at practice and hurt his knee.  Fortunately, an MRI found no structural damage and he could see action on Wednesday night.


Additionally, Ibrahima Thomas has been hampered by a sprained left thumb.  He's wearing a protective cover over it when he's off the court, but is only taping it during practice and games.


* * * * *


The Notre Dame game drew the biggest crowd of the year at Fifth Third Arena and there were several clever Brian Kelly-related signs in the student section including one that said, "The 11th Commandment:  Thou Shall Not Covet They Neighbor's Coach."


Mick Cronin would love to see a similar home court advantage against USF.  As he jokingly pointed out on his radio show on Monday night, "Don't forget, they stole our defensive coordinator Joe Tresey prior to the season."


Something tells me that Tresey won't be the subject of any signs in the student section.


* * * * *


Sam Hoard (AKA "The Handsome Lad") attended his first game of the season on Saturday.  Special thanks to Director of Basketball Operations Chris Goggin, his wife Sonya, and their daughter Simone for showing Sam (and my wife Peg) a great time.


The only thing Sam enjoyed more than the win over Notre Dame was his first visit to Graeter's.  The kid loves ice cream and classic rock.


Sam in Who shirt re.jpg 

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


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



A Bearcats NFL update

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As the NFL's conference championship games loom this weekend and with the emergence of the Cincinnati Commandos pro indoor team that features a myriad of former UC football players, I figured today would be a good day to update you on how last year's Bearcats seniors fared in their first season in the NFL ranks.


Some, like Bengals punter Kevin Huber, you got to watch every week. Some, like Brandon Underwood, you saw every once in a while. Some, you didn't see at all.


Let's take a look at the Bearcats seniors who helped UC to the Orange Bowl and how their lives have changed post-college.


<b>P Kevin Huber: Bengals fifth-round draft pick: The Bengals thought so much of him that they cut longtime punter Kyle Larson before the season, and he rewarded them with a pretty decent years playing for his hometown team. He struggled with inconsistency, and after transforming himself into of the country's best collegiate punters his final two years at UC, he certainly wasn't one of the NFL's elite punters. But he was solid


He was 11th in the league with a 43.2 average, though he drops to a tie for 30th with a 36.7 net average. This is what Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis had to say about Huber in his postseason presser: "I thought Kevin had a good year. Kevin has a lot more to do; he can be a lot better, but I thought he gave us some consistency. He wavered a little bit, probably Games 8-12, but he came back strong at the end. I think Kevin is everything we expected him to be, and probably a little bit more solid as far as other parts of the game. I think he's more solid in the mental stability part, as far as being a rookie punter in the NFL and the things that you deal with."


<b>DL Connor Barwin: Texans second-round pick: He didn't get much playing time at the beginning of the season - after all, he was still in only his second year of playing defense, and he still had much to learn, especially at the pro level - but you might remember him earning his first career sack at Paul Brown Stadium in a Houston victory against the Bengals.


By Week 12, he appeared more comfortable, recording 3 ½ sacks and two passes defended in the final six games of the season. His 4 ½ sacks on the season were third-best among all NFL rookies.


He also managed to draw the wrath of New England quarterback Tom Brady when the Texans beat the Patriots in the last week of the regular season.


"I think I was just frustrated that we didn't convert on third down and he happened to be the guy standing there next to me," Brady said afterward. "He pushed me down, then I said something and he said something. I was more frustrated that we didn't convert on third down than at him. That's the way it goes."


<b>DL Adam Hoppel: undrafted, signed with Cleveland as a free agent: It doesn't appear Hoppel has much of a future in the NFL. He was cut by the Browns in the preseason and signed to their practice squad in December.


"I pretty much wasn't expecting (to be resigned) when it happened," Hoppel told the East Liverpool Review. "I wasn't really expecting to play football again."


A week later, he was cut again.


<b>CB Mike Mickens: Cowboys seventh-round pick: A topsy-turvy season for Mickens. He still wasn't fully recovered from his late-season knee injury as a senior Bearcat that caused his draft stock to fall. Then, he was afflicted with a few more dings this year and never saw any action on the field.


He started in Dallas before Tampa Bay plucked him off the Cowboys practice squad. He was on the Bucs' 53-man roster, but he was inactive for three weeks before Tampa released him. The Bengals picked him up for the practice squad, which is where he ended the season. Mickens was so good in college, but I wonder if that ability will translate into the NFL.


<b>CB/S DeAngelo Smith: Cowboys fifth-round pick: Smith certainly got his tour of the NFL. Drafted by the Cowboys, cut by Dallas and then placed on its practice squad, picked up by Cleveland, traveled to Chicago and then finished the season with the Lions.


He actually played the final seven games of the season in Detroit and finished the year with 16 tackles and a pass defended. In the only game he started - a 31-24 loss to Arizona - Smith logged a career-best seven tackles.


<b>DB Brandon Underwood: Packers sixth-round pick: Of all the former UC defensive backs, Underwood had the most stability this season, playing in 11 games in one place. He and Huber also were the only Bearcats rookies to make the postseason.


It'll be interesting to see how Underwood's role with Green Bay develops. The Packers secondary was not a strength this season, and it's an aging, injury-laden group. Underwood seems to have some potential as a nickel back, but it's unclear how heavily the team will invest in him. He did do some nice things on special teams, though.

UC-Notre Dame Rock 'N Roll Party

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Strong, strong win for the Bearcats. And a much-needed victory for the squad.


"It was very important," said senior guard Deonta Vaughn, who finished with a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds. "We lost three in a row in the Big East. We felt like we should have won at least two of those. We wanted to start over fresh. We still have hopes to get to the NCAA tournament. To get this win, it really helps us out."


Said Mick Cronin: "Huge. We're 12-6, but we could be sitting here and talking at 15-3 or 16-2. We've had some tough calls, made our own mistakes. We've got the market cornered on bad beats. As a coach, you tell your guys that it will all even out. But if it doesn't, you worry about the toll it's going to take.


"I was really proud of our guys' emotional response. We played with the attitude that enough was enough and that we had to win no matter what. It's easy for a coach to have that will and resolve. It's your career. You should have that. But the trick is imposing it on your players."


That will was evident, because the Bearcats absolutely struggled on offense, shooting 32.2 percent from the floor and 23.8 percent from the 3. As Cronin said, it's not often a coach walks up to the podium with a victory when his team has shot that poorly.


But Cronin was impressed with the demeanors of Yancy Gates (11 points, 13 rebounds) and Rashad Bishop (10 points, five rebounds) - guys who normally are laid-back. But today, they were feisty, and while Cronin didn't love the fact they were getting mad at each other and their teammates, he knew at least that they cared.


And as much as Cronin talks about how the Big East is a grind-it-out league, it looks like, for one game at least, the players understood that and somehow found a way to get the victory.


"It was a real good grind out," Vaughn said. "We stayed solid. We didn't want to make the same mistakes we made against St. John's and do something silly that was going to cost us the game. We knew Notre Dame averaged 82 points a game, and we came in with the right mindset and played our defense that we usually play and limited our turnovers. Just play solid and smart and everything will come to us."


--Vaughn's final play, in fact, was the result of smart thinking, Cronin said. Running a pick and roll, Vaughn recognized that the Irish were switching defenders as he drove to the hoop - I think Harangody was the one who switched to Vaughn - and threw to Gates, who was matched up with a Notre Dame player who would have a tough time handling Gates' girth.


From Gates' perspective: "When he made the pass, I knew I was close enough to the bucket to drop it in, but I babied it too much. I felt it, so I jumped up real quick to get it. (Cronin) wanted to get me and Deonta in a pick and roll. Either he was going to be open for a drive or I'd be open under the rim."


Irish coach Mike Brey came away impressed.


"We just couldn't get a block-out on a really big guy. He's hard to block out even if you get great position on him."


--How about Gates' performance on Harangody? The Notre Dame senior came in as the Big East's top scorer averaging 24.9 points per game, and Gates' ability to push him away from the basket forced Harangody to take more outside shots than he wanted.


"I got some looks that I usually hit," said Harangody, who made only 5 of 20 shots for 14 points and 11 rebounds. "Give them credit. They did a heck of a job guarding me tonight."


Gates took his assignment today as a personal challenge. The mindset, he said, was to limit Harangody's touches, and while that didn't exactly work out, you can't argue with Gates' results.


"Coming into this game, we knew Harangody is almost their whole offense," Gates said. "He got the ball a lot, but I was able to make him miss a few shots that he usually makes. I think I did OK."


--I was interested to hear the explanation about why UC's bench got hit with a technical foul late in the first half after Darnell Wilks and Harangody tied up with each other while trying to secure a rebound.


Apparently, the officials told Cronin that Wilks fouled Harangody before Harangody pulled Wilks to the floor. Cronin's question: why wasn't Harangody called for a technical foul.


"Very confusing," Cronin said. "Somebody from our bench said something that (official) Brian O'Connell didn't like. When he told me what they said, and if that was what was actually said, then he made the right call (on the technical). He's one of the best officials in America. I thought it was an over the back (on Harangody), but the call went the other way. Luke Harangody is a great kid. He's not a dirty player. It was just a physical play."

UC-Notre Dame LIVE blog

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Looking through the Notre Dame notes: Man, I had no idea Mike Brey has been in South Bend for 10 years. I would have guessed, like, five or six at the most. Crazy.

Luke Harangody averages 24.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game and is the Fighting Irish's most dangerous player by far. Here's what Mick Cronin said about him earlier this week: "The main problem is he's so good in the post that you have to put a bigger guy on him. But most bigger guys can't defend at 22 feet, so you're going to have to pick your poison. You can't put a smaller guy on him, because he'll kill that guy in the interior. He's not living at the 3-point line, but if you fall asleep, he'll get one in transition or on a pick-and-pop."

Harangody is shooting 52 percent from the floor and 32.7 percent from the 3.

Also, Anthony McClain is out of uniform and on the bench. I imagine his foot is bothering him.

The football team walks into the arena and is greeted with applause. Not roof-raising. I'd describe it more as tepid. But it's there.

The UC starting lineup: Deonta Vaughn, Larry Davis, Lance Stephenson, Yancy Gates, Steve Toyloy.

And just like Mick said, Harangody shoots from the top of the key on the first play of the game and he swishes it. Toyloy did not recover in time.

An absolutely pathetic start by the Bearcats. Four misses - including two three-pointers - and Notre Dame leads 7-0 before Mick calls timeout.

Vaughn hits a 3 to start the scoring.

Harangody does have a reputation for whining to the refs. After Gates blocks his shot, Harangody shoots a sharp look to the officials.

Notre Dame 7, UC 3 (15:56 to go)

Jaquon Parker in the game as backup point guard before Cashmere Wright. He hits a 3 and then banks in a 10-footer. He looks good today.

Notre Dame 14, UC 12 (11:37 to go)

Gates, who's playing good defense on Harangody, just buried a 14-footer.

The Bearcats only have two turnovers so far, but Stephenson just dribbled one of his foot to continue his struggles. He's 0 for 2 so far today.

UC is shooting 31.6 percent from the floor and 28.6 percent from the 3. Same old story.

Notre Dame 18, UC 15 (7:56 to go)

We've seen a lot of Parker running the point and Vaughn playing the 2. Doesn't mean the offense is running much better, but the Bearcats also aren't turning it over.

UC doesn't look - how do you say? - comfortable against Notre Dame's zone defense.

Somebody forgot to box out Darnell Wilks. After a missed Davis 3, Wilks goes up unmolested and rattles the backboard with a jam.

Geez, Davis has been terrible today. He misses his fourth 3-pointer of the game and gets the ball back before immediately turning it over. That led to a layup from Abromaitis that extends the Irish's lead to seven.

Notre Dame 28, UC 21 (3:17 to go)

Heck of a play by Stephenson to force the turnover, go one-on-one with Harangody, fraw the foul and score the layup. Of course, he misses the FT.

Uh oh, a crazy situation breaks out. Harangody and Wilks are tangling for the ball, and Wilks is called for the foul. Then, Wilks gets in Harangody's face and he backs up into UC's bench. Where, it looked, Chris Goggin puts out his arm to brace himself and touches Harangody's back. Harangody goes beserk, and UC's bench is assessed a technical foul.

Things are getting testy here at 5/3.

Lost in the shuffle is that UC played pretty good defense in the first half to keep this game close. Because the Bearcats offense has been really bad (29.4 percent from the floor, 23.1 percent from the 3).

Harangody has nine points and nine rebounds, and Abromaitis has 10 points to lead the Irish.

Vaughn has six points to lead UC's offense.

UC is out-rebounding Notre Dame 25-18.

Now, when the UC football teams comes out to mid-court, the place goes crazy.

Notre Dame 32, UC 25 (halftime)

Bishop hits a 3 to open the second half, and then Vaughn hits one. In between, Harangody missed two more FTs (he's 2 of 6 so far today).

Gates continues his strong defensive work on Harangody, who's settling for mid-range jumpers and (mostly) missing. Then, a short jumper from Bishop and a 14-footer from Vaughn ties the game.

UC 35, Notre Dame 35 (16:39 to go)

Then, a turnover from Harangody and Bishop with the layup to give UC the lead.

Short-lived, though.

Notre Dame 39, UC 37 (14:26 to go)

Haven't seen much of Ibrahima Thomas today. And absolutely none of Cashmere Wright.

Heck of a drive there by Dixon to get the foul and the layup. His FT gives UC a 42-41 lead.

A three by Harangody changes that, though.

Notre Dame 46, UC 42 (11:48 to go)

UC keeps crawling its way back into the lead. A strong move by Gates in the post results in a layup and the elad.

After Harangody is called for the charge, Stephenson tries to help him up. Harangody slaps at his hand in disgust. Stephenson looked surprised.

Stephenson has kind of taken the game over - on offense and defense - in the last minute or so.

UC 49, Notre Dame 48 (7:03 to go)

That was a ridiculous flop by Harangody while Vaughn was driving. Correctly, the officials whistle Harangody for the foul, his fourth.

A three in the corner by Peoples ties the game at 51 with 5:56 to go.

People are going crazy about the over-and-back call, but I think the refs got it right.

UC is shooting 32.3 percent from the floor, 23.8 from the 3.

Harangody is 5 for 19 from the floor. 11 rebounds though.

Free throws upcoming for the Irish.

UC 55, Notre Dame 54 (3:20 to go)

Abromaitis misses both FTs.

A couple free throws from Hansbrough, a turnover from UC and then Hansbrough misses two FTs. Still 56-55 ND.

Bishop, with one and one, hits both for a UC lead.

Harangody misses a 3. UC timeout.

UC 57, Notre Dame 56 (1:05 to go)

Bishop at the line with 53 seconds to go. He makes 1 of 2.

Tory Jackson misses a tough layup, but the ball is out of bounds off UC.

UC 58, Notre Dame 56 (0:37 to go)

Hansbrough buries a 10-foot jumper over Dixon to tie the game. UC timeout.

UC 58, Notre Dame 58 (0:15 to go)

Great pass by Vaughn as he's driving. Over Harangody to Gates, who misses the layup. Gets the rebound and puts it in with 2.4 seconds to go.

Then, Jackson attempts a three-quarter shot that skims the bottom of the net.

Vaughn finishes with 15 points, seven rebounds. Gates with 11 points, 13 boards. Bishop scores 10. UC shoots 32.3 percent from the floor, 23.8 from the 3.

Abromaitis leads Notre Dame with 16 points. Harangody records 14 points, 11 rebounds.

UC out-rebounds Notre Dame 50-31.

UC 60, Notre Dame 58 (final)


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      "We've got to win 10 or 11 of our next 15 to make the tournament," those are the words of wisdom from senior guard Deonta Vaughn, who now runs the risk of being a rare, four-year starter that never made it to the NCAA tournament.

      For that matter, Vaughn's never been to the NIT. All he has to show for a pretty decent career at UC is a one-game experiment in the CBI (which most folks believe is a Friday night crime drama).

      It has to be disappointing. Just as Vaughn's individual season has been up until late.

      #5 came into this season with a chance to be just UC's second 2,000 career point man. At his current 11.3 points per game average though, he's going to come up substantially short. Unless, of course, he starts setting the Big East on fire.

      As of late, Vaughn's numbers are up. That is good, because from beyond the arc, the Bearcats have been a dreadful 28 percent this season (so far).

      "They're going to start falling," said Vaughn of UC's shooting woes. "Beginning of the season, I was just like that, they weren't falling for me. They've started falling now. Everybody's just got to keep shooting and keep confidence in their jump shot."

      Should that confidence come around, the Bearcats could have a run in them. They've already proven they can beat ranked teams, having knocked off three (Vanderbilt, Maryland and Connecticut--all ranked at the time). The problem is, at least five more games against ranked opponents remain (Syracuse, UConn, West Virginia, Villanova and Georgetown) along with the rest of the Big East teams that are far from pushovers.

      "It's the top conference in the nation right now with at least six teams in the Top 25," said Vaughn of the Big East schedule. "We're just hoping to knock some of those Top 25 teams out in the Big East so we can keep ourselves up there."

      UC finds itself in the predicament of trying to impress "the committee" in part because of their non-conference schedule. While Maui was valuable in terms of competition, there's been little room to breathe easy in the transition from December to January conference games.

      "We've played a lot of good teams," said Mick Cronin. "Because of playing three really good power teams in Maui and then having to play Xavier and UAB both on the road--and the Miami (OH) game is brutal for everyone that plays them--playing six games like that before 18 in the Big East, we've played a lot of tough games. We've had tough losses."

      "My focus is to make sure our guys stay positive and don't succumb to negativity and realize how close we are to having a much better record. More importantly, to realize how close we are to being a very good team that's capable of winning five in a row. We just have to put it together."

      From the player's standpoint, what's been the problem? Well, opinions differ....

"I think our strategy messed up a lot," said Lance Stephenson. "I think we need to get more in the gym more than anything. Our defense is pretty good right now, we just need to get in the gym and make the shots we usually make."

      However, the guy sitting next to Stephenson on this day, Deonta Vaughn, observed that defense WAS the issue.

      "I think our defensive strategy's been missing," said Vaughn. "We ain't playing like we did in the beginning, in Maui. We executed everything even though everybody wasn't hitting good shots. We all ain't committed to playing a defensive role and doing what we've got to do to get a win, starting with me. Some people are just scoring on me right now that I think shouldn't be scoring and things like that."

      Mick Cronin's job is to bring it all home. Actually, defense AND shooting is probably the issue. And of course, winning games that should and need to be won. Naturally, a streak would be welcome at this point in time.

      "Well, you've got to worry about one," said Cronin. "At the end of the day, you've got to win your home games. For us, that's where our focus has got to be. We dropped one to Pittsburgh and we can't lose any more."

      Should the wins not materialize, Vaughn could be the first 1500-plus point scorer in Bearcat history to not make the postseason. Oscar Robertson, Steve Logan, Danny Fortson, Pat Cummings, Jason Maxiell, Ron Bonham and Darnell Burton all went to "The Dance". Roger McClendon, Louis Banks, Jack Twyman and Lloyd Batts all played in the NIT.

      Again, all Vaughn has to hang his hat on is the mysterious CBI. That was and is not the plan, but the senior guard tries not to obsess.

      "I really don't think about it much," said Vaughn. "I just go out there and play ball. At the end of the day, I've had a great career here, but that's a goal of mine to get to the NCAA tournament. Hopefully, we'll get there and we'll do what we've got to do to keep moving on in the tournament."

      When you look at the names (above) that Deonta Vaughn will be go down in history with, playing March would certainly be a fitting reward for his hard work.

      Two months from now, we'll have our answer.


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So is everybody else in the Big East. News flash for all you Cronin haters: UConn, and all the other schools who were ahead of UC talent wise still are. UC wasn't the only school to upgrade their roster talent wise during the recruiting period sooooo....

If UConn was already better than UC and got better, then they're still better! Got it? So the win against UConn was BIG. Pitt, Georgetown, and yes even West Virginia got better but they were already better...Get it? I guess I get tired of the bashing without people looking at the bigger picture that is the truth. UC has gotten better; look at the roster and the level of play and the other key factors. That being said, could they have played better in some games? Absolutely; but the fact we're expecting them to win now means you're admitting they're better and that credit goes to the coaches. If you didn't think so you wouldn't be so upset when they lose games they should win.

Face it hard nose, slightly talented critics: UC is better but so is the rest of the Big East. And its going to take a breakthrough year and/or player to get them over the hump and several years of that to stay there. If you're expecting anything else then you're fooling yourself and admitting you know very little about competition and athletics. Want another example? Look at UK; they had Patrick Patterson but when they sign Calipari and the Memphis freshman class came with him, they look like a different UK squad. Had he not signed those players don't fool yourself and think they'd be 17-0.

As one coach told me: "It ain't the X & O's but the Jimmy's and Joe's" that win basketball games. I tend to agree that its easier to coach Oscar Robertson or Michael Jordan and get a win than it is to coach you or I to do the same. And they add a Scotty Pippen and we add a Scotty Pippen, they're still better.

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


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(Yeah, I know Josh touched on some of this, but hey, it's free content!)


      Redshirt freshman Cashmere Wright appears to have a better "handle" on his game of late (despite an ill-advised, Charles Williams-like dribble in the waning moments against Seton Hall). Being allowed in the interview room is one step in the right direction (guys in the doghouse are generally not). Also, Wright's minutes are on the way back up after undergoing some Mick Cronin "bench therapy".

      All but anointed the starting point guard last year, the 32-points per game scorer in Savannah, Georgia high school games has not been announced with the starting five since the December disappointment at UAB. That has allowed Wright to take some things in.

"     Right now, I think it's on the up," said Wright of his playing status. "I think it started (with) things going to fast for me. I think right now I'm starting to get accustomed to the game. I realize my role and what Coach Cronin wants from me. Just playing off instinct and not off just trying and thinking about things."

      Wright hit in double figures in his first official game as a Bearcat (12 vs. Prairie View A&M) but has only hit that number one other time, coming off the bench against Miami (OH). While able to make some dramatic moves, he often wasn't able to finish them and like many Bearcats his shooting has not been as accurate. Wright's three-point shooting has improved but is only at 30 percent and his free throw shooting must improve as a point guard as that stands at just 54 percent.

      That all comes after missing what would've been his freshman year with an injury.

"It wasn't a surprise for me, it was more of a surprise for other people," said Wright of the quickness you find in the college game. "I really knew that it was going to be harder than what everyone else thought it was for me. From watching last year and just being a part of the team, everything wasn't as easy as everybody thought it was."

      Despite that preliminary knowledge, Wright has struggled and not played to his potential as have fellow freshmen Lance Stephenson and Jaquon Parker. Those three could make up the core of a very good future team, but for now, they're all undergoing adjustments.

      In Wright's case, he's had to learn (again) while sitting. At least, this season he's not injured.

      "When I first came in, I was stunned," said Wright of his early season struggles. "I was looking at,'I can do this,'. Then, when he put me on the bench I was more hungry and I realized I needed to work for what I had to get back where I was."

      As easy as the game looks from the stands or from the bench, or in a high school recruit's eyes, it all becomes magnified upon stepping out on the floor. Cashmere Wright, one of the fastest players with the ball, has had to step back and shift gears to understand.

      "It's slowed down tremendously for me right now," said Wright of his recent productivity.

"Coach Cronin started showing me things in the game film of how I could improve, and like where my mistakes are coming, and what do I do to cause my mistakes and how can I improve them."

      Correspondingly, Wright's minutes have been back up with 23 against Cal State-Bakersfield and 15 against Seton Hall (where he shot 3-4 from the field, made his only trey and had a season-high five assists) although he was limited to nine minutes (2-2 shooting) in the epic "slippage" at St. John's.. Mick Cronin knows what Cashmere Wright's capable of and hopefully, by year's end, UC fans will see.

      "I think everything since the UConn game, my confidence level has gone up, just knowing that I have the ability to play," said Wright of his newfound "Mojo". "Everything started to slow down and my confidence level's been rising ever since. I'm just looking for him to give me the minutes to play and everything will start to work out."

      With several talented young players, this season in the Big East has been trying at times. However, once and if everyone gets on the same page, the results could be fruitful come March. Once the mental and physical challenges of the Big East are met, things could be looking up for Bearcat fans (and gosh, isn't it about time?).

      "You can't put too much pressure on yourself, because when you put too much pressure on yourself, that's when you perform worse," said Wright on topic many his age have heard time and again. " We just need to go out and perform like we were when we were in Maui and see what happens. Just play our hardest."

      Actually, this time of year, life would be much simpler if we could all go back to Maui....

UC-St. John's thoughts

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Well, that wasn't good.


So, there's much that we could discuss from this game - from the 21 turnovers to the 12 missed 3-pointers,* from Lance Stephenson's second-straight game with six turnovers in front of his hometown fans to another defeat against one of the Big East's so-called light weights. Or you could talk about the positives - from the impressive defensive performance to the solid play of senior forward Steve Toyloy.


*<i>You know the last time UC didn't make a 3-pointer? The Memphis game from March 2002. In March 2002, I had just started my job at the Augusta Chronicle. I was 23 years old. I wasn't yet married. I didn't even have a 401 (k) that I would lose half of seven years later. I wasn't even a shoe maven yet. It seems like a long time ago. </i>


But let's not talk about that. Let's talk about the final 1:30 of the game, because that is where the Bearcats lost this one. That's where UC lost a chance to move back into the upper half of the conference and where the Bearcats hurt their NCAA tournament chances.


OK, back to the videotape.


A Yancy Gates layup gave the Bearcats a 50-47 lead with 1:29 to play, and from there, UC had a number of chances to close out the game and improve to 3-2 in conference play. That's what the Bearcats should have done. Instead, this ...


-After a timeout with 1:13 left, Vaughn played good defense, tying up Sean Evans as he took a handoff from a teammate with 53 seconds to play. St. John's had the possession arrow and retained possession of the ball, and with the shot clock winding down. D.J. Kennedy lofted a prayer that had no chance of finding the basket. St. John's turnover, and UC edges ever closer to the victory.


Except it didn't.


-With 24 seconds remaining, Mick Cronin takes a timeout, and on the inbounds play, junior guard Rashad Bishop was supposed to find freshman guard Lance Stephenson, who was coming off a double screen and was open. Instead, Bishop passed to Gates, who was trapped on the sideline and threw it back to Bishop - who was then stripped from behind by a Red Storm defender. The ball somehow rebounded to sophomore guard Dion Dixon, whose shot was blocked by Paris Horne.


"That's a crucial play right there," Cronin said on his postgame radio show. "If we get Lance the ball, the game is over."


Except it wasn't.


-After Dixon's shot was blocked, he impeded Justin Brownlee as he drove to the hoop. A foul called, and I don't think it was a bad one by Dixon. Especially after Brownlee missed the first free throw and made only the second.


-On the inbound: Bishop was supposed to be looking for senior guard Deonta Vaughn, who was going to use a screen near mid-court and come back for the ball. The idea was for St. John's to foul him. Except Vaughn never used the screen, and Bishop - who Cronin said is the best inbounder on the team - threw a deep pass to Vaughn into double coverage. St. John's intercepted it, and Bishop fouled Dwight Hardy. He made both free throws to tie the game.


"That play is not in our repertoire," Cronin said. "It was not called. We don't run that play. Young people at times get rattled because of the turnover and do interesting things. We never should have went long in that situation and compounded it by throwing it. Deonta is supposed to come back. If not, give it to Dion Dixon on the flash. He hasn't missed a free throw in a month and the game is over."


Except it wasn't.


--With the score tied at 50-50 with nine seconds to play, Bishop Stephenson tries to hit Dixon on the inbounds. Except Hardy cuts in front of Dixon, steals the ball and takes the foul from Dixon. Then, with seven seconds to go, he hits the game-winning free throws.


"Knowing they were going to press, we don't flash strong to the ball," Cronin said. "If we flash strong to the ball there, we're going to get a foul on them. Instead, we let them physically cut in front of us and foul the guy. Young people do wild things. That's why coaching is a rough way to make a living. It boggles my mind."


UC should have beaten St. John's, should have walked out of Madison Square Garden with a hard-fought victory. Except it didn't.

Here's a good reason to pay attention to World Cup soccer

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When the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa begins in June, University of Cincinnati fans will have a rooting interest - in New Zealand.  


The All Whites, as they are known, will be competing in their first World Cup since 1982 and only their second ever. On the roster is Tim Brown, who played for the Bearcats from 2000 to 2003 and was second-team Academic All-America in 2003.  


Playing in the World Cup used to be Brown's goal in soccer. These days he's got more in mind.  


"Now that we have qualified, that goal has grown slightly to performing with distinction at the World Cup," he writes during an email exchange. "That will be a massive challenge. I really want to get some respect from the many who believe we shouldn't be there."  


After graduating from UC, Brown began playing professional soccer, a route that took him to the Richmond Kickers of the United Soccer Leagues Second Division, to the Newcastle United Jets in Australia, to the Wellington Phoenix FC in New Zealand. He is vice-captain of that team.  


He was chosen captain of New Zealand's team in the 2009 Confederations Cup last June by coach Ricki Herbert.  


"My finest achievement as a sportsperson," he calls the title.  


Brown, 28, was born in England but moved to New Zealand, his mother's home country, when he was around 4. By the time he was 17 he was playing for the Miramar Rangers AFC soccer club, which led to an opportunity with New Zealand's Under-20 team.  


He started attending Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, but says he received about a half dozen scholarship offers from U.S. colleges. Brown chose Cincinnati because of its soccer program and the College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning.  


He helped lead the Bearcats to the Conference USA regular-season championship and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2003


"I played four years as a Bearcat and loved every moment of it," he writes.  


"Playing soccer and attending DAAP proved to be a big challenge during my time at UC. At the time, and I am not sure if it has changed, there were few athletes in that particular school. I am very proud to have graduated from DAAP cum laude as an NSCAA Academic All-American. As a professional athlete in this part of the world I am one of the very few to have a degree. It is something that will set me up for life after sport. I would like to go back to school at the end of my career, possibly in the U.S., to do my masters."  


New Zealand, in Group F, begins World Cup play against Slovakia on June 15. Meanwhile, Brown is trying to help turn Wellington into a perennial winner.  


"In many ways my career has come full circle," he writes. "I love playing professionally in my home town."  






UC-St. John's preview

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UC's defense has been the big reason why the Bearcats won 10 of their first 13 games. When you're allowing only 62.7 points per game, chances are pretty good you're going to take the victory.


This is what coach Mick Cronin has preached since he took over the UC job. The philosophy he espouses - his teams are going to be tough defensively - is the major reason the Bearcats had a chance to earn an at-large NCAA tournament berth last season with only two scorers who averaged double figures.


But since beating UConn and Rutgers to open Big East play this season, the defense has been quite dubious. It's been a tad surprising from this squad. It's also caused the Bearcats to drop their last two games - allowing 74 points to Pittsburgh and 83 to Seton Hall - while falling to 2-2 in the conference.


The main culprit: the UC perimeter defenders haven't been doing a good enough job.


"It boils down to three things," Cronin said. "Points in the paint - because teams are going to make layups - and not fouling the other team and letting them parade to the free throw line. You give up layups and free throws, you're going give up points."


The third point in his three-pronged hypothesis is for the players who are trying to implement the scouting report (more on this later).


"Most teams only have one or two guys capable of having a big night against you," Cronin said. "In the Pitt game, we allowed (Ashton) Gibbs 14 first-half points. It's a game we should have been up six or eight points at half, but we were down six. And we allowed (Seton Hall's Jeremy) Hazzel to have 33."


Last week I asked Cronin about the team's help defense. Since he had touted having big men -  like Yancy Gates, Steve Toyloy, Anthony McClain and Ibrahima Thomas - who could play solid interior defense while blocking or changing the projection of an opponent's shots, I figured he could live with it if an opponents wing or a guard beat a Bearcats perimeter defender every once in a while.


No, Cronin responded. That, he said, is when the Bearcats get in trouble.


Here's why: when a perimeter defender gets beat, Gates - or whoever is in the post - has to move over to play help defense. That's one rotation, and the Bearcats are fine with that. But the problem occurs if the opponent with the ball passes to the player that Gates just left. Where, then, is the helper for Gates?


"What's happened recently is that our rotations aren't what they need to be," Cronin said. "After we have one scramble, where we have to closeout on (a shooter), we're getting beat too easily. Our closeout is bad - we're not containing the ball and that causes a rotation. Now, you're always going to have some rotation, but you can't have to rotate every play. If you're getting beat every play, it's going to put too much pressure on your rotation. We're getting beat too much off the dribble."


This is where the scouting report problem is evident. Let's say I'm Larry Davis, and I'm guarding Good Shooter A. If Rashad Bishop gets beat by his man and Yancy Gates leaves his own man (Call him Post Player B) to help, Davis will be reticent to leave Good Shooter A and take over Post Player B. That's because if the player driving the ball, who's now being defended by Gates, then flips the ball to Good Shooter A, Davis won't be there, because Davis had to help out on Post Player B. Then, Good Shooter A - who the scouting report says can't be allowed to get off a wide-open 3-pointer - has a wide-open 3-pointer.


It's a problem.


--St. John's has begun its Big East conference schedule with an 0-3 mark. But don't be fooled by that record. The Red Storm won't be an easy team for UC to beat tonight at 7 p.m. in Madison Square Garden. After all, this is the same team that beat Siena by nine, knocked off Temple by seven and lost at Duke by nine.


Plus, to go with the talent of D.J. Kennedy (16.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game), St. John's finally has Anthony Mason Jr. - who's missed much of the past two seasons with foot and hamstring injuries - back in uniform. The Bearcats have a challenge in facing Mason, because they can't be sure what to expect from him.


"He hasn't played in a year and a half," Cronin said. "I'll say that, and he'll probably get 30 on us. For Norm (Roberts), it's a long awaited return of a guy that can score and try to incorporate him in their offense. The challenge for us is preparing for a guy who hasn't played a lot."


Lest you forget, Pitt's Gilbert Brown, who had only played a few games before facing UC, scored 17 vs. the Bearcats.


--So, what's sophomore guard Dion Dixon's explanation and solution for why UC gave up a 12-point first-half lead against Seton Hall before losing by seven?


"It's executing down the stretch," Dixon said. "We fall apart down the stretch, and that's not good."


Said Cronin: "The key is weathering the storm and staying focused and playing all the way through, which has been an issue for us at times. My message is you can't worry about the scoreboard. We have to worry about the next possession. We have to understand how to grind. You have to grind through this league; it's not going to be pretty. You have to understand the other team is going to play well at some point in the game. We just have to win."


--One last interesting stat on the Red Storm: they've outscored their opponents by a combined 64 points in the first half. In the second half, they're only plus-nine. Quite a difference, eh?


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      The conference is the Big East, but might as well change it's name to "The Beast" (plus, you'd have to like the marketing opportunities associated with that). For the most recent week, the Big East has six schools that are ranked, with two others receiving votes. Three of those teams are Top 10 (Villanova, Syracuse and West Virginia). The next three are top 20 (Georgetown, Connecticut, Pittsburgh) with Notre Dame and Marquette also receiving votes.

      The fact the UC Bearcats were ranked at one point puts them in pretty good company and the fact is, there's some pretty competitive teams that aren't ranked. UC has beaten Connecticut and Wisconsin who are ranked and Vanderbilt (who was ranked at the time). Factor in the non-call in Hawaii against Yancy Gates vs. Gonzaga and that could be four ranked teams that lost to the Bearcats.

      Elsewhere, you have Notre Dame with 14 wins, Louisville has 12 (and had #4 Villanova on the ropes at Freedom Hall) Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette and South Florida are all in double digits in wins. Rutgers has nine victories and the only team that's under .500 is DePaul which just fired their coach, Jerry Wainwright.

      The message here: every game is an all-out war. Just as you hear other conferences argue in football about their "teams in the middle", the "also-rans" in the Big East aren't teams that you should overlook.

      "You're going to have close games," said Coach Mick Cronin. "There's going to be a lot of close games, it's not going to change. The teams in this league are too competitive, even the team's that aren't the so-called, best teams are extremely competitive."

      Case in point, after UC knocked off UConn at Fifth Third Arena, their following road game at Rutgers was anything but a cakewalk. Then, after a near miss at home against Pitt, there was a game that got away back in New Jersey against Seton Hall.

      There simply are no breaks. Following Seton Hall with St. John's on the road barely gives you a breather.

      "We're talking about St. John's, put them in the Atlantic-10 and tell me what their record would be," questioned Cronin. "They beat Siena--they were ranked Top 20 in the preseason--at a neutral site. They beat Temple, who many people say is the best team in the Atlantic 10. They won on the road at Rhode Island. They lose at Duke by seven. It's not like they're not a capable team. The problem is we all play in the Big East."

      No one likes excuses and everyone likes results, but you have to admit there are no pushover certain wins in this league. Heck, the worst team this season was the team that bounced the Bearcats out of the Big East tournament last year (DePaul).

      "When you play Big East basketball, there's so many good players in our league," said Cronin. "Even the teams that aren't the best teams have good players. They may not have as many as the top four or five, but they do have good players, they're going to play well in stretches. The key is weathering the storm and staying focused and playing through it, which has been an issue for us at times."

      That issue comes with youth. Like it or not, it's a team with two seniors, Deonta Vaughn and Steve Toyloy. While the underclassmen are immensely talented, they're not battle-tested which is a must to succeed in the Big East. Sure, Rashad Bishop, Darnell Wilks and Larry Davis are juniors that should know better. But, a good many of your "go to" guys are sophomores (Dixon and Gates) and freshman (Stephenson, Wright, and Parker). Sean Kilpatrick's being redshirted, so he's having to learn from afar.

      "Problem with us is,'Oh no, we're down five', welcome to the Big East!" explained Cronin.

"Southern Miss and Tulane, with all due respect, that's not who we play. We play teams--you look at St. John's--Temple's going to win the Atlantic 10 probably--that won't be a real popular statement. Siena's going to win the MAAC, they (St. John's) beat'em both on a neutral floor. Where are they picked in our league? 12Th, 13th, something like that? They're 0-3, welcome to Big East basketball!"

      While you may occasionally disagree with Mick Cronin on X's and O's on the floor, you can't say that he doesn't speak his mind. Truth be told, UC would be far more competitive in the old Conference USA, but that's old news now.

      We all certainly want wins now, but the ultimate goal is to win them in March where this team has faltered the last two years. Out of 16 teams, there's only two that are unblemished in the Big East as I write this (Villanova and Pitt). Both of those schools survived near misses on the road.

      The odds of "running the table" in this league are about as likely as me being granted eligibility to join the team and compete with Alex Eppensteiner or Eddie Tyree to be UC's latest "Human Victory Cigar". It's not happening. (Plus, I'd disobey Mick at the end by not holding the ball and throwing a shot up to take advantage of the "PT"!)

      The key to winning the Big East is not losing sight of the "big picture".

"     We need to understand the grind and how to grind, for lack of a better term," said Cronin.

"You've got to grind through this league, it's not going to be pretty. You've got to buckle your chinstrap and grind. You've got to understand that other teams at times are going to play well in the game. We've got to make sure that we win in the end. If we can eliminate runs, we'll be fine."

      This is for those of you (and trust me, I've done the same) that want to throw your arms up in frustration after a disappointing loss. The season never comes down to one game until it's the last game. At last check, as long as you're still in the hunt, the last game is at least two months away. I've seen maturity in the young players in the last two months and it goes to reason that more would take place in the next two.

How Wright has adjusted ... and other cool things

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Freshmen don't really know the challenges they're going to face when they step on the court - for practices or for games. They don't know how hard life as a college basketball player is going to be. They might think they know, but, as Mick Cronin theorizes, they really don't.


That philosophy is one explanation why, entering Wednesday's 7 p.m. game at St. John's, redshirt freshman point guard Cashmere Wright - who, as you'll remember, was a top-100 recruit coming out of Urban Christian Academy in Savannah, Ga. - is averaging 4.8 points and 2.2 assists in 17.8 minutes per game while shooting 31.7 percent from the floor and 30 percent from the 3.


It's perhaps one reason why Wright lost his starting job when Cronin moved senior guard Deonta Vaughn back to the point guard spot and, at times, looks lost and inconsequential on the floor.


This was the thought Cronin had last week, a few days before Wright played one of his better games in recent times vs. Seton Hall. Though Wright came off the bench again, he logged 17 minutes, hit three of his four shots and recorded seven points and five assists (against just one turnover). For a player who had scored only 12 points and dished five assists in his previous four games, it was a pretty nice confidence-booster.


But Wright insists he had no grand illusions before the season started. Though he's a rookie, he says he knew how tough life was going to be his first time playing collegiate basketball.


"I knew it was going to be harder that what everybody thought it would be for me," Wright said. "From watching last year and being a part of the team, I realized that it wasn't as easy as everybody thought it was.


"Since the UConn game (where he recorded three points, three turnovers and just one assist), my confidence level has gone up. It's just knowing that I have the ability to play. Everything started to slow down, and my confidence level was right. Everything has started to work out. (The game has) slowed down tremendously. Coach Cronin started talking to me more and showing me things in the game film and showing me how I can improve, where my mistakes were coming, what I did to cause my mistakes and how I can improve them."


Like Cronin said, not every freshman can play like a Lance Stephenson or a John Wall. Some freshmen are just ordinary, non-NBA prospects. For those players, it takes time to adjust. Even for those that find themselves in the starting lineup at the beginning of their career.


"When I first came in and I was starting, I was thinking, 'OK, I can do this,'" Wright said. "He put me on the bench and made me hungry and made me realize that I had to work to get back to where I was."


--Freshman Lance Stephenson leads the team with 12.7 points per game (though Vaughn has 17.8 to Stephenson's 15.3 in Big East play) and his 4.8 rebounds rank third on the team behind Yancy Gates and Rashad Bishop. His three-point shooting has been rather unimpressive (a percentage of 15.8), but overall, he's had a nice start to his collegiate career.


But that doesn't mean he doesn't need to work on his game, because Cronin clearly thinks he does.


"Two things: all freshmen need to become more consistent, especially on the defensive end, and offensively for Lance, sometimes he's in 'all drive' mode and sometimes he's in 'all pass' mode," Cronin said. "He needs to do a better job of letting the defense dictate what he's doing."


Cronin points to an example. Against the Pirates last Saturday, Stephenson, while he was in "drive mode," moved into the lane toward the hoop and drew a charging foul. Cronin says he should have passed the ball instead of taking it to the rim, but because he had tunnel vision and was thinking "Drive, drive, drive," Stephenson couldn't get out of his own way.


"He needs to be in 'play basketball' mode," Cronin said. "Sometimes he decides what he's doing to do before seeing what the defense is giving him. I'd like to see him make the read."


--According to the Sporting News, quarterback Tony Pike and receiver Mardy Gilyard have been invited to next month's NFL Combine. That sounds about right.


It's still possible other players can be invited, but there aren't any other Bearcats that would jump out to me as big-time pro prospects. Maybe linebacker Andre Revels or tackle Jeff Linkenbach could snag an invite, but other than those two, I can't think of anybody.

The Inbox Is Full

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Here we go again.


The Bearcats lost a game as a 4 ½-point underdog and my in-box is flooded with angry e-mail.


Let's see . . . you're tired of excuses.  You can't believe that Deonta Vaughn said the Bearcats "relaxed too much" with a 12-point lead at Seton Hall.  You think it's time for a coaching change.    


Duly noted.


I'm not here to tell you that everything is perfect, but why did the season suddenly end with a loss on January 9th?


The Bearcats are 11-5 overall and 2-2 in the Big East.  They have three wins over Top 25 opponents and have had one horrible performance (at UAB).  My hope for this season was to see the team return to the NCAA Tournament.  I still think that is realistic.


Mick Cronin finally has enough talent to have a fighting chance in the Big East.  That doesn't mean that UC has more talent than Villanova, West Virginia, Syracuse or UConn, but it does mean that he's no longer bringing a water pistol to a gun fight. 


I don't know if/when Mick will lift the Bearcats to national prominence, but I do know this:  He's a Cincinnati guy who took on the challenge of rebuilding the program even though he knew it could get ugly.  The fact that he inherited a disgruntled fan base hasn't made the job any easier.  That doesn't make Mick immune to criticism, but I do think he deserves a realistic evaluation. 


As for Deonta's postgame comments, I think we put too much stock in what college kids say a few minutes after a difficult loss.  Did the Bearcats relax for a moment when they got up by 12?  Perhaps, but it wasn't like they completely stopped trying.  UC blew the lead because it started turning the ball over and giving up fast-break baskets.  It didn't help that Yancy Gates and Rashad Bishop were on the bench with foul trouble. 


There are 14 games left in the regular season.  The next three (at St. John's, home against Notre Dame and USF) are crucial, and if the Bearcats come through, they will be near the top of the Big East standings.


The Seton Hall game is over.  The season isn't.


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


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A Beast! I've heard coach after coach proclaim it and I still think from top to bottom its still the toughest conference in college basketball. Night in and night out the physical play and the demands on your bench make it a grind that's long and unending. So don't make too much out of the start good or bad because their is a long way to go. Then comes the tournament and that's another season in itself. I think this team has improved dramatically and Mick and his staff should be commended but most don't care about commendations when the season is active. Well I'm not going to wait, knowing where this program was several years ago. No one has UC down as an easy win and the big teams like UConn know they have to bring it to get it.

So lets let the whole season unfold and see what happens. Oh by the way that includes the Big East tournament. Remember Syracuse' run? The quote rings true even today: "Its not how you start, its how you finish." I couldn't have said it better...

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

Give it up for Jamelle Elliott

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So it's about an hour before tipoff as the UC women's team gets ready to face another BIG EAST foe in St. John's a very good 13-2 and 1-1 already in conference. But there's still a lot of buzz from the team's last BIG EAST game, a homecoming of sorts for UC women's basketball coach Jamelle Elliott back at UConn.

If you didn't have the chance to read the story from the Hartford Courant, here's the link: http://www.courant.com/sports/uconn-women/hc-ucwomen0108.artjan08,0,7785229.story 

The point being, she was greeted warmly back to UConn. Heck, even the governor of the state showed up, and, word is, she's not necessarily a big basketball fan (wouldn't make that widely known among voters in the Nutmeg State).

But that's the way UConn treats its former players. Even when they go off to coach another team, they are welcomed back with open arms. Because the fans there know what these young women meant to the program, and they are appreciative of the work they did to build UConn into the powerhouse it's become.

Especially for players like Jamelle who came to Storrs on the faith and promise that the program would be better, that the team could win games and that the school could take home championships. It's a lot easier to go to a school that has the hardware that UConn has now, than it was to go there when the trophy cupboard was bare.

So, the point is, it takes time to build a franchise and time to build a legacy. Jamelle's put her time in to build the UConn legacy, now it's time to build UC's.


UC-Seton Hall preview

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After the UAB game, after senior guard Deonta Vaughn managed just seven points on 2 of 9 shooting in a 17-point loss to the Blazers, Mick Cronin decided to try something a little different. Or, in reality, something the same.


He moved Vaughn back into his old role of point guard - the one he played last year when Cashmere Wright tore his ACL in the preseason - and since then, Vaughn has returned to his old effective ways, averaging 14 points per contest in his past six games.


Apparently, he just feels a little more comfortable there.


"Losing the UAB game, I wanted to be the point guard again and get myself in the groove again," Vaughn said. "I wanted to lead the team on. I've been more aggressive in practice. They say if you don't practice well, you don't play well. I've been practicing well and playing hard, and it shows in the game.


"I ran it last year and I'm used to it. Everybody saw me more as a shooter, but being able to play the point, it helps us scoring more in the front court. You don't have only one or two guys to key on. Now, you have to worry about everybody, so it gives us more depth on the court."


Cronin said he wanted to move Vaughn back to the point because he saw the team needed an adjustment.


"We've adjusted to make sure he's getting offensive opportunities," said Cronin, whose squad will face Seton Hall on Saturday at 6 p.m. "Our opponents are well aware of how capable he is as a 3-point shooter. When he was off the ball, he didn't have the opportunities. We weren't doing a good job of finding him and getting him open or finding him when he was open."


The move seems to have worked. The offense seems to run smoother when Vaughn is in there, and though he and Wright are on the court at times together, the Bearcats have responded positively to Vaughn's leadership.


"It's a comfort zone for him to have the ball in his hands," Cronin said. "Because we've been here so long together, he knows there are some things he can do with the ball in his hands where he can give it up and get it back."


--Speaking of point guards, how's Wright handled his decrease in minutes played? Cronin said he's responded pretty well to his diminished role, but UC's coach also wasn't surprised he had to change Wright's position on the team.


"He's just like most freshmen: college basketball is a lot harder than he thought it was going to be," Cronin said. "Not everybody is a Lance Stephenson or a John Wall. Some guys are regular freshmen. If you're on a winning team, it's hard to play as a freshman if you have veteran players."


That said, Vaughn indicated Wright has to work on his game - most notably his ability to be heard when trying to run the offense.


"Be louder," Vaughn said. "We know Cash can score and has the ability to get into the paint. The thing is his talking. He's coming along and he's learning in practice more and more that he has to be more vocal."


--And what about Seton Hall? Well, for one thing, the Pirates are 9-5 and 0-3 in the Big East. And for another, junior guard Jeremy Hazell is really good. He's averaging 22.6 points per game and 4.1 rebounds, and he's a tough matchup for just about anybody in the Big East conference.


"He's 6-6, and if he has space and time, he's probably the best shooter in the league," Cronin said. "But also he's an underrated guy as far as getting to the basket. When he gets 30-40 points, it's where he's getting 15-20 free throws. The teams that have contained him have not given him layups and free throws. He's a guy who's going to take so many three-point shots - if you guard him, he won't shoot a high percentage, but if you don't guard him, he will. But what you can't do is give him layups and free throws. We need to make sure whoever has Hazell, has him."


   When I interviewed close to 80 former UC players and coaches for "Tales from Cincinnati Bearcats Basketball," which came out in 2004, I couldn't help but include Cheryl Cook, even though the book was all about the men's program.

   Cook remains the greatest women's basketball player in school history, and I have memories of watching her play - and more than hold her own - with all guys in Laurence Hall pick-up games.

   A funny story that emerged for the book was about Luther Tiggs, who played for the UC men's team and broke a finger and missed two games because of Cook.

     "She was the best women's player I ever saw," Tiggs told me. "She was extremely competitive. She always wanted to play with the guys. They called her a few names, but nobody gave her an out. That's what she wanted.

     "One day, she wanted to play one-on-one at a side basket. She had the ball and she made a move toward the baseline and my hand went across the body because I wanted to strip her of the ball. I pulled it back. When I looked up, my index finger was completely severed. I ran to the trainer, and my finger was just hanging there. They had to stitch it up. The guys were really on me about that."

   When we talked about that story several years ago, Cook said: "It wasn't intentional. Now that you brought it up, I still feel bad about it."

   We mention all this because Cook was announced as a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2010 on Monday.

   Already her retired No. 24 jersey hangs on the wall in Fifth Third Arena and she is a member of UC's Athletic Hall of Fame.

   She is the Bearcats' all-time leading women's scorer (2,367 points) and went to win a gold medal with the U.S. team in the 1983 Pan American Games and a silver medal with the U.S. team in the 1985 World University Games. She played six years in Spain and Italy and even had a tryout with the Harlem Globetrotters.

   "It's been a great journey," she said. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."

   Cook now lives in Bedford Heights, Ohio, and is administrator at the Department of Youth Services in Cleveland. She also coaches the organization's basketball team (ages 16-21) and says she has won three straight state championships.

   "I enjoy working with kids and I wanted to be able to give something back," she said.

   She'd like to give back to women's basketball and UC, too, by joining its broadcast "team."

   That would be Tom Gelehrter, manager of new media and broadcasting at UC who does live play-by-play for the Bearcat women's games for CATSVision All-Access on www.gobearcats.com. Cook and Gelehrter met in Cincinnati in November.

      "There's a definite opportunity for her to join me on the broadcast," Gelehrter said. "She indicated to me she'd be down for games. The door is wide open. I do all the women's games by myself. I'll have a head set for her. It's as easy as that for me. To have someone of Cheryl Cook's stature on the broadcast would be great."

   As a senior in 1984-85, Cook was the nation's No. 2 scorer (27.5 ppg) and was named second-team All-America.  Known as the "Cookie Monster," she was twice Metro Conference Player of the Year and sometimes practiced with the UC men's team.

   "I am always a Bearcat at heart," she said. "Color analyst for UC women's basketball - that's the ultimate job. I would love to continue to try to get the women as much exposure as they deserve.

   "I would love to be a part of something special that they have going. If people will be patient with (Coach Jamelle Elliott), she's going to make UC people and the community proud."

   Cook grew up playing against six brothers and was a star at Indianapolis Washington High School. She averaged 29.7 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists as a senior in 1981 and was named Indiana's Miss Basketball.

   Her official induction to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame will be April 24 in Indianapolis.

   "I'm humbled," she said. "I take a lot of people in with me, so I don't just go alone - family, faculty at my high school, coaches at UC, my teammates at UC, my teammates in high school. Everybody had something to do with this."


UC-Cal State Bakersfield 2nd half impressions

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Twelve Bearcats - count them, 12 - scored for UC tonight. Dion Dixon led the way with 13 points, and Ibrahima Thomas had a nice night with 11 points. Really, no other stats stand out, except for the sheer mass of Bearcats who scored.

Oh, and that Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates each spent 30 minutes on the bench. Lance Stephenson only played 17. That's a nice change of pace for that trio.

Oh, and Anthony McClain had eight points and eight rebounds. So that was fun.

UC 87, Cal State Bakersfield 58 (final)

So, what do you get out of this if you're UC? Playing time for players who wouldn't normally get it.


"The one good thing about playing this game right now was to treat it as a day where we could practice and then play," Mick Cronin said in his postgame presser.

"We can show them film of themselves minutes. It gave some guys a chance to perform and give them playing time. Especially guys like Biggie McClain and Jaquan Parker who practiced hard in practice. Biggie would have had a double double but his bone spurs flared up in his foot."


Cronin on Jaquon Parker (nine points, five rebounds in 15 minutes): "One thing about Park is he hasn't played a whole lot of point guard. Having him play the point has slowed him down. He is a good defender and he can make the open shot. Turning him into a point guard takes time, and I have slowed him down with that. I think it will help him in the long run, but his effort is tremendous. One thing you will see is him in with Deonta, if he plays better. We have Lance and Deonta playing pretty consistent basketball, and we need another one playing well alongside them."

Other observations from the second half:

Well, that's a pretty weak way for UC to start the second half. A turnover, and two easy baskets for Cal.

Ugh, Dixon for the double pump back-handed slam, Hits the rim and bounds away. Not too good.

The Bearcats are looking awfully sloppy so far.

Cal stars the half with a 16-6 run to begin the half.

Larry Davis seems to have found his long-range shot tonight.

UC-Cal State Bakersfield 1st half impressions

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Starting lineup: Vaughn, Stephenson, Bishop, Thomas, Gates. No surprise not to see Larry Davis in there, considering he hasn't scored in three of the past four games.

Gates is pulled after less than 2 minutes. Perhaps, not surprising. He's touched the ball a couple times, and he hasn't made a move to the rim yet. Even though the guy defending is three or four inches shorter.

Ooh, Anthony McClain is in the game early. And immediately grabs an offensive rebound and puts in the short jumper.

In order for Cal to have any kind of chance in this game, it's going to have to shoot well from the wing and from the outside. In the first few minutes, they Roadrunners don't.

Man, Vaughn is kind of driving right down the lane, isn't he?

McClain can NOT be stopped.

Just your typical 20-2 run for the Bearcats. Man, the Roadrunners are just not very impressive, eh?

Interesting when Anthony Buford is talking about Yancy Gates and when he has that much of a size advantage, he doesn't work as hard. For instance, when Latunde got an offensive rebound for Cal, got the basket, the foul and the 3-point play. Apparently, Gates still hasn't learned this lesson.

It takes Larry Davis nine minutes to get into the game, and when he finally does, he dribbles the ball off his leg, leading to a dunk from Cal's Bragg.

Latunde just puts up some ridiculous shots. Shots that have no chance of going in the basket. Why bother?

How about Toyloy with that jam plus foul and that 14-foot jumper? He's an offensive maniac.

Thomas in the game with seven quick points. He always provides a pretty good energy to the lineup on the court.

You know what I like? A 46-10 run that doesn't equal any timeouts from Cal. That's a coach who knows his team's place.

Hey, a Jaquon Parker sighting. And he hits a 3.

I don't mind telling you, Latunde has been absolutely awful. And he keeps taking just awful shots.

UC 50, Cal State Bakersfield 16 (half)

UC-Cal State Bakersfield preview

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Tonight marks the third game in the past five days for UC, and you'd expect a variety of Bearcats to play so the top three scorers can get some time to rest on the bench.


Yes, freshman guard Lance Stephenson is averaging 13.1 points per game (and 15.3 in Big East play), senior guard Deonta Vaughn is averaging 11.7 (and 17.0) and sophomore forward Yancy Gates is averaging 11.0 (and 10.8). That's all fine. But the problem - and UC ran into this during the Pitt game - is that the Bearcats are susceptible to using their top three players too many minutes.


On the season, Stephenson, Vaughn and Gates are playing 29.6, 29.4 and 25.4 minutes per game, respectively (remember Gates' average dropped significantly because of the 4 minutes he logged against Lipscomb) Against the Panthers, though, those numbers were 32, 34 and 34.


That, for Cronin, is too much. The solution? Get a lead.


"We get behind and we have to play Lance, Deonta and Yancy too many minutes," he said. "Our defense isn't effective. Our defense has been good all year because we play fresh guys."


It showed vs. the Panthers. Gates, especially, looked tired as the game neared its end.


"He's playing well on offense," Cronin said. "But he's not in the (right) physical condition. He probably needs to play 29 minutes. He probably needs more than five minutes rest. Playing those extra minutes hurt us defensively."


An example of Gates' fatigue was evident as the game was nearing the end. With UC losing by two, Vaughn drove, trying to create a scoring opportunity. His first option was to shoot. His second option was to find Stephenson coming off a curl. His third option was to get the ball to Gates. Stephenson missed the layup, and a tired Gates fouled Jermaine Dixon - who then hit the two foul shots that gave the Panthers a four-point lead with 1:02 to play.


"For us to be the team we need to be defensively, we need to play our bench," Cronin said. "We did a lot of breaking down. We haven't played those guys that many minutes."


That should change tonight. So, look for freshman point guard Cashmere Wright, junior forward Ibrahima Thomas and junior forward Darnell Wilks to see more playing time. And whatever became of freshman guard Jaquon Parker - who has yet to make his Big East debut?


--If you don't know much about Cal State Bakersfield, you're not alone. The Roadrunners (yes, I had to look up their nickname) are in the final season of a five-year process that transitions them from Division II to Division I.


Don't know if you knew this - because I certainly didn't - but former Bearcats Charles Williams (1996-97) and Marcus Moss (1995-96) left UC and transferred to Cal State Bakersfield.


Those guys won't be playing tonight, though. So, who do you want to watch out for when the teams take the court at 7:30 p.m.? Senior forward Trent Blakley averages 14.9 points per game, and freshman guard Stephon Carter scores 12.3 per contest. The team's top rebounder is senior forward Santwon Latunde, who grabs 8.8 per game. But Latunde is only 6-6, and I expect him to have problems while trying to battle with Gates, Steve Toyloy and Ibrahima Thomas.


--Stephenson on how his Big East experience has been so far.


"The competition is great," he said. "Every team comes out tough, and they play defense. It's been a little bit harder for me to adjust."

Cheryl Cook Helped Build Bearcat Foundation

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News that has happened since we all toddled back from New Orleans..

Hope you have read on the gobearcats.com rotation the release about Cheryl Cook being inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame this spring. Big stuff, in basketball-mad Indiana. You can read her stats and accolades in the news release, but let me tell you a little about how I got to know "Cookie."

Back in the early 1980s, I was a news anchor at Channel 9 in Cincinnati, and I remember (Coach Sandy Smith, you may need to refresh my memory) that UC was the host school for a four-team holiday tournament for women's basketball. UC asked four of us female anchors in town (we were still a rare breed in the '80s) to come in as honorary coaches for each team, and I ended up as the honorary coach for the Lady Bearcats, as they were called then.

One of the players on that team was Cheryl Cook. Honestly, I didn't know a lot about the team before I became its 'assistant' coach, but "Cookie" was one of the players who welcomed me in, understood that it was a good p.r. move and went out of her way to chat up the program and the players.

She was gracious, she was appreciative of the opportunity to play college ball, and she was funny. I do remember that she always seemed to have a smile on her face as she truly enjoyed the game. And I remember that she was good. She was a sharpshooter, she was aggressive and played both ends of the court. She probably was 10 years ahead of her time in the game of basketball, and she was fun to watch. 

Of course, back then, her only option to continue playing after college was to go overseas, which she did, before she returned to Ohio to work. But her accomplishments at UC, and now at Indianapolis Washington High School, won't be forgotten, and her contributions to the game of basketball certainly serve as a foundation on which UC women's basketball continues to build.

Congratulations, Cookie, on your award, and all you've done for basketball.

A Lesson Learned Against Pitt

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I'll admit it; I had the Pitt game penciled in as a win going into the season.


The Panthers lost DeJuan Blair (15.7 points, 12.3 rebs), Sam Young (19.2 points, 6.3 rebs) and Levance Fields (10.7 points, 7.5 assists) from last season's Elite 8 team and were picked to finish 9th in the Big East in the preseason coaches' poll.


After seeing them in person on Monday night, they are a heck of a lot better than I thought they were going to be.


(Previously unbeaten Syracuse learned the same thing on Saturday at the Carrier Dome.)


There's a reason why Pitt coach Jamie Dixon won more games in his first six years than any other Division 1 coach in college basketball history - his teams are tough, disciplined, and don't make mistakes. 


In my opinion, the Bearcats can learn more from their loss to Pitt than any of their previous defeats this season.  They weren't robbed by a lousy call (Gonzaga).  They didn't blow the game at the FT line (Xavier).  And they didn't get outhustled (UAB). 


Simply put, they had a few more mental lapses on the defensive end (have you ever seen so many guys fall for head fakes?) and it cost them the game.


"We couldn't stop 'em," Coach Cronin told me.  "We didn't get enough stops to win the game.  That's not who we are.  We don't give up 49% shooting.  If we defend as we have all year we win this game."


Pitt methodically executed its offense for 40 minutes (48% shooting in first half, 50% in second half) and only turned the ball over seven times.  Cincinnati's offensive numbers were nearly identical (49% shooting, 8 turnovers), but when the Bearcats failed to score late in the game, they gave up easy baskets on the other end.


"When we don't score, we go down to the other end and carry that miss with us," Cronin said.  "It's got to be over with - you can't let a missed shot or an empty possession compound the problem by giving them an easy shot on the other end.  We have to develop a tougher mettle about us where we understand that there are going to be times that we don't score in crucial situations.  You cannot get deflated and let it impact the defensive end."


Pitt doesn't let that happen.  Let's hope it's a lesson learned for UC.


* * * * *


I've received a bunch of e-mail from fans that made the trip to New Orleans and every single person indicated they had a great time despite the outcome of the Sugar Bowl.


I'm still amazed by the sheer amount of red-and-black that I saw in the French Quarter, and the pep rally is one of the coolest things I've even been involved with.  Kudos to the folks from the UC alumni association for putting together such a great event.    


I had a chance to visit with Nick Carparelli, the Big East's Senior Associate Commissioner for Football, and he said the UC fan support had definitely made a statement that will help the Bearcats in future bowl negotiations.  We've come a long way in a very short period of time. 


I took one of team busses back to the hotel after the game and got a lump in my throat when I walked with the Bearcats through a roped-off line of thousands of cheering UC fans.  I can only imagine how much that meant to the players and coaches.  Thank you to everyone who waited at the Marriott to lift their spirits.


* * * * *  


I also want to thank all of you who stopped me in New Orleans to express your disappointment that I wasn't chosen to fill the Cincinnati Reds broadcasting position.  I can't adequately express how much I appreciate the kind words.  While that remains a dream job for me, I love broadcasting UC football and basketball and hope to do so for many years to come.


Finally, a number of you also wondered why I haven't posted any photos of the handsome lad lately.  It's a very good question.  Here is 3-year-old Sam, proudly wearing his Bearcat gear.


Haircut in 85 jersey.jpg 

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


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

Elston, others will join BK at ND

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It's looking more and more like Kerry Coombs will be the only holdover from Brian Kelly's staff to stay at UC with new coach Butch Jones.


Kelly announced today that Mike Elston - who's been with Kelly since his Central Michigan days and had handled the Bearcats special teams, tight ends and defensive line units in his time here - will join him at Notre Dame. Also, according to Brian Bennett at ESPN.com, former UC defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and receivers coach Charley Molnar are expected to be in South Bend as well.


All of that was expected.


What is slightly surprising is that apparently Tim Hinton, who was on Mark Dantonio's staff and was the only holdover to remain here for Kelly's tenure, is going to Notre Dame, as well. He's never coached outside of Ohio - he's stayed here for college and high school coaching - so there was some thought that he might stay.


The rest of Kelly's former staff, meanwhile, could follow Jeff Quinn to Buffalo. On Buffalo's web site, Ernest Jones - a former Bearcats assistant who left to be the head coach at Alcorn State for a season before returning to UC this season as the director of player services - is listed as an assistant coach along with former UC receiver Mike Daniels and former UC offensive lineman Adam Shorter.


Here's what Coombs told me last month about staying at UC to coach with Jones: "I really do mean that when I tell kids that this is the best place to go as a football player. It's not just that it's my home and where I'm from. That's too easy. The reality is it's the best place, it's got the greatest combination of all the things that are important to me and a lot of kids. Our players recognize that. You don't find a lot of guys coming down the hall and wanting to transfer. You don't find a lot of recruits jumping ship.


"This thing is going to continue to go forward in the same manner, because the foundation is built. What we have to offer is so special and we're going to continue to have great kids. That's what people forget. You win games with your players. Brian Kelly was a great football coach and he's going to be very successful at Notre Dame, but you win games with your players - how you recruit them or train them. Coaches know that. We have an exciting future at Cincinnati."

UC-Pitt Rock 'N Roll Party

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Considering he hadn't started since the Dec. 16 UAB game, it sure seemed like sophomore forward Yancy Gates was motivated by Mick Cronin's decision to have him begin the contest tonight for the Bearcats.


He managed 16 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and four blocks (which matches his career-best) in 34 minutes, and you had to wonder if his best game of the season - though the 17-point, 13-rebound, one-block performance against Maryland was pretty strong as well - was the result of Cronin's choice to insert him back into the starting lineup.


According to Gates, the answer to that is "No."


"It wasn't getting in the starting lineup," Gates said. "It was our pregame. We went over the situation, coach went over how evenly our guards were with theirs, and the difference in the game could come down to how the bigs played. That was kind of motivation to come out and get the job done."


Gates, though he wasn't as aggressive in going to the basket as I thought he should when matched up against Pitt's Gary McGhee and he settled for too many jumpers, played very well in the first half (12 points on 6 of 7 shooting to go with nine rebounds and three blocks), Pittsburgh adjusted in the second half.


But after performing in the 22nd Big East game of his career, Gates can appreciate what he went through in his freshman season while playing in this league. Going against Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair and Georgetown's Hasheem Thabeet on a regular basis has taught him how important it is to play physical on a consistent basis.


"It taught me that every night you have to be ready," Gates said. "You can't come in and be lackadaisical."


--One problem for UC tonight was that the Bearcats traded baskets with Pitt. Then, when UC would miss a shot, the Panthers took advantage with a small flurry to build a bigger lead. The Bearcats seemed to let one missed shot affect the next possession. That was what Cronin bemoaned the most in his postgame presser.


"Our biggest problem as a team when we're in a high level game like this, you're not going to score every time," Cronin said. "You have to get some stops. Our problem, we trade, we trade and we trade and we miss and they score. We can't compound the problem and go down and take a tough shot and then go down and give up a layup. You can't allow one possession to affect the next possession. We have to mature a little bit as a team in that area. You have to have a tough mettle about you. We have too much carryover. We have to let things go when things don't go our way."


--Freshman guard Lance Stephenson had such a big first half - he had 13 points - but Pitt coach Jamie Dixon didn't seem so concerned with it. In fact, he was happy with the way the Panthers played defense on Stephenson throughout the game.


"We felt pretty good because he took tough shots in the first half," Dixon said. "If you make tough shots, we can live with that. But we don't believe guys can make tough shots for 40 minutes."


Said Stephenson: "I was forcing some of the shots that I was taking. It happens. They played me hard and guarded me hard. I just tried to keep the game close. I didn't want them to pull away. At the end, they did that."


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      Seeing as I've been to back-to-back BCS bowl games now, I'm learning a few things that hopefully I can use in the future. Of course, the natural assumption being that Butch Jones will pick up right where Brian Kelly left off and have the UC Bearcats back in the hunt again here in 11 months or so.

      The obvious thing I've learned is you're going to spend money either way. You can Orbitz, Priceline. Kayak all you want, but in the end, the quickest way between two points is a direct line.

      Last year, rather than pay exorbitant amounts to fly into Miami or Fort Lauderdale, I waited a day too long and ended up flying into Orlando for the Orange Bowl. After an added drive to Miami and a night's stay at the Orlando airport to catch an early morning flight home, I probably would've saved in the long run by booking the original flight to the more southern destination for a few more bucks.

      Did I learn?


      This season, I thought Sugar Bowl flights to New Orleans were ridiculous (and they were--the airlines are well aware of when and where bowl games are played). I thought I'd pull a swift move by flying into Gulfport, Mississippi then driving the hour or so into the Big Easy.

      Well, it was easy on the way down. Folks were friendly, other UC fans were on board and there's always that initial fascination of arriving at a new venue. But again, by the time I added the rental car and the parking fee at the hotel, I probably could've flown direct into New Orleans and caught cabs back and forth from the airport.

      This poor judgment became more evident on the way back. After driving north for the day to Baton Rouge on the Sunday after the game (three day minimum stay at hotel, so had to stay extra for that and "cheaper" flight) we were advised by phone on our way back to Gulfport that our flight was "delayed".

      Naturally, "delayed" became "canceled" once we went to check in. That meant nearly two days AFTER the game, we were going to be stuck in lovely, metropolitan Gulfport for another day.

      While the kids got an extra day off school, the parents were hardly overjoyed at this turn of events. Sure, the airlines put us up in a hotel nearby and gave us food vouchers, but you still come out on the short end of those deals. Food vouchers come up woefully short on most bills unless you go to a burger stand and get a kid's meal with water.

      If you use the hotel restaurant, the prices are always inflated and you end up adding extra items and the tip money to your room---so the room isn't exactly free. In addition, for three meals over the course of 24 hours I'm guessing we had to fork over an extra $75. (Part of that came from watching the Bengals debacle with the Jets and eating away some frustration.)

      So, as I bang out yet another article uncomfortably on an airplane, I left Gulfport around 11 a.m. Cincinnati time on Monday and was taken to Dallas-Fort Worth, which is pretty much another planet. We hung at a Friday's, got suckered into a Cowboys jersey by one of the youngin's and finally got to leave DFW just after 5 p.m. I sit here now in the last row of a cramped flight missing the UC/Pitt basketball game that my family has tickets to.

      We were supposed to be home last night. The kids were supposed to be in school today. And, had I not been such a penny-pincher on the arrangements, we all might have been home to watch the Bengals "mail it in" to the Jets.

      These things I now know.

      Some things I did better on, such as packing clothes. While I firmly want to believe UC will come away a winner over time, there's nothing more painful to me than "flying the colors" the day after an excruciating loss because that's all you've got to wear.

      You know who you are, I saw some of you on Bourbon and Canal and in the airport. I also saw in the airports, the dejected fans of Michigan State, LSU, etc. I saw Buckeye fans in New Orleans too, but I think they were there just to rub our noses in it.

      The strategy here is to pack your C-Paws, but keep something neutral handy for the less desirable outcome. That way you don't have to hear the condescending opposition say, "Y'all have a nice little program," or , "Better luck next year!"

      Keep in mind though, the downside of that is when people don't know who you "represent", you might pick up things you don't care to hear as well. Like this morning in Gulfport, when a couple of SEC fans started talking about the Sugar Bowl and one said, "Yeah, they (UC) got their a____es handed to them--Florida didn't sell all their tickets because they didn't think Cincinnati was worthy of playing them."

      That hurt. Although, I can't argue with his impression of the game.

Anyway, I'm hoping the third time's the charm. I'm hoping to be back in a BCS bowl location in about a year, having gotten there directly by air (or maybe even sucking it up and driving). The old adage, "you get what you pay for" certainly applies.

      By the time you factor in all of the nonsense, it appears to me that you're better off biting the bullet and doing it up right. Bearcat fans have shelled out a lot of money the last two years...I'm just passing on my opinion on how I've seen things go down the last two trips.

      Of course, winning the game wipes away all financial concerns. Should that occur (and in my lifetime it will) feel free to spend frivolously. As it stands now, many of us can say we've actually been to an Orange Bowl and a Sugar Bowl and there's a good many college football fans that can't say that.

      Many of them are still wearing their garb, checking days off their 2010 calendar for their spring game.

      I now we'll retire to my own bed minus the clang and clatter of those that roam hotel hallways at night. I shall dream of future Bearcat New Year's trips that stay on schedule and muse about this April's "Bearcat Bowl IV: The Return Of The Black Helmets"!

UC-Pitt LIVE blog

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Live from 5/3:

Starting lineup: Deonta Vaughn, Larry Davis, Ibrahima Thomas, Lance Stephenson and Yancy Gates. It's Gates' first start since the Dec. 16 UAB game.

First time down the court, Gates hits a short jumper over Pitt C Gary McGhee. Next time, McGhee strips Gates.

Play is stopped 2:12 in since McGhee is bleeding. He's out of the game for now. Looks like a nose bleed.

It's crazy in here. The Bearcats are running offense and getting the Gates touches on every possession.

Stephenson is hot so far. He's hit all three of his shots, and plus a free throw, that equals seven points in the first 4 minutes.

Nasir Robinson has hit his first three shots, and he's got seven of Pitt's nine points. Just before the break, Dante Taylor picks up his second foul of the game.

UC 11, Pitt 9 (14:57 to go)

Two poor shots back to back by Stephenson and Vaughn. Looks like neither of them knew what to do when they jumped in the air with the ball in their hands. Make that three in a row after Stephenson's nothing-but-backboard 3-point attempt with the shot clock at 2.

Ashton Gibbs with the nice pump-fake, getting Dixon in the air. Then he drains a long jumper to give Pitt a 15-13 lead. The Bearcats tie it up again on a tough jumper.

UC 15, Pitt 15 (11:44 to go)

Apparently, Gates enjoys this whole 'starting' thing. He rebounds a Cashmere Wright miss with a powerful dunk.

Bad transition defense there. Thomas misses an inadvisable 3-pointer, and nobody stops Travon Woodall as he drives all the way in for the easy layup to give the Panthers a four-point lead.

Pitt still on a 17-8 run.

Crowd is upset about the offensive foul called on Vaughn just before the break. He made a nice high layup off the glass for the points that would have tied the game.

Pitt 21, UC 19 (7:22 to go)

McGhee, with his nose plugged up, is rejected by Gates.

A little controvesy here. Gibbs' 3-pointer with 3 seconds on the shot clock missed the rim, and the whistle blew as McGhee was going up for the rebounded shot. Refs have to check the monitors to see if the inadvertent whistle affected anything. I thought there was one second left on the shot clock when McGhee went up for the shot. Refs say his layup was good. Crowd boos.

A couple turnovers from Pitt equals a layup from Dixon and Stephenson, and Jamie Dixon is forced to take a timeout with the score 23-23.

Man, Gibbs has a weird shot, but he's making them. He's got 12 points.

But Stephenson is on fire as well, making 6 of 9 shots for 13 points. Gates has 10 points and seven rebounds.

PItt 29, UC 27 (3:48 to go)

Pitt comes out in a 2-3 zone, and UC looks confused by it. After the ball goes out of bounds with 5 seconds on the shot clock and UC inbounds, Pitt goes back to man-to-man. Vaughn buries a 3 with 1 second on the clock.

UC had a chance to take the lead, but Vaughn's alley-oop attempt to Wilks is a little high, and Jermaine Dixon nails a 3 on the other end.

Pitt 38, UC 32 (half)

Some first half stats: Stephenson has 13 points, and Gates has 12 on 6 of 7 shooting. He's also got nine rebounds and three blocks. Shooting 51.7 percent from the floor and 16.7 from the 3.

PItt is shooting 48.3 percent from the floor and 60 percent from the 3. Gibbs has 14 points (5 of 5 from the floor; 4 of 4 from the FT line).

UC comes out fired up and goes on an 8-2 run to tie the game. Toyloy with a couple free throws and a layup forces Dixon to call timeout.

UC 40, Pitt 40 (16:41 to go)

Bad transition defense strikes again. After a miss by Toyloy, Jermaine Dixon goes end to end for the easy layup. Not good.

Pitt 44, UC 40 (15:31 to go)

Don't know why Gates isn't being more aggressive and taking the ball to the hoop. It's not like anybody from Pitt is stopping him. Instead, he's content to take these turnaround jumpers.

Nice play by Stephenson and Toyloy there. Stephenson with the baseline pass to Toyloy, who fake-pumps to get McGhee in the air. Then, after McGhee hacks him, Toyloy with the easy layup. Free throw upcoming.

UC 49, Pitt 49 (11:42 to go)

Bishop with a ridiculous put-back dunk on a Vaughn missed 3-pointer. Gilbert Brown follows that, though, with a huge dunk over Toyloy, who fouled him. Getting some good air here.

Pitt 57, UC 56 (7:24 to go)

Can't say Bishop's defense has been spectacular today. He just allowed Bron to drive through the middle of the paint for the fingertip. In the first half, Bishop was hurt by Biggs.

Gates with another missed 6-foot jumper. But he makes a nice interior pass to Bishop, who hits the layup and gets fouled.

Stephenson has a single point this half. Until he hits a mid-range jumper to make it 64-62 Pitt.

UC allowing a lot of open shots to Pitt. Including a 3-pointer from Brown - who's got 14B this half - to give Pitt the five-point lead. Brown, by the way, averages 7.7 points per game.

Pitt 67, UC 62 (3:38 to go)

Brown misses the layup and hustles to get back before possession before he's tied up. The entire student section wanted a travel, but nothing doing. Then, Brown misses another shot to give UC a chance to tie.

Vaughn loses the ball in the air as he tries to tie it in the lane.

Gibbs misses, and Bishop clanks a 3 at the other end. Pitt timeout.

Pitt 66, UC 64 (1:28 to go)

Wanamaker travels with about 1:25 to go. Stephenson misses a tough layup, and though it appeared Gates tied up Jermaine Dixon, he's called for the foul. He hits both for the four-point lead.

Pitt 68, UC 64 (:59 to go)

Vaughn misses a tough shot in the lane and then fouls Wanamaker, who misses the front end. UC timeout.

Pitt 68, UC 64 (:41 to go)

Bishop with the airball in the lane. Vaughn has to foul, and Jermaine Dixon hits two FTs w/ 26 seconds to go. Yep, this game is just about over.

Well, that wasn't the smartest play ever. Vaughn drives, hits the layup and gets fouled by Brown. Three-point play cuts the lead to 3 with 19 seconds to go.

Davis fouls Dixon with 15 seconds to go. Two foul shots. He makes 1.

Vaughn drives the lane again and tries to get fouled. No call, but he makes the layup. UC timeout.

Pitt 71, UC 69 (:09 to go)

Davis fouls Gibbs, and he'll take 2 shots. UC needs at least one miss. Thing is, Gibbs has hit 44 straight FTs. Not surprisingly, he makes both.

Vaughn with another layup. And again Gibbs is fouled. After 46-straight, Gibbs misses the first. Hits the second.

Pitt takes the timeout. I wonder if the Panthers will foul.

Pitt 74, UC 71 (:02.9 left)

Bishop inbounds to Davis, who turns and shoots from just short of half-court. It looked on target but way short.

Vaughn finishes with 17 points, Stephenson with 15 and Gates had 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Pitt 74, UC 71 (final)

Ex-Zach-ly Where Was Collaros?

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I was at the Sugar Bowl and was impressed first and foremost with two things; One the number of UC faithful that showed up in bunches and took over New Orleans and secondly, the graciousness of the young UC football players. Both made the trip even more special in spite of the game.

Speaking of the game; I watched as UC hit the field with the white helmets and the crowd hyped as expected and then the game happened...you know the rest. Many of us were wondering where was Zach Collaros? If Tim Tebow can be mulit-dimensional then why couldn't we do the same? We all remember how electrifying he was at home and they same teams don't like to face mirror images of themselves, so why not let them have a taste of a quarterback like theirs? Pike has the arm and height but he doesn't have mobility. When you get that kind of pressure Florida showed and the defense knows your QB can't scramble they tee off. So I'm wondering what if...?

Well no dwelling needed it was a great year for UC football and after meeting Coach Butch Jones I'm convinced it will still be a rock solid program next year. Lets hope the stability of a coaching staff will prepare them for the next bowl game. Two years of lackluster post season football will make fans think twice about attending another bowl game and believing we have a chance to win. After meeting Coach Jones, I think our belief will peak and our swagger will return; but tackling will help.

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

Trust Me, It Gets Better

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I grew up in Lakewood, NY rooting for the Buffalo Bills and was lucky to attend three of their four Super Bowl appearances while working for a TV station in Syracuse.


Technically, I was there as a member of the media, but I was a diehard Bills fan at heart and the games were devastating.


Super Bowl XXVI:  Washington 37  Buffalo 24

Super Bowl XXVII:  Dallas 52  Buffalo 17

Super Bowl XXVIII;  Dallas 30  Buffalo 13


The Bills became a national punch line.  When Buffalo blew a halftime lead in their final Super Bowl loss, Letterman did a "Top 10 Things Buffalo Bills Coach Marv Levy Said at Halftime."


#6  "Hey, Kelly. Leave some champagne for everyone else!"


#3  "Okay, boys--get out there and start sucking"


At the time it sucked to be from the Buffalo area.  Some Bills fans (including my beloved mom) actually said they hoped the team didn't make it back to another Super Bowl because they couldn't stand the heartache.


I guarantee that they don't feel that way anymore.


Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, and Coach Levy have entered the Hall of Fame in Canton, and the Bills of the early 90's are widely considered the best team in NFL history that didn't win the big one.


As a fan, I have nothing but great memories of those teams and my Super Bowl adventures.  As horribly as the games turned out, I remember the thrill of seeing the Rose Bowl for the first time, the spectacle of watching 100,000 flashbulbs go off at the opening kickoff, and the pride I felt in rooting for a team that kept bouncing back after excruciating losses.


I know that's how we're eventually going to feel about the Bearcats.


In the short term, the Big East bashing will sting, and we'll have to put up with rival fans (think they enjoyed the Sugar Bowl in Louisville and Columbus?) who will attempt to diminish the 'Cats 12-1 season and back-to-back BCS bowl appearances.


(If Buckeye fans lay it on too thick, you can remind them that OSU lost to Florida for the 2006 National Championship by the same 27 point margin that UC lost the Sugar Bowl).


But at the risk of getting too "Oprah-ish," don't let anybody steal your joy.


If you were among the 20,000-plus that made it to New Orleans, remember what it was like to see red-and-black everywhere you looked in the French Quarter.


Remember the inspiration of Mitch Stone and how our team rallied around him.


Remember Armon Binns making the most important catch in UC history while playing with a separated shoulder.


Remember your heart skipping a beat when the clock briefly hit zero in the Texas/Nebraska game.


Remember the rags-to-riches rise of future NFL quarterback Tony Pike.


Remember the greatness on the field and the grace off of it displayed by Mardy Gilyard.


And yes, remember Brian Kelly.  He gave us a wonderful ride.


And the ride is not over.


Take it from a Bills fan.  A lousy night shouldn't ruin a phenomenal year.


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


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      The white helmet era for UC began with a 20-yard Mardy Gilyard kickoff return in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Friday night. Meantime, the Florida Gators ditched their white hats for the traditional orange lids.

      As the cameras flashed, UC was back in the Superdome for a bowl game, and the New Orleans Bowl and North Texas this wasn't.

      This was the big time in the Big Easy. Florida from the SEC who's been to the Sugar Bowl against UC from the Big East who's not used to coming to such fancy dances.

      The Bearcats in their first drive in white looked good until a couple holding penalties sent them backward. For Florida, the opening drive was "old hat", Tim Tebow 7-7 passing for 61 yards culminating in a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez.

      Florida did everything right on the first series except make the extra point. Walter Stewart blocked the attempt by Caleb Sturgis to give Bearcat fans a little something to cheer about. (Sturgis rebounded though with a 40-yard-field goal later in the quarter spotting Florida to the 9-0 lead.)

      All week long, the UC fans had been the loudest. Maybe they just weren't used to being at the party, but party they did. Walking back from the temptations the French Quarter brings, you usually could hear the "UC" cheer on most every block.

      So, at the very least, the fans had pretty good practice at yelling, even though early on in this one most of the cheers were nervous energy as the Gators were the ones moving the chains, while UC stuttered.

      Tebow and the Gators converted most of their third downs in the first quarter (3-4). The one they didn't set Sturgis up for his field goal. UC, on the other hand, converted none of their third downs and was held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time since the Oregon State game.

      "You know, you look at the first drive when we come out and we're moving the ball like we have all year, and we hit a few drive-stopping penalties and the next drive we have a sack and maybe a dropped pass," said Tony Pike. "And that stuff adds up. Against a team like Florida you've got to play your very best. We didn't do that tonight."

      Penalties and three and outs and -11 rushing yards is not the way you map out starting the game. And, when the opposing quarterback has completed all 10 of his passes despite being sacked twice by Alex Daniels, it gets worse. Tebow's first incompletion came with 12:32 in the second quarter after hitting 12 straight (a new Sugar Bowl record). When he didn't get the Bearcats through the air, he was still able to convert a 4th and 1 with his massive legs.

      By 9:07 in the second quarter when Tebow hit Deonte Thompson for Florida's second touchdown, ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit appeared to be prophetic with his statement that, "Florida will DESTROY Cincinnati". With 12 first downs and 16 more points than the Bearcats, the Gators were definitely smelling blood. The attack would continue.

      After another ugly UC three-and-out, the Gators went three plays in 50 seconds and continued to administer the spanking 23-0 as the universal "clicking sound" could be heard in most of the country on Fox affiliates outside of Gainesville and Cincinnati (and I'm sure some there, too).

      At 3:11, UC got a brief "yippie" when Jake Rogers hit a 47-yard field goal to make it 23-3, but then Tebow found Riley Cooper streaking down the sideline for an 80-yard score and nine seconds after "yippie", it was yet another score to make it 30-3.

       I know from a UC perspective, it appeared as painful as any game in recent memory. Florida didn't respect UC, their fans didn't respect UC and the Bearcats did nothing to answer.

      In the first half, Tim Tebow did whatever he wanted for the most part as the Gators rolled over UC as if they were playing Florida International. For whatever element of surprise the white hats were to have, they weren't working. 

      By halftime, Tim Tebow had his FIRST 300-yard game of the season (320). Two plays into the second half, Tebow had a career-high in passing yards with 356. Less than four minutes into the second half, Florida had a 37-3 lead and a lot of the good publicity Bearcat football had received during the season was being wiped away by a Gator team making a statement over blowing a chance at the national championship game. The Bearcats just happened to be the "whipping boys".

      If you were looking for a bright spot, other than those shiny white helmets, there were none. OK, if you're really looking, Mardy Gilyard did set a Sugar Bowl record for kickoff return yards. However, when the other team is repeatedly kicking off after scoring, your chances at such a record are enhanced.

      Finally, at 4:46 of the third quarter, there was a "blip" of a bright spot when Tony Pike hit Marcus Waugh on a two-yard pass for a touchdown and the Bearcats cut it to 37-10. For Waugh, usually a linebacker, it was his first career catch and touchdown. While it was good to see a senior like Waugh that's worked so hard find the endzone, it would have been much more meaningful if UC wasn't getting their behinds handed to them on defense and had a shot at stopping the Urban Meyer Florida offense.

      Predictably, Tebow rifled through the porous Bearcat "D" again, breaking the Sugar Bowl record for total offense IN JUST THE THIRD QUARTER. In the end, he ran one in to make it 44-10.

      After the game, Florida Coach Urban Meyer said of Tebow, "He's one of the greatest players ever to play college football."

      Based on the evidence, it was hard to disagree.

      For Florida fans and Tebow, his last collegiate game was everything they could possibly wish for. His numbers were astronomical and probably could've been even more. His performance reminded of watching Bill Walton as a kid in an NCAA basketball final with UCLA where he made almost every shot.

      "It was incredible," Tebow said in the post-game. "Just a great game. It was exactly how you want to go out with these seniors and these coaches in your last game and your last time together. It just really doesn't get any better than this."

      You may not like Tim Tebow because you're sick of hearing of him. You may think he's overexposed and you may think a lot of things. I watched him walk into the Superdome waving in his suit and tie as if he were the Governor. Then, I watched him go through extensive warm-ups where he threw, he ran, he ran routes, he caught passes, he did everything. Truth is, he's an excellent player who backs everything up that anyone says about him. To hear people wonder about if he's a pro or not is sheer lunacy. Based on what I saw, he can play quarterback, running back, tight end and probably linebacker and safety if need be.

      As the fourth quarter started, with UC being outgained 508 yards to 139, the only thing the Bearcats could hang their special white hats on was that they'd only lost the third quarter 14-7. It still had to be demoralizing to hear the Florida blue and orange folks chanting,"SEC" in a taunting fashion.

To give you an idea of how ineffective the UC defense was, Florida's first punt took place at 14:05 in the fourth quarter. Of course, you can't pin it all on UC's defense as Tebow and the Gator offense were absolutely flawless at times.

      "Tim Tebow is a great leader, and he leads his troops into battle, and they succeed," said UC senior Andre Revels.

       UC did move the ball at times in the second half and put another score on the board with just over 10 minutes left when Tony Pike found Armon Binns for six. While it was nice to see Pike and Binns finally hook up, it was honestly a "garbage time" score. But, after getting wailed on most of the game, anything giving fans a reason to cheer is good. Airfare, hotels, long drives, etc. aren't easy--especially when you're team's losing badly.

       Naturally, the good feeling was short-lived, as Tebow led Florida on another quick drive adding to his super human numbers. I said before the game that Tebow didn't have an "S" on his chest and UC shouldn't be intimidated. Having seen it in person now, the guy should have an "S" on his chest because he was unstoppable on this night. (Apparently UC was unable to procure any kryptonite from Dr. Voodoo's shop on Bourbon Street.)

      I suppose out of admiration, UC pulled out their "Wildcat/Tebow" look after months in mothballs when Travis Kelce came in for a couple plays. He did run for 19 yards, but try as he might, he's not Tim Tebow.

      Nobody is.

      While it was borderline punishment having to watch Tebow riddle the Bearcat defense for all of those yards, UC fans can at least say they saw arguably the best college football player of the decade in person.

      That wouldn't have happened at the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

65,207 took in "Tebowstock" Friday night. Years from now, Florida fans will say it was his greatest night ever, while UC fans probably will come around and speak favorably of the lefty.

      If you're into numbers, outside of Alabama in the SEC championship game, the Bearcats 24 points was the most Florida had given up all season. But, let's be honest, it could've been a lot worse.

      With 3:24 left, Urban Meyer lifted "Superman" in favor of back-up John Brantley. Tebow's final numbers: 14 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown, 31-35 passing for 482 yards and three touchdowns. In doing so he collected 533 yards in total offense and obliterated most Sugar Bowl records. 51-24 Florida was your final as the Gator faithful went off to do that annoying chopping motion all up and down the French Quarter.

      And thus, the final offensive play of the "white helmet era" turned out to be a six-yard touchdown pass from Tony Pike to Kazeem Alli with 3:43 left in the game giving UC it's final points. Minutes later the Florida offense ran it's final plays and that was that.

       As the Sugar Bowl came to an end, so did the most confusing month in the history of UC football. A month ago, the Bearcats had an improbable win and all of the momentum in the world heading into their second BCS bowl game.

       Then a coach left despite an unblemished season, another one was hired and an interim was given the charge of beating the defending national champions.

      "It has nothing to do with our team's effort," said Jeff Quinn. "But it doesn't help, you know? It's never easy to have coaching changes right before your season ends. It's hard to do. You go through this thing all together. And it's just like a player not being there that's a key guy. Just like your head coach, Brian Kelly. To lose him at this point was not an easy thing to do. But at the same time, you know, we made the best of it. I'm proud of it, the work our kids put in to get ready for this game."

      The coaching staff at UC did their best, but realistically, most of them aren't going to be around next season. Realistically, the staff and players couldn't have been as focused as they might have been if things were status quo like they were a month ago.

      "The Cincinnati Bearcats this year have been counted out 13 times," said a defiant Andre Revels. "12 times in a row we came away with a victory. One time, one time you guys got it right, and that's today. But don't take anything away from our credibility. Our record speaks for itself."

      Still, Brian Kelly sits somewhere tonight around South Bend with a job ahead of him, but another left uncompleted.

      Onto the 2010 season and Butch Jones and (hopefully) "Back In Black"!

UC-Florida LIVE blog

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Live from Madison Place on Jeremy's couch:

So, white helmets, eh? 

First Quarter

Two quick passes from Pike, one to Gilyard and one to Guidugli. Personal foul penalty takes it into Florida territory. Second and 20, and a Ramsey rush attempt yields another holding penalty. It's declined, though. Pike rolls and his pass is about two first downs away from the first down. UC punts.

The first time Tebow tries to run, Alex Daniels is there to stop him from two yards. John Hughes stops Hernandez on the shuffle pass, and though it looked like a facemask, the officials pick up the flag. On third and seven, Tebow hits Hernandez for the first down. Alex Daniels with the nice sack, and the Bearcats only rushed three times. Another third and (sort of) long conversion for the Gators. Thought there was whistle there and apparently the Bearcats did as well. Tebow runs for 17 yards. On first and goal from the 4, Demps loses a couple and then as he's falling, he hurts his elbow. Tebow to Hernandez, who fights his way through three Bearcats for the 7-yard TD. Could be a long night for UC. Walter Stewart blocks the PAT.

Florida 6, UC 0 (6:13 to go)

Nice, long return for Gilyard. About 41 yards to the UC 45. Trickery. Pitch to Pead, lateral across the field, Pike catches it and tries for the HR to Guidugli. The pass is broken up. Third and 2. Pike with the sneak, and he's nowhere close.

This looks pretty easy so far the Gators. Tebow to David Nelson, who beats Battle, for a first down. A completion to Hernandez, but a block in the back penalty brings it to the Florida 29. So far, who's looked good on defense? Daniels and Stewart. And that's about it. Another sack for Daniels. It'll be third and 16 from the Florida 36. A completion, but short of the first down. Sturgis with the 40-yard FG. I guess you have to count that as a win for UC.

Florida 9, UC 0 (1:20 to go)

A couple of plays that do nothing make it third and 10 from the 23. Pike sacked by about three Gators. Three and out as the quarter ends.

Second Quarter

Tebow has hit his first 12 passes. It'll be third and 1 from the UC 33. Tebow up the middle, and he's met by Schaffer. It'll be fourth and one, and a similar play is called. Revels had a chance at him, but Tebow just got around him for the first down. My wife says, "I don't know much about football, but don't you have to have the ball to score?" Yep. Florida converts another third down. I'll tell you what, the talent disparity between these two teams looks enormous right now. Florida on UC's 7. Wow, Tebow to Thompson for a great catch in the corner of the end zone for the 7-yard TD. Drew Frey was close, but the pass was perfect.

Florida 16, UC 0 (9:07 to go)

Alli has a chance to make a nice catch and get the ball near the first down mark. But he can't hang on. Then, Binns can't hang on. That's a catch he needs to make. Another three and out for UC.

Long pass play and a horsecollar penalty on Revels. The amount of missed tackles for UC is staggering. Major Wright with the easy 6-yard TD run. Yikes.

Florida 23, UC 0 (7:05 to go)

Hey, a first down for the Bearcats. Pike to Gilyard. Temper, temper. Pead cited for unnecessary roughness. Pike to Ramsey on third down, and after a great block by Gilyard, Florida called for a personal foul. It doesn't look like Ramsey was down, though. First down on the Florida 29. On third and 10, Pike overthrows Guidugli. Rogers in for the 47-yard FG. And it's good.

Florida 23, UC 23 (3:11 to go)

Tebow to Riley Cooper for the 80-yard TD. He just burned Battle, and safety Wes Richardson had no shot. This is not good.

Florida 30, UC 3 (3:02 to go)

I'm putting down my pen. I think I'm done keeping play by play.

Can't make tackles. Can't catch passes. Can't block the defensive line.

A missed 39-yard FG basically ends the second quarter.

Thank god the first half is over.

Third Quarter

Looks like the peptalk at halftime worked well. Jake Rogers makes the tackle at mid-field to delay the TD (joke courtesy of CTR). Tebow's passing accuracy has been pretty amazing today. Even when UC is dropping eight men into coverage. Curtis Young tackles Tebow for a loss. And then he celebrates like his team is actually in this game. Yep, Hernandez is a pretty good TE. Third and seven from deep inside UC territory. Tebow has to scramble, and he's inches short. It's fourth and one, and Tebow with the option pitch to Wright for the easy TD. So, how many will Florida score?

Florida 37, UC 3 (11:13 to go)

Pike to Woods for the first down, and that's UC first third-down conversion of the game. Now, UC back in Florida territory. Pike, on third and five, runs for another first down. Ball on the Florida 11. Third and goal. Pike to Woods about a yard short of the first down. I assume UC will go for it on fouth and 1. Pike to Marcus Waugh for the 2-yard TD. And he goes crazy with his celebration. Good for him.

Florida 37, UC 10 (4:46 to go)

Poor Dominique Battle. He's getting toasted in the secondary. Then, Tebow with the easy scramble for the score.

Florida 44, UC 10 (2:06 to go)

Pike just seems a little off his game. Bearcats to punt.

Fourth Quarter

Florida will have to punt from its own end zone. Victory for UC.

UC putting together a drive. Pike rolling out and completing passes. It'll be fourth and two from the Florida 19. Pike up the middle. The pitch to Pead brings up third and 1. An offsides gives UC the first and goal. Third and goal from the 3. Heck of a catch from Pike to Binns for the TD.

Florida 44, UC 17 (10:07 to go)

I wonder if UC had made he national title game vs. Alabama, if the Bearcats would have had a better chance to win.

Chris Rainey jumps over Battle like he's running the high hurdles.

Florida 51, UC 17 (7:06 to go)

Wildcat and whatnot. I like the Travis Kelce handoff to Pead, pitch to Tony Pike, throw to Gilyard, even if it was incomplete. Bearcats get a facemask penalty out of it. Gilyard also is struggling out there. Fourth and nine from the Florida 23. Pike to Woods all the way down to the 1. Darrin Williams takes the carry and fumbles and loses five yards. Pike has to scramble, and he finds a wide-open Alli in the end zone.

Florida 51, UC 24 (3:43 to go)

Without Tim Tebow in there, things go to hell for Florida. Two false start penalties in a row. And that'll do it.

Florida 51, UC 24 (final)

UC-Florida Sugar Bowl preview

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After weeks of build-up, after Brian Kelly left and was replaced by Jeff Quinn who will be replaced by Butch Jones once the Sugar Bowl is over, after Urban Meyer resigned and then changed his mind, after Tim Tebow continued to inspire the masses and after Mardy Gilyard put himself on the national media map, UC finally will get its chance to compete against Florida.


But what kind of chance do the Bearcats have to pull off an upset - and let's be clear: although UC is ranked ahead of the Gators, this would be a pretty big upset - and finish the season 13-0?


Well, it's going to be tough, real tough. The Florida offense isn't just all-world QB Tim Tebow. It's also Aaron Hernandez - the Mackey Award winner for the top tight end in the country. It's also WR Riley Cooper. It's also C Maurkice Pouncey, the Rimington Trophy winner.


Remember, this is also a team that averages 34.7 points per game (while allowing only 11.5), 5.6 yards per rush and 442.4 total yards per game.


But yeah, it kinda always comes back to Tebow, eh?


"They have a tremendous amount of weapons," defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs said. "He's one of the best college football players in the history of the game - if not the best. We've been honest with our kids. Twenty years from now, when they talk about the Sugar Bowl of 2010, they may be talking about the greatest player in college football history being on that field. That's a reality. It'd be foolish not to acknowledge that.


"At the same time, our players don't feel like that it's an insurmountable task. He's a remarkable leader and a great young man. But our job is to do everything we can to control and contain - whatever word you want to use - him as best we can. They've got such an awesome sponsoring cast with a great offensive line, the most athletic and physical."


Said senior linebacker Andre Revels: "Tebow's game is his leadership, the effort he puts forth and the way he rallies his teammates around him. That seems to be his biggest thing. I don't think we're specifically saying we need to beat Tim Tebow in his last game to make him feel bad about life. We're just here to get wins, to strive for perfection. The rest of their offense is amazing. It's not about one guy. Their whole offense is electric. We need to show up and be electric with them."


--Conventional wisdom says the Gators likely will be quicker than the Bearcats today, and that's most likely true, especially Florida's defense facing UC's offense. But, as sophomore running back Isaiah Pead attests, the Bearcats aren't exactly slow.


"They do a lot of things for a reason that other teams wouldn't do," he said. "They blitz to cause confusion; they don't just blitz to make the play. That's a well-coached team. But they're not superhumans. They can be beat. They've got speed. We've got speed."


--By all accounts, this year's trip to New Orleans has been different from the one last year to Miami for the Orange Bowl. Which makes sense. The first time the Bearcats played in a BCS bowl game, they were bound to be blinded by all the flashing lights and attention that comes by playing in a game of that caliber.


The hotel and the guests that stayed there last year would be enough to distract anybody. This year apparently has been different. In part, it's because of what the Bearcats learned last season.


"Just the preparation it takes," senior QB Tony Pike said before the team left for New Orleans. "Obviously, it was a great honor to go to the Orange Bowl, and I think we went overboard and enjoyed the experience a little too much. We know we're going to enjoy the Sugar Bowl and New Orleans, but we know we're going to go down there to get a win."


--<b>Prediction</b>: The question, though, is this: will you, as a Bearcats fan, enjoying watching the tilt tonight? I'm not sure. For every game I've picked, I've chosen the Bearcats to win, and of course, I'm also undefeated. As Michael Buffer likes to say, somebody's O has got to go, because I'm going the other way. Florida will be too much for UC. Too much speed. Too much physicality. Too much talent. The Bearcats will make it respectable, but I'd be really surprised if they win. Say, Florida 38, UC 24.