So, apparently, there's hope the Bearcats can still make the NCAA tournament. That's what Yancy Gates said when I asked him about it after tonight's game. Even in the face of having to travel to No. 8 West Virginia on Saturday, playing host to No. 7 Villanova on March 2 and journeying to No. 11 Georgetown on March 6, Gates still has faith in his teammates.
"With the end of our schedule, we play three ranked teams, and we still have the Big East tournament," Gates said. "With a good showing, we still have a chance to slide back in. We have to play extremely harder and better than we've been playing lately. It will take a huge push from the whole team. Not just a couple players, it will involve everybody to make it happen. We feel we have the players to do that."
If Gates (a career-high 23 points and eight rebounds) and Lance Stephenson (his first career-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds) continue to play this well, that will go a long way in helping.
"Him and Yancy were great, but they were great in practice," Mick Cronin said. "It's amazing how practice is so indicative of the way you end up playing - when you're focused and making an effort to dominate in practice and go after every ball that comes off the rim. Yancy scored because he went after the ball and rebounded."
reason Stephenson played so well - at least in his own mind - is because he
says he stayed in the gym from 11 p.m. Tuesday night until 2 a.m. Wednesday
morning working on his jump shot and his fundamentals with Sean Kilpatrick.
Stephenson's dismal performance against
"It just made me want to go to the gym more," Stephenson said. "I just kept working on my stuff to be perfect for today's game."
Plus, he had the monumental dunk over DePaul's Mac Koshwal that reminded Dan Hoard of James White and Mel Levett. Here's Stephenson's explanation of what happened:
"I don't know, I just went to the basket hard. I know I can dunk on people. I just went hard and jumped, and he lifted me up a little bit higher."
One aspect of the game the Bearcats will have to improve is the team's overall shooting and its ability to make free throws. After the game, Cronin likened his team's shooting to a really good college football team having a really bad place-kicker. That team, Cronin said, feels like it has to score touchdowns because it knows it simply can't rely on the kicker. In the same way, UC can't rely on its shooting, so it has to focus on rebounding and defense.
"We're 27 games in, we're not the world's best shooting team," Cronin said. "But we know we're capable of great defense and great rebounding. That's what we'll have to do to win games. We'll just have to keep on working on making shots and making free throws. We have to play to our strengths. We can't rely on making shots."
And as for the free throw shooting (53.5 percent in the past four games)?
"That bothers all of us a lot," Gates said. "We go through the drills and things where we have to make them in practice, and we make them for the most part. When we see (Vaughn) miss or Dion Dixon miss one, I know it's frustrating for them. It's difficult when you come out and see those guys missing free throws. We just have to be more confident at the line and trust our stroke going in."