UC-Syracuse Rock 'N Roll Party

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The Bearcats scored five points in the final 12 minutes. And as Mick Cronin said in the postgame presser, you're not going to beat what he considers the top team in the country by scoring five points in the final 12 minutes.


This might seem obvious to you, and of course, it is. But the fact of the matter is that the Bearcats had a 49-43 lead against the Orange with the momentum building, and they had a real chance to knock off a team that's lost just once this season.


That's how good UC can be. Then, the Bearcats showed how bad they can play.


"We had a little momentum going our way," said Yancy Gates, who hit all five of his shots from the field (but missed 4 of 5 free throw attempts) to finish with 11 points and five rebounds. "But we started missing shots. Our aggression on the offensive glass wasn't the same as in the first half."


And the vaunted Syracuse zone defense finally took its toll.


"It just keeps trying your patience," Cronin said. "The mental grind of facing that zone wears you down."


At first, the Bearcats played well against Syracuse's defense. With Lance Stephenson manning the point guard spot much of the time - his height helped counteract the bigger guards that the Orange play across the front line of that zone - UC hit enough shots in the first 30 minutes of the game to keep pace.


But Stephenson got a little tentative after a couple of his lobs to UC's frontcourt were deflected, and suddenly, the Bearcats were relying too much on their 3-point shooting - which, as we all know, is not very good (after today's game, they shoot 29.7 percent from behind the arc).


"I'm very proud of our guys' effort for the most part," Cronin said. "But our best three shooters went 2 of 12 from the 3-point line (that'd be Vaughn, Wright and Davis). At some point, you have to make some shots and loosen that zone up. To beat the team that's the best team in the country, you have to shoot a higher percentage. The only team to beat that team this year made 10 threes and 28 free throws."


That'd be Pitt, which actually made 26 free throws but did manage to score 82 points against the Orange.


Yet, even after today's game moved the squad further from the NCAA tournament bubble, Cronin said he was encouraged by the way his team played most of the game.


"The last three days, we've become a much better team," he said. "We were focused on the right things today. Our focus was right where it needed to be today. I wasn't happy with our defense late and I wasn't happy with a few calls, to be honest with you. But if we play the way we played today, we're going to be fine."


--It was striking to me that Gates and Deonta Vaughn entered the postgame presser joking with each other and with smiles on their faces. This isn't a new phenomenon either. Not that I'm saying these games - and losses - don't matter to these players, because I'm sure they do. I just wondered if they feel any sense of desperation as the season begins drawing to a close and seemingly they're, once again, outside looking in for an NCAA tournament berth.


I asked Vaughn about that afterward - if he felt desperate now that UC has slipped to 5-6 in the conference.


"Not too much worried about that right now," he said. "We know we have some winnable games still ahead of us and in the Big East tournament. We still know what we have to do to get a win. We let it slip away against a good team. We still know we have to keep playing. Don't worry about what everybody thinks about us as a team."


--One aspect of this game that really helped the Orange was how well Syracuse made up for the lack of production from forward Wes Johnson, who came into the game averaging 16.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Today, a sore Johnson, coming off a game in which he flipped and fell hard to the court, took three shots and finished with five points and three rebounds.


He also picked up his fourth foul early in the second half and left the game.


It hardly mattered for the Bearcats.


"We won this game without Wes Johnson, and he's good as anybody in the country," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said.

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