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March 2010 Archives

WEST COAST OFFENSE?

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      Apparently, the West Coast offense has arrived at UC.

      That's what it looked like Tuesday. Starting with the sun and the accommodating temperatures to the new wide receiver that last played in Compton at El Camino Community College.

      He was even wearing a jersey colored sun-drenched yellow!

      OK, he's not exactly from California, but he played there and it makes for a better "hook" as they say "in the biz". Kenbrell Thompkins is the highest-rated junior college receiver who played in California, but initially chose to play DI ball at Tennessee.

      Then, Lane Kiffin bolted Rocky Top for USC and Thompkins opted to take the Knoxville bypass to Cincinnati. Now, Thompkins is on the field with a guy that played at USC (Vidal Hazelton) and another guy from Pasadena (Armon Binns).

     "Very, very excited about KT," said Butch Jones in his first post-practice comments on his latest weapon. "It's beginning stages, but you look at Day One and he comes out and I thought mental curve in terms of the functional intelligence, in terms of translating what he just learned in the classroom and taking it to the field, I thought he did a great job."

      For the first day on the field, I was shocked at how often Thompkins was an active participant. Others noticed, and some didn't.

"I think he's pretty good," said Armon Binns. "He's a little raw but he's got some good speed. He's got some pretty good hands, I think he'll do good in the offense."

     "Who's that?", asked Ben Guidugli when I quizzed him.

      To be fair though, Guidugli knew who he was when I described him and he acknowledged the speed and talent of Thompkins. Ditto for Zach Collaros in a brief chat after practice.

      Players are a little more low-key. Coaches sometimes are a little more exuberant over their hard work.

      "I think he's going to add another dimension," said Jones.

       I'm not sure what dimension it is, but Rod Serling worked in Cincinnati, so if it's not the "West Coast Offense" for the Bearcats, perhaps it's "The Twilight Zone".

      "Submitted for your approval"....

      The man responsible for perhaps the most famous catch in Bearcat history (Binns) along with one of the more physically-gifted receivers ever to be a Bearcat (Hazelton); add in a reliable threat who just makes plays (Woods) and "the nearly forgotten one" who seeks to make you remember (Barnett). Now add on a player sought after my most so-called "big name schools" (Thompkins). Wow!

      Just don't let Butch Jones hear you wondering why a player would forsake "Rocky Top" for "The Nipp"....

      "I view us as one of the biggest programs in the country as well," shoots back Jones. "That's what we're working toward--to be on the same stage as the others. That's our mentality. We're going to continue to recruit that way. We've got some great things to sell here in Cincinnati, it's a great city, it's got great people and great players in our program. We've been to two BCS bowl games. That's what we're selling and that's what we have to offer."

      They also have a receiving corps that takes a backseat to none when you add the new additions to TE Ben Guidugli and a seemingly healthy John Goebel who could add that threat out of the backfield with Isaiah Pead. Playing time good be at a premium, but it should lead to premium scoring.

      "Yeah, everybody's not going to get to play," acknowledged Binns. "But, we do a lot of four and five receiver sets, so I think everybody will get a chance to catch some balls and get some touchdowns. We'll be able to get fresh legs on the field and the 'Cats are going to know what they're doing--should be good for us."

      With Binns, Hazelton and Thompkins, "California Dreamin'" right now could turn into nightmares for 12 teams on the Bearcat schedule.

One Final Ovation

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So the cap finally has been put on the 2009-2010 UC women's basketball season, with last Sunday's team dinner and awards ceremony on March 28. Those of you who have followed UC's women's basketball team know that it's been a while since there's been a post-season ceremony honoring the team, so it was good to have that tradition return.

For the record, honors went to Kahla Roudebush, most valuable player; Michelle Jones, most improved player; Shareese Ulis, unsung hero award; and Carla Jacobs, defensive player of the year. All very well deserved, and the Bearcat program will miss Kahla, Michelle and Carla, along with the rest of the seniors, who are moving on 'to find their life's work,' as Paul Brown would say.

But you know who deserves their own award? Their own standing ovation? The parents, the friends, the family members who were at that dinner, were at countless games, cheering these young women on. I've talked before about the support these families give the student-athlete, but sometimes we forget that it means driving long hours in bad weather to watch a basketball game; it means lost sleep getting back home late; it means short weekends after a game.

At Sunday's dinner I saw parents, grandparents, friends, family. All there to honor these women who are the first, the foundation, of the Jamelle Elliott era. And let's face it, the student-athlete gets all the awards, the applause, the accolades, but let's save some of that applause for the families who give up a lot so that their daughters can enjoy the opportunities to play a game they love.

It means a lot for these young women to be able to look up in the stands and see their families cheering them on--not just in basketball, but in life. We say goodbye to these players, but we know that, with the support of their friends and families, they'll be just as successful off the court as on. Best of luck.

Basketball look-ahead, part II

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With the season complete and with some much-needed momentum heading into the offseason, I've put together a two-part list of who will return to UC next season and what needs to happen in order for the Bearcats to complete their comeback by earning a berth to the NCAA tournament. I'll break it down player by player and I'll look into the future to see where this team will stand next year. Here was part I; here is part II.

 

Here we go:

 

Juniors

 

Yancy Gates: He's one of the more maddening players on the team, isn't he? Sometimes, he looks absolutely unstoppable, grabbing rebounds and scoring points at will. At times, he looks like a 6-foot-9, 240-pound monster who can become one of the most-dominant players in the Big East. And then there are the times where he disappears. You saw Steve Toyloy on the court, and you thought to yourself, "Man, Gates has been out of the game for a while, huh?"

 

It's like Mick Cronin said a few weeks ago. Gates, even after two years of college basketball, is still a project. He still struggles with his work ethic in practice, and you have to admit that it's strange that Gates doesn't seem to take umbrage when he's benched during games. He's a happy-go-lucky guy, and that comes through when he plays basketball. Which is partially why he's maddening. He averaged 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, which is fine. But probably not what people expect out of him.

 

Dion Dixon: Last year, I was really impressed with Dixon. He was UC's top player off the bench, scoring 7.3 points per game, and he worked harder than anybody else on the court. He hit some big shots, and he looked like he could be a real contributor. This year, though, was a disaster for him. He couldn't shoot (he was 21.5 percent from the 3-point line), and he simply looked like he had regressed - which is probably why he didn't play as much. I'll be interested to see how he bounces back next season. I still think he could be a regular starter at some point. But I'm less sure of that now.

 

Sophomores

 

Lance Stephenson: Although he didn't live up to his enormous hype - and really, there was a very small chance he was going to do so - he had a solid freshman season. He led the team with 12.3 points per game, and in the last few games of the year, he showed the ability to take over long stretches of the game. It took him most of the year to figure out how to balance his ability to pass the ball and make his teammates better with scoring and leading his team to victory. As Deonta Vaughn's career wound down, Stephenson began to make strides there. If he forgoes the NBA draft and returns to the team, like he says he will, he'll be perhaps the best player in the conference.

 

Cashmere Wright: After tearing his ACL before last season, he waited a long time to see the court, and Bearcats fans were equally as excited to see him in action. The results were mixed. He was still, after all, a freshman, and he made plenty of freshman mistakes. Plus, I'm not sure I've seen another player with the ability to get to the rim so often and then miss so many layups. But he got better as the year went on, and it'll be interesting to see how much he improves in the offseason. Still, he wasn't the most impressive rookie point guard we saw this year. That goes to ...

 

Jaquon Parker: That would be Parker, who wasn't nearly as highly-touted as Wright. And yeah, he went through stretches where he didn't play at all, but toward the end of the year, Parker's toughness, his know-how, and his shooting ability were very impressive. Based on preseason expectations and how he performed during the season, Parker was more exciting than any other freshmen on the roster. I think he could be really good for the Bearcats.

 

Freshmen

 

Word leaking from practices this season was that Sean Kilpatrick - who redshirted - was a beast and, at times, would dominate the proceedings. So, the expectations for him next year will be high. The incoming freshmen recruits are highly-regarded as well. Kelvin Gaines, a 6-foot-10 center, should help in the paint with his shot-blocking ability, and Justin Jackson, a 6-8 forward, will help with defense and rebounding. Also, Anthony McBride, a 6-2 guard who's Gates' brother, will try to find playing time.

Josh "Schneid" Sealed & Delivered The Gold!

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I know many of us don't follow swimming, with the exception of the new fans of the sport courtesy of Michael Phelps; but UC has a swimmer whose name should be remembered as well: Josh Schneider. Josh has made a name for himself in the world of aquatics and didn't disappoint as he won the NCAA 50 yard freestyle national championship, the first UC individual swimmer to do so since 1946. So not only is it a national championship for Josh and UC, its now a set up question to impress your friends or win a wager or two going forward.

We tend to focus on football and basketball and rightfully so; they bring in the money for the other sports like swimming, golf, etc. but we have to acknowledge the success of athletes like Josh, especially if you've ever swam a lap or two in your local pool. While he continues to compete and prepare for post college competition, he must receive his do before he leaves UC.

Josh' accomplishments give UC another feather in its athletic department cap and shows kids that athletes, regardless of sports, will be recognized for their success. I didn't wait for someone else to do it, I am recognizing him here as have the UC media on the university's site and other outlets. So don't say UC doesn't give props to its smaller sport champions because they do. And now its your turn to pass the knowledge on to other UC faithful and alums and yes even aquatic lovers. UC has another national champion swimmer and its been awhile since they have; but Josh got them off the schneid, Josh Schneider that is...

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

THE LIGHTS ARE ON

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uc sugar bowl.jpg

    While I thought I'd get a "Spring Football Round 2" (they practiced twice then had Spring Break off) preview on Monday, I came away without an interview.

      No big deal, I was "unannounced" and Butch Jones and staff were scouring tape and entertaining recruits. Plus, Butch had one of his umpteen luncheon/speaking engagements and was leaving the premises in short order.

      I understand. Really.

      I've been around this a long time and sometimes you get a "scoop" or decent interview by being in the right place at the right time. Other times, it just doesn't matter, you get turned down.

      As someone who's been interviewing people since about 1986, I've probably been turned down a lot. (And, that doesn't even take into account my dating life prior to getting hitched...er...nearly 27 years ago.)

      But, as most experiences are, it wasn't a lost cause.

      I got to meet Butch Jones' new assistant Sherry Murray who now is stationed at the front door in the football office. She formerly was in the UCATS office and I've heard good things about her. First off, she didn't throw me out on my ear--so that's a good start.

      So, being the observant and quizzical type, I decided to take a brief self-tour around the familiar areas of the Lindner Center. (Didn't walk in any "forbidden areas", just places that I typically meander through anyway on a visit to campus covering the squad.)

      While I was in the office, I could tell the front room had been rearranged and improved. For a recruit coming into the office, a more impressive display awaits you. Sherry's there front and center to greet you and it looks like the HG Network invaded and re-did the area.

      The desks and doors look new and now on the wall you see a pictorial display of UC's BCS visits to the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl in back-to-back years. Below that, is a diplay case of souvenir watches from every Bearcat bowl game.

      I told Sherry that I probably had a few of those and sure enough, I have three. As part of the radio crew I was given a Motor City Bowl watch and an International Bowl watch (or maybe I bought them, I honestly don't remember). I do know that I bought my wife and I watches from the Humanitarian Bowl in 1997 because that was such a giant step (at the time) in the program.

      Despite my personal jewelry collection, I would think that would also be noteworthy to a young man to come in and see more of the hardware the Bearcats have earned in recent years (and how it's importance has increased).

      I did get to give Coach Jones a brief, "Howdy Boss!" as he stuck his head out. I'll see him Tuesday and for most of the practices so there's plenty of time to chat.

      In the meantime, I was heading out and so was he.

      Now, I have this weird habit of going to familiar places in different ways. If I went one direction to my morning destination, I usually tend to take a different way home. In this instance, since I entered the building from the Sheakley Lawn/Big O statue area, I decided to take the elevator down lower to go through the locker room hall and out the door to get a peak at the field as I walked back to the garage outdoors.

      In other words, I get the view a player would get as he were coming out for a game (or more often...practice). Yep, I'm strange, but I find it invigorating.

      However, before I went out those doors that I've exited hundreds of times for games and practices, I got sidetracked. The visible, physical improvements to the football areas are also on that level.

      Next to the display of Bearcats who have gone onto the NFL (complete with helmet logos,etc.) is a coaching history display with pictures. From Rick Minter to Mark Dantonio to Brian Kelly, I have worked with these gentlemen and I probably was nearby when those photos were shot. Likewise, Butch Jones is now on the display with his photo from his initial press conference at the Kingsgate Marriott.

      Pretty classy display.

      Then, before heading out, I noticed the hallway by the locker room was brighter. Upon closer inspection, it looked like new "track lights" have been put above the various pictorials exhibited there for UC's modern-era bowl games. Having been "on the air" or working in some capacity in all of these, I still like to look at the pictures and reflect.

      For the record, my hand and microphone are part of the '97 Humanitarian Bowl picture and celebration (I've offered to sign and personalize the photo but have thus far not been contacted). For most of the other photos, I was within close vicinity, so they all bring me great memories.

      Across from the bowl pictures is the better lit display of this year's schedule. While the specific pictures might be private, they show celebrations of the past that are meaningful to every Bearcat.

      Next to the big schedule display is something new. On the wall, it says, "Sample Seat". I'm sure there will be more information on this, but it's in honor of Glenn Sample who passed away in 2008.

      Glenn was an all-sport star at UC and served in a variety of capacities in coaching (most notably for me as baseball coach). He was one of UC's best ambassadors, a star of the legendary "Captain's Breakfast" before spring football games and the Reds official scorer for years and years. He always had a story and a smile and I'm sure this "seat" will be used for great motivation.

      While there, I took a gander at the upcoming schedule. For a team that went 12-0 and then met Florida New Year's night in the Sugar Bowl, getting back isn't necessarily a "given". While Butch Jones certainly has tremendous talent returning, any postseason trip will have been well-earned.

      Like last year (Rutgers) starting off with a road game against a bowl team is not an easy opener. The Bearcats will no doubt have their hands full going against Pat Hill and Fresno State on 9/4 before returning home to play Indiana State the following weekend. Then five days later, they have to play another out of conference road game at North Carolina State!

      That's all followed by the Oklahoma Sooners at Paul Brown Stadium on 9/25. After a bye week, an improved Miami Redhawks team will be here looking for the Victory Bell and then it's the grueling string of Big East games: at Louisville with new coach Charlie Strong 10/15; vs. South Florida and new coach Skip Holtz 10/22; an improved Syracuse team 10/30; at West Virginia on 11/13; Rutgers here 11/20; at Connecticut 11/27 and then another possible showdown with Dave Wannstedt and Pitt at "The Nipp" 12/4.

      Perhaps the Nippert seats will come with seatbelts this season?

      That will all come soon enough. For now, there's 12 more spring practices at Nippert for Butch Jones to evaluate his men and then "Bearcat Bowl IV" April 24th at 7 p.m.

      The stage is bigger and just like the inside football facilities at the Lindner Center, the lights are "brighter".

Visible Progress

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Two sports for the price of one in today's blog, as we reflect on the ceremonies last week to break ground for the new Jefferson Avenue sports complex. Sure, we know it as the soon-to-be home for the indoor practice facility for the football team, but it also will become the new home for UC's lacrosse team.

First, if you haven't read the release, go here: http://www.gobearcats.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/031610aaa.html. You'll also be able to see the video from the event. I was honored to be the MC for the ceremonies, which featured Athletic Department officials, donors and student-athletes.

We all know that this has been a project that has been talked about for some time. Now, it's actually happening. If you drive by the Jefferson Avenue area, you've probably looked at that intersection and thought, 'how in the world are they going to put a football field here?' Well, all you have to do is look as the diagrams of the plans for the area, to get a better picture of what will go where.

In these tight economic times, it's great that the University and its donors have come together to make this facility possible. And it won't be just for the student-athletes at UC, but as Director of Athletics Mike Thomas mentioned, this will be a facility that will be available to the community (maybe the Bengals won't have to bus to an indoor soccer facility anymore).

Sure, it'll get a lot of use from the football team, but it also will be exciting for the lacrosse team to have its own facility as well, complete with bleachers, lockers, press box, all the amenities. As I've mentioned here before, the lacrosse team is really fun and exciting to watch. Right now they're at Nippert Stadium, but with increased visibility and a more lacrosse crowd-friendly stadium of their own, the players will have a nice home field advantage there at the Jefferson Avenue complex.

Applause to UC, its athletic department and the donors who have stepped up to make sure that UC continues to have the best facilities around,  to continue to attract the best student-athletes in the BIG EAST.

Tate surges toward Division I coaching job

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Andre Tate played for Bob Huggins, worked for Mick Cronin and has a good rapport with Kansas State coach Frank Martin and Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy, both former Huggins assistants.

 

But Tate's not ready to call any of them for a job. Yet.

 

He will someday.

 

Tate's been working on building his coaching resume. Last weekend he added the most impressive line item to date, leading Cincinnati State to the championship game in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II tournament. The Surge lost 71-60 in the final to Lincoln (Ill.) College on Saturday night but finished 27-9, setting a school record for most victories in a season.

 

"I knew we were going to be pretty good, especially toward the end of the year," Tate said.

 

This is his second stint with Cincinnati State. He was an assistant for Eric Thomas, then head coach for two years before leaving in 2006 to join Cronin's first staff at UC as video coordinator.  After two years with the Bearcats, the Cincinnati State job opened again. Some officials at the school probed to see whether Tate was interesting in returning.

 

He was. In 2008, he was back in charge of the Surge.

"Those two years over there with Mick at UC helped my coaching a lot," Tate said. "Just strategic-wise - playing the chess game with the other team, seeing the things that they're running, how to take things away, how to create certain matchups for yourself, using the different personnel that you have.

"But I also wanted to be on the floor teaching and recruiting and stuff like that. I just thought I had more to give."

Tate's interest in coaching goes back to his playing days.

He came to UC from Kankakee (Ill.) Community College and started for the Bearcats in 1988-89 and 1989-90. Huggins became UC's coach in 1989 and moved Tate to point guard, where he averaged 17.1 points and 3.4 assists as a senior.

Huggins often told Tate that he'd be a good coach.

 

"I thought I would," Tate said. "I always prided myself in being a coach on the floor. When you're a good point guard, you think like the coach."

Tate played professionally in Puerto Rico, Finland and Turkey and completed the requirements for his UC degree in 1993.

In 2000, former UC assistant Larry Harrison, now on Huggins' staff at West Virginia, encouraged Tate to get into coaching.

And so the dues-paying started.

 

One year as JV/assistant coach at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago. One year as JV/assistant at Englewood High School. One year as head coach at Wendell Phillips High.

 

"It was exciting just coaching, being around the kids and being involved with basketball," Tate said. "That was the most satisfying thing to me when I first started, doing something that I really loved."

 

Then Tate left Chicago, moved to Cincinnati and was athletic director and a substitute teacher at Douglass Middle School in the Cincinnati Public Schools. At the same time, Cincinnati State was looking for an assistant coach. And in 2003-04, he joined the Surge staff.

 

A year later he became head coach. In his second season, he led Cincinnati State to a 26-9 record and a fifth-place finish in the national tournament.

 

In four years as a junior college head coach, Tate's teams are 87-48 (.644).

"I think I'm a good people person," he said. "I think people like playing for me. Kids play hard for me. I've been around. I'm from the inner city. I played JUCO basketball. I played Division I basketball. Kids just feed off of me.

"I want to be a Division I head coach. At the end of the day, that's where I want to be. My strength is working with kids and recruiting kids. I know what I bring to the table. I'm building up my resume."

And when he's ready, somebody's going to get a phone call.

 

Basketball look-ahead, part I

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With the season complete and with some much-needed momentum heading into the offseason, I've put together a two-part list of who will return to UC next season and what needs to happen in order for the Bearcats to complete their comeback by earning a berth to the NCAA tournament. I'll break it down player by player and I'll look into the future to see where this team will stand next year.

 

Here we go:

 

Mick Cronin: Let's start with the man most responsible for the turnaround and also the man with the most to lose. Cronin will enter his fifth year at UC next season, and let's just get this out in front: if he doesn't make the NCAA tournament, the heat he feels next year will be like nothing he encountered this season. If he falls short again, I think his job will be in jeopardy.

 

Cronin, I think, has done a phenomenal job getting this team, which had only one scholarship player returning when he picked up the pieces left by the destruction of the Bob Huggins era, from the cellar of the Big East to the middle of the pack. Yes, the Bearcats' conference record was 7-11, and yes, people are probably tired of Cronin referring to his team as young and that the Bearcats were close to winning so many games if only they had gotten some breaks.

 

But look at his win total: it's increased every season. Look at some of the teams UC has beaten: top-25 non-conference opponents and top-of-the-line Big East foes. At the very least, Cronin has brought UC back to the point of respectability. Now, I understand that's not enough for most fans, and yeah, I can agree with that. People don't want respectability; they want their teams to compete for conference titles. I think Cronin can take this program even higher, but it needs to be next year. Otherwise, all bets are off.

 

Senior class

 

Rashad Bishop: The first question obviously is this: will he be back? I'm not sure, and for now, Cronin isn't talking. I'm guessing he'll return (he was spotted hanging outside the team locker room following its NIT games), but if not, UC didn't seem to miss a beat without him. What Bishop brings to this team is his perimeter defense and the ability to hit an occasional 3-pointer. But if he's a distraction, perhaps his attributes aren't worth it.

 

Bishop, out of anybody in this junior class, has been the most consistent on the court, and although Bishop doesn't strike me as a typical senior leader - not in the same way that Deonta Vaughn tried to be this year - he would be instrumental to next year's team. He's just kind of there in the background, usually playing good defense and occasionally making an impact on offense. You don't base your team on him, but he's usually pretty good to keep around.

 

Larry Davis: What happened to Davis this year? He went from a player who was 15th in the Big East with a 37.9 3-point field goal percentage in conference-only games to a guy who couldn't make a shot if his team's life depended on it. At times, in fact, you wondered why Davis was even on the court. It's a fair question, considering he made only 2 of his final 22 three-point attempts in the last nine games. Cronin obviously had a long leash on him, but Davis needs to improve his shooting. Otherwise, I have to wonder if he'll have any kind of impact on the squad next year.

 

Ibrahima Thomas: He really seemed to hit his stride in the final few games of the season, and he showed some of the potential Cronin talked about last year as Thomas waited out his transfer season. He showed his rebounding ability, he showed he could shoot the ball a bit, and he showed he can bring a certain energy to the team. He only has one year of eligibility remaining, but I think he'll have a strong season next year. He might not be a star, but he'll be a solid starter for this squad.

 

Darnell Wilks: He was the player most helped by Bishop's absence. In the final five games of the season, he averaged 20.6 minutes and 6.8 points. This, after playing a total of 21 minutes the seven games before that. His athleticism can't be denied, and his dunking ability can be jaw-dropping. But the team will need more than that next year from Wilks. He showed he can be a strong contributor. Can he be more than that? If Bishop isn't around, he might need to be.

 

Anthony McClain: Maybe without Steve Toyloy around any more, McClain will have a chance to earn more playing time (he averaged 4.2 minutes per game this year). But at this point, we pretty much know what McClain is capable of giving this team. A little bit of rebounding against teams that aren't quite as big, and a guy who can make a layup if the ball caroms to him. Other than that, I'm not sure what else Cronin can get from him.

 

Part two: Analyzing the junior, sophomore and freshman classes

UC-Dayton Rock 'N Roll Party

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Well, the season is over. And for many, that's quite a relief. Though some people I talked to after the game said the team lost all the goodwill it's built up the past few weeks with a subpar performance against Dayton, I disagree.

 

By winning three of their final five games, I think the Bearcats will go into the offseason with some momentum and a sense of what they'll need to accomplish next year to make the NCAA tournament.

 

Said Mick Cronin, reflecting on his squad's season: "We continued to progress. We really relied on a lot of young players with the freshmen and Yancy. A lot of close calls. It's tough when you're so close in building a program where we had to build it from, but we've improved it every year. But getting close is not where we want to be. That's the frustrating part. If you're me, you have to stay focused on the positive. At times, we were close to getting over the hump, but we didn't, and that's were the frustration comes in.  For the most part (in the past few weeks), we put our egos in our pocket and tried to scrap together and do what we had to do to get wins."

 

The sad aspect of tonight's game was that UC, once again, underestimated its opponent. As Cronin said, the Bearcats didn't start respecting the Flyers until they were losing by 15.

 

"Kids are funny," Cronin said "They were preseason top 25. They had Xavier beat until they had a technical foul in the A-10 tournament and they beat them by 30 two weeks before that, and that's a team that's in the Sweet 16. Guys don't know Dayton. That's part of it."

 

"They made a lot of shots early. You expend a lot of energy coming back. When you're trying to get over the hump and it's such a large number to come back from, fatigue comes into play. You cut it to one, and you run out of gas. What lesson did we learn? Lance just said it. We have to take people more seriously. As a unit, we have to come back next year with the mentality of a team that shows up every night with our defense and our preparation and be mature enough to understand that anybody can beat you."

 

--Senior guard Deonta Vaughn, who passed Danny Fortson for third place on the all-time scoring list tonight, was touched by the standing ovation he received from the crowd when he left the 5/3 floor for the final time.

 

"My four years have been great," Vaughn said. "All four years, I learned a lot about basketball. I matured a lot. I did a lot of great things to get this program back to where we needed it to be. I just like the program and where it's headed in the future. It started with me, (Marcus) Sikes, John (Williamson), Jamual (Warren), and everybody else. I get calls from them, because they still love the program. What we did was help rebuild the program."

 

I asked him if he felt that people recognized him for that.

 

"I feel like a lot of people recognized that," he said. "I get a lot of Facebook messages from fans that know me, telling me that. It's still good to know that a lot of people recognize that, people that aren't even from Cincinnati that tell me I had a great career. Even from some of the other coaches. It's great to have recognition like that."

 

--Mick said freshman point guard Jaquon Parker hyper extended his knee but didn't do any ligament damage. The team felt his absence tonight, though.

 

"Jaquon Parker's injury hurt us," Cronin said. "They were running fresh guys in, and Cash(mere Wright) and Deonta got tired."

 

--Stephenson said once again after the game that his plan is to return to UC for his sophomore season. I guess you can't really count on that until he's there in October for the beginning of practice, but he was pretty believable.

UC-Dayton

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Live from 5/3:

We were just talking about how pumped that this contest was slated for 9 p.m. It's especially good for the newspaper people. But I digress.

Interested to see how this game turns out, especially because Mick has talked in the past about how his team would fare in the Atlantic 10 or how the top teams in the A-10 would fare in the Big East. Well, his squad gets to test itself against a team that finished seventh in the A-10.

Tonight's starters: Jaquon Parker, Deonta Vaughn, Ibrahima Thomas, Yancy Gates, Lance Stephenson.

For what it's worth, Dayton gets a bigger ovation from the crowd than UC initially. Bearcats fans step up their game for Bearcats starting lineups.

Big dunk by Chris Wright. He is pretty talented.

Jaquon Parker still doing a nice job on the offensive glass.

Gates not having a good night so far. He takes an ill-advised 3-pointer and then he picks up his second foul heading into the official timeout.

Dayton 9, UC 5 (15:53 to go)

UC taking bad 3-pointers; Dayton getting open 3s and nailing them. Paul Williams and Mickey Perry hit back-to-back triples to open an eight-point lead. Cronin has to call a timeout.

Dayton 15, UC 10 (11:47 to go)

Dayton hits yet another 3 to make it a 10-point game, but Parker counters with a 3 of his own.

Stephenson goes 1 on 4, makes a sweet finger roll and gets called for the offensive foul. The people aren't happy about it.

A few minutes later, Stephenson runs into a pick and roll and appears to hurt his ankle. He had to be helped off the court, and he didn't put his right foot to the ground.

Rob Lowery hits another trey, and Dayton is administering a butt-kicking. Leading by 14 and Cronin has to call another timeout.

Parker called for traveling, and now, he's in on the ground and in some pain. Dave Fluker is working on his left knee.

Dayton 31, UC 17 (7:27 to go)

Stephenson is back to the floor. He stands outside the UC huddle.

Jaquon Parker, according to my man Antonio Mazzaro who can see him, is under the stands, working on a stationary bike. And laboring.

Dayton, I've got to say, has looked awfully impressive.

Dayton 38, UC 23 (3:45 to go)

According to Antonio, Parker has gone to the locker room.

Keyed by two 3s by Vaughn and some strong Bearcats defense, UC is making a run at the end of the half.

London Warren with the hard foul on Stephenson. After watching the reviews, the officials are going to call that an intentional foul. I don't agree. I think Warren went for the block and just got him in the face. I don't like the intentional foul call at all.

Vaughn takes both free throws and hits them both. UC will get the ball. Stephenson is out of the game again.

Great job by the Bearcats to go on a 15-5 run to end the half and cut the lead to five.

Vaughn leads the way with 16 points. UC is shooting 34.5 percent from the floor and 29.4 percent from the 3. Dayton is 51.6 and 50, respectively.

Dayton 41, UC 36 (half)

Stephenson looks OK. He starts off the second half with a three-point play.

Ref almost tees up Cashmere Wright after he complains about another foul call. The ref had already formed the T and was about three inches away from putting his hands together.

The game has gone crazy.

Dayton 46, UC 43 (15:25 to go)

Dayton, so far, making just enough plays to keep UC at bay.

Gates with two points and three rebounds with 12:15 to go. I'm sure Cronin expected more.

Dayton 52, UC 47 (11:37 to go)

I'm sure the zone defense UC is playing was supposed to prevent Devin Searcy from throwing down that nasty slam.

And with those free throws, Vaughn surpasses his season high of 20 points.

Dayton 59, UC 53 (7:43 to go)

If it wasn't for Deonta Vaughn, UC would be down by 20. Or more. If this is the end for him, a nice way to finish off his career. Except for the loss, of course.

UC has made one field goal in the last 7 1/2 minutes.

Dayton 65, UC 55 (3:37 to go)

Well, Vaughn is giving it a good run, but he's not getting much help from anybody else.

The "We are UD" chants begin with 1:04 to play.

Before he's taken out with about 30 seconds to go, Deonta Vaughn gets some love from some of the Dayton players. Nice standing ovation from the crowd left. Hugs from London Warren and Mick Cronin. And then everybody else on the bench. Even one of the refs shakes his hand.

He finishes with 28 points.

Dayton 81, UC 66 (final)

BEARCATS HOPE TO FLY TO #20

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   On a night where Deonta Vaughn became UC's all-time assist and three-point leader, the Bearcats advanced in the NIT with their 19th win of the season. Not surprisingly, they were outshot by Weber State (45 percent to 39). On the other hand, they forced 23 turnovers and outrebounded the young men from Ogden, Utah 34-32.

      For all of that, they get to play the Dayton Flyers. A 21-win team that did away with Illinois State Wednesday night 63-42. Needless to say, the Flyers will be more amped up to play the Bearcats than Weber State was.

      For the record, Dayton and UC shared three common opponents this season. The Flyers lost two of three to Xavier, beat Miami (OH) and they only lost to Villanova by six in a road game with Jay Wright's bunch (whom UC also played close).

      The Bearcats have now won three of their last four and are showing a scrappiness that could keep them alive for a few more games.

      That's the goal. After a reasonable amount of success during the Big East tournament, they would love to return to Madison Square Garden one more time.

      "We wanted to come out here and start again so we could get back to New York," said Deonta Vaughn who dropped in a team-high 16 points with seven rebounds Wednesday night against Weber State.

      "Of course, it's a goal," said Lance Stephenson when asked about returning home again to New York City. "I love playing in front of my friends and family. We've just got to play hard and keep winning so we can get back."

      Based on the last four games, UC should give any opponent a fight. Despite not shooting well, they're finding other ways to keep hanging around.

      "I think we're more focused on defense than we were in the other games," said Stephenson. "We've been talking in the gym about who's getting picked and when to switch. We're more focused in the game.'

      While 19 games is fairly mediocre by normal UC standards, in the difficult four-year span that Deonta Vaughn's played, it's a new high. Mick Cronin also was quick to point out that Vaughn's Bearcat records came without the supporting cast that many players previously have had. Vaughn did not play with the Martins or the Maxiells. Instead, he had the Hrycaniuks and Allens

.      "Me and coach Cronin are always saying we're going to get at least 20 or 21," said Vaughn when asked about setting a four-year high. "We just improved every year and got better as a team. I'm just thankful to play with some of these players."

      20 might not be as easy though.

      Dayton's already sitting on 21 and there's no doubt they're looking forward to playing UC. They've only beaten the Bearcats twice in 20 years, but they will be up for the game and they will certainly bring more fans to Fifth Third Arena than the unfortunate few who made the drive from Ogden to watch Weber State.

      "I know a few of them," said Vaughn of the Flyers. "To us, it's just going to be another game. All Ohio schools think it's rivalry against each other because you're in the state of Ohio. Everybody wants to be one of the best teams in Ohio. You've got to just worry about the next game and stay focused and take it one game at a time."

      So, Vaughn and Steve Toyloy live to play another day on their home court. Only 2,410 came to see it and that's unfortunate. Fortunately, for me, it allowed me a chance to sit with my family close to the court behind the legendary Oscar Robertson.

      The Hall of Famer is a show himself.

      I'll allow him some privacy in his opinions and thoughts, but suffice it to say, the "Big O" is a fan of Lance Stephenson and Darnell Wilks. There's a certain hand motion my father does when he disapproves of something on the basketball floor--as it turns out, Oscar does it too when someone's being taken out of the game that he thinks should still be in.

      Either way, the Bearcats are going to have to "man up" for this next tilt with Dayton, even if everyone else is under-whelmed with the NIT. If you are, I understand, but you play the hand you're dealt.

      "Unfortunately, we play in the Big East which can be pretty cruel to young teams at times," said Cronin. "We lost too many close games. So, onward and upward to the NIT. An ESPN2 game (vs. Weber State) helps recruiting. It all helps recruiting. It helps improvement of the program. Winning in March is a habit. Playing in March is a habit. When you're building a program, that's important."

      One thing that Cronin left out there...winning in March is fun. Winning equals fun, fun equals fannies in seats. By my calculations, over 11,000 chose not to have fun Wednesday. I assure you, if Bearcat fans don't step up and claim their seats, you're going to see an infiltration of blue-shirted Dayton Flyer fans in the "red sweater" sections.

      Whatever you may think of this team, they don't deserve that.

MO DON'T GO...

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Momentum has no loyalty but we can at least petition him to stick around a while. After getting the goose egg off the Big East Tournament scoreboard, UC posted an impressive win over Weber State which sets up the game tonight (Monday) against the Dayton Flyers. The Flyers have two things going for them year in and out: They are active on the court and around the ball and they have diehard fans! I expect to see a healthy dose of Flyer fanatics in the building for sure. I know, I know, we are too refined to embrace the NIT and heaven help you doing it for the kids!

I'm just hoping the 'Cats play like they have of late, and players who showed so much promise show us its now reality. I also hope players who thought they were better than advertise will recommit themselves and as a team they send these seniors out with another trip to the final four. Deonta Vaugh was one of the guys who came here inspite of...regardless of and not because of. We all owe him support because as this program turns that slow corner to progress and respect, I will remember the soliders of hoop who came here against all odds and said give me a shovel and a hammer; I want to help rebuild UC basketball. Deonta (or Deon-Trey as I used to introduce him) you put in work and there's a cornerstone with your name on it here at UC in the hoops department. And its not bricks; but bricks and mortar.

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

Collaros, the favorite but not yet the starter

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Sometimes, junior quarterback Zach Collaros feels like the first-team quarterback. Like when he's taking those first-team snaps or when he's thinking back to his performance last season when he replaced an injured Tony Pike or when he's thinking ahead to the possibilities of next season.

 

But, in a flash, those thoughts filter away. Unlike Pike, who was entered last spring knowing he'd be the starting quarterback for the 2009 season, Collaros isn't assured of anything. Yes, his name is at the top of the depth chart right now. But that doesn't mean it will stay that way.

 

"We've talked about building our intensity each and every day," coach Butch Jones said. "Competition is great. Every day, they're going to have to compete. We compete in everything we do - in the classroom, in the community and on the field. The quarterback situation isn't any different.

 

"We probably won't know who the starter is until a week before our first game. Does (Collaros) have an advantage? Yeah, he has an advantage because he's played and he's done some things. But Fresno State doesn't care who made the plays last year. I like the quarterbacks' mentality. I see a great competition, but I also see them helping each other."

 

Going by last year's performances, Collaros would be the easiest pick to replace Pike. After all, he took over for Pike in the middle of the South Florida game and ran for a 75-yard touchdown and finished the game with 194 total yards while leading the Bearcats to the victory.

 

Overall, he started four games, completing 75 percent of his passes for 1,434 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also finished third on the team in rushing with 344 yards on 57 attempts (a 6.0 yards per carry average) and four touchdowns. He showed just how dangerous he can be in a spread formation.

 

Meanwhile, Chazz Anderson - who's No. 2 on the depth chart - played in just four games last season and threw only six passes. You might remember he quarterbacked the Rutgers win two years ago in place of Pike, but then again, that was two years ago. After Anderson, you've got redshirt sophomore Brendon Kay and some incoming recruits who would like to take a crack at the starting job (Travis Kelce, you might remember, has moved to tight end).

 

"I always try to approach practice the same way, being as prepared as I can be and working as hard as I can," Collaros said. "It's a little different getting the first snaps. It's exciting. You feel like you're the guy. But Chazz is a great quarterback, and we're going to be back out there battling for it."

 

Collaros knows he's built a small portfolio of work. But in a new system with new coaches watching, he also knows this: he's not going to be handed the quarterback job just because he had some success last year.

 

"It's kind of the same system with a little bit different terminology," Collaros said. "I'm anxious to get out there and show (the coaches) what I can do. They've seen some film, but I need to come out and perform. I never was the starter, so I'll just come out here and work as hard as I can."

Looking back at Year 1 for Jamelle Elliott

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Every coach would like to win more games then they lose, I think that goes without saying.  And while the Bearcats did not accomplish said goal this season, they did accomplish a lot.  First and foremost, they adjusted to a new head coach.  For Kahla Roudebush, Michelle Jones, Stephanie Stevens and Carla Jacobs it was their third head coach in four years.  That means twice going through transition and figuring out what a new coach expects. 

The Bearcats won on the road, in conference play, three times.  For the second year in-a-row, they won a first round BIG EAST Tournament game as the underdog.  They were picked to finish 16th in conference play and finished 14th.  Most importantly, they learned how to win.  With their backs against the wall at Louisville, they fought back, eventually winning in overtime.  Again, in a bad way at Syracuse they found a hero in Shareese Ulis, sent the game to overtime and stole a crucial road victory. 

Now the key is for the Bearcats to learn how to win consistently.  For Jamelle Elliott, winning is all she has ever known.  During her 16 years with UConn, she won over-and-over again.  She wants to do the same at UC.  While that sounds like a lofty goal, can you blame Coach Elliott for setting it?  It is all she knows. 

During her four years as a player for the Huskies, Jamelle lost 18 games.  Her first year here at UC she lost 18, won 12.  You know who else won 12 games their first year as a head coach?  Jamelle's mentor, Geno Auriemma.  His first year at UConn, the Huskies went 12-15.  Followed by 14-13 and 17-11.  It was not until his fourth year in Stoors, that the Huskies made the NCAA field for the first-time in school history.

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Comparing Jamelle to Geno isn't exactly fair.  Geno is a hall of fame coach, who has been a head coach for 25 years.  He took over a program that had one winning season in their history. One. The Bearcats have 22 winning season all-time, and hopefully more to come, with Jamelle Elliott leading the charge. 

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as I will take a look back at the Bearcats incoming class and also look back at the accomplishments of the 2005 recruiting class and what they accomplished over the course of five years. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on the season, shoot me an e-mail: Tom.Gelehrter@uc.edu and maybe I will do a mailbag on the first season of the Jamelle Elliott era, here in the near future.

UC opens spring practice

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Of course, there was plenty of over-the-top yelling and plenty of coaches whistling and plenty of players woofing and plenty of managers screwing everything up. Which led to even more over-the-top yelling.

 

This was the first day of spring football practice, so, of course, all of this was occurring, just like it does on every football campus about this time of year. At UC, it happened the same way under the reigns of Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly. With Butch Jones, it was more of the same.

 

At the same time, though, Wednesday's first of 15 spring practices was a bit different. There was the yelling and the woofing and the cheering. But there was also something else - there was also a little bit of sportsmanship.

 

Never was that more evident than at the end of the 2 ½ hour practice than when the players lined up and shook hands with each other before leaving the field.

 

"We talk about in our football family that we want to compete in everything we do," Jones said. "A lot of times during practice, especially in the spring, there's an offense vs. a defense mentality. But what they understand is once the double horn blows and practice is over, we're one. We're the Bearcats. That's just a very fitting way to end practice. Now we come together as one."

 

Said junior defensive lineman John Hughes: "That's just showing sportsmanship after everything we did today. We're showing that we still love each other. These coaches care a lot about team chemistry and how everybody gets along with each other. That makes it more of our team. These coaches are a lot more in tune with the brotherhood of the family."

 

The end of practice handshake line wasn't the only aspect of the practice that was a little different than what we've seen before. Music played over the loud speakers during warm-ups, and Jones chest-bumped players before chiding the managers for not spotting the ball correctly (though he apparently was a little less brutal with them than Kelly might have been; Kelly, after all, could curse you out with the best of them). And for some reason, and I'm sorry I forgot to ask for an explanation, there were two ladders in the middle of the field where the quarterbacks were throwing (my best guess was that maybe the ladders were acting as really, really tall defensive linemen).

 

Bill Koch had an even better line.

 

"Maybe," he said, "after practice, they're going to do some painting."

 

Either way, the mentality at practice was just slightly different.

 

"The intensity is a lot higher in everything we're doing," junior quarterback Zach Collaros said. "Even coach Jones is running around here chest-bumping before practice. We go a little bit longer. The receivers, when they catch the ball, everybody has to get to the ball, even the other receivers to get a block down field. It's just real high intensity."

 

Jones knows these players know how to be successful. Now, he has to mold them into the mindset that he wants to see from them.

 

"I like our kids' mentality, and the mindset is they expect to win," he said. "You wouldn't want that any other way. But we're also an extremely young football team. We have a lot of young guys. There's some teaching for them. They're eager, but we have to teach them what we want. But they're winners. We're not having to come in here and try to build a mentality of how to win. They already know how to win. They've proven that. But there are also some individuals who have already hit a triple without coming up to bat. They have to understand the work ethic that comes into it."

UC-Weber State Rock 'N Roll Party

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A nice night for the Bearcats, and a really, really nice night for senior guard Deonta Vaughn as he broke the school record for made 3-pointers (passing Darnell Burton) and assists (passing Eddie Lee). He knew he was getting close to those historic marks, but he didn't exactly know how far away he stood. He found out tonight. 

 

"It feels good to be among the greatest at shooting threes and dishing the ball to my teammates," said Vaughn, who finished with a team-high 16 points and seven assists to go with five rebounds in UC's 76-62 win against Weber State. "I knew I was chasing the record. I just never knew how far I had to go get it. I'm glad my family didn't tell me."

 

Then, during a second-half timeout, his record was announced to the crowd, and he received a standing ovation. He tried to ignore it, but eventually, Mick Cronin made him stand up and acknowledge the cheers.

 

"Coach was trying to be funny for a little bit and get me to stand up," Vaughn said. "I wanted to sit down and finish the first game of the NIT off right."

 

Before the season, Cronin heard the rumblings that, if Vaughn had another good year, he'd have a chance at climbing to No. 2 on the all-time scoring list. He wasn't sure that was possible, because he knew the scoring totals were going to be more balanced this season. But he was excited that Vaughn notched the two records tonight.

 

"The assist record is something that goes unnoticed," Cronin said. "For three years, he shouldered the burden of scoring, and he still distributed the ball. And no disrespect, but he was not playing with Kenyon Martin and Jason Maxiell. A lot of guys missed some layups where, when they were playing in the Big East, they were in over their heads."

 

--One reason the Bearcats shot 93.8 percent from the foul line - intense pressure during practice.

 

Cronin runs one drill where the team, beginning with the seniors and working its way to the freshman, has to make 21 free throws against a 5-minute running clock. If a free throw is missed, the entire team has to run a sprint up and down the floor as the clock continues to move. Fail to make 21, and the team has to run six more sprints.

 

Up and down the court?

 

"It depends," Cronin said, "on how tired I think they are."

 

Before Tuesday's practice, the Bearcats hadn't succeeded once this season. They finally reached their goal the day before the Weber State game.

 

"It's a true test of focus and toughness," Cronin said. "The NCAA tournament teams I coached made it all the time."

 

--Redshirt freshman guard Cashmere Wright hurt his hip after falling to the court following his made layup. Wright has a bit of a problem during practice falling on the court - probably because his speed gets the rest of his body out of control.

 

"He needs to stop falling down," said Cronin, who also said Wright should be fine for the second-round NIT game vs. the Flyers.

 

-- No word on the when the UC-Dayton game will occur. But there's a pretty good chance it would occur either Friday or Monday.

UC-Weber State LIVE blog

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Live from 5/3:

I said on the radio today that I thought UC would get a crowd of about 8,000, and I said I'd "be surprised" if only like 3,000 people showed up. Yeah, I might have been wrong about that.

There are about four Weber State students sitting behind the team bench, raising signs that read they drove 1,500 miles to be here for this game. I think that's pretty strong.

Starting five: Jaquon Parker, Deonta Vaughn, Lance Stephenson, Ibrahima Thomas, Yancy Gates.

Bearcats are putting on some full-court pressure in the early going.

UC 6, Weber State 0 (15:55 to go)

Weber State finally gets on the board with 15:35 to go on a 3-pointer from Damian Lillard.

Seven of UC's first eight shots are 3-pointers. Only two of them have gone in the basket. Make that eight of nine, but Wilks' hits his.

Weber State 10, UC 9 (11:52 to go)

After falling behind by a point, UC scores seven straight, topped off by a 3-point play by Parker.

It's clear the Bearcats full-court pressure is bothering the Wildcats.

But like usual, the offense has been rather uninspiring. UC is shooting 26 percent from the floor and 27 from the 3.

Just before the media timeout, it looks like Stephenson got hit in the face or something. He's slow to walk to the huddle.

UC 18, Weber State 16 (7:22 to go)

Stephenson, I guess, is fine. He's at the foul line.

That full-court pressure causes three straight turnovers. I've wondered all year why UC hasn't done more of this.

Make that, four straight turnovers.

After another turnover, Wilks with the reverse pump slam. Pretty cool.

UC on a 14-3 run.

UC 32, Weber State 19 (3:17 to go)

All of a sudden, UC is playing like a world beater. On a 17-0 run.

A couple 3-pointers by Lillard in the final 1:08 cuts the lead a little bit. But Larry Davis with the 3 from the corner at the buzzer.

Stephenson has 12 points, as UC shoots 40.6 percent from the floor and 41.2 from the 3.

Weber State has 15 turnovers.

UC 40, Weber State 25 (half)

Vaughn gets a standing O from the crowd after it's announced that he's the school's all-time leader in assists and 3-pointers. It's during a timeout, but Vaughn stands and waves to the crowd.

Wilks with the alley oop from Stephenson. With the foul. Then, he goes over and slaps his teammates' hands on the bench.

UC 50, Weber State 32 (15:41 to go)

UC getting a bit sloppy, but still maintaining its lead.

UC 56, Weber State 39 (11:46 to go)

And suddenly, the game draws closer. A three-point play by Hughey cuts the lead to 10 after McClain fouls him as he makes the layup.

UC has gone cold, cold, cold. Which, I guess, is pretty normal.

Perhaps Stephenson should refrain some shooting long distance for a while. First he badly misses a 20-footer off the side of the rim and then he air-balls a 3.

After a nice layup, Wright lands hard on the floor. He's in some pain. It's his lower body. Maybe his hip?

UC 61, Weber State 51 (6:58 to go)

Cashmere Wright is no longer on the floor or on the bench.

Randy Rahe gets called for the technical, and then he apologizes to his team. "My fault," he says.

UC 69, Weber State 55 (3:58 to go)

Time for some walk-on action - Eddie Tyree and Alex Eppensteiner. And the crowd goes wild.

Vaughn leads the way wih 16 points and seven assists. Stephenson with 14 points.

UC shooting 39.1 percent from the floor and 39.3 percent from the 3. And a whopping 93.8 percent from the foul line.

Dayton awaits.

UC 76, Weber State 62 (final)

BINNS THERE, DONE THAT

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      It might have been the biggest catch in the history of UC football. At Heinz Field early last December, Armon Binns hauled in a Tony Pike pass that pretty much wrapped up UC's Big East championship and a trip to the Sugar Bowl. (Of course, it was the extra point by Jake Rogers that put the Bearcats up 44-43, but conversions aren't nearly as exciting as diving grabs in the endzone!)

      On the receiving end of that pass was #80, Armon Binns. Flash forward to the beginning of spring practice under new coach Butch Jones and you see the difference between the low-key Binns and the high energy of Mardy Gilyard. Gilyard would probably give you a five-minute description of that highly emotional catch. Binns pretty much shrugs it off.

      "Believe it or not, I've forgot about that catch altogether," said Binns.

      O.K.

      I'll play along. Focus forward.

      Now, Binns takes the place of Gilyard as the elder statesman of the receiving group. He went from a role player in the background to a guy that benefited from double coverages on Gilyard. He excelled so much, that defenses later in the year were doubling him.

      With Gilyard off to the pros, Binns could see more double coverage again. Armed with lessons from Gilyard though, Binns is ready for whatever the opposition has.

      "It showed me how to work and how to be confident," said Binns of his past time with Mardy. "It showed me how to put yourself in position to be a draft pick and someone who plays at the next level."

      Don't look for Binns to grow the reggae hair with beads. That was Gilyard, Binns is a completely different person.

      "That's not really my style," said Binns. "I'm going to joke around here and there, but Mardy's a flamboyant guy and that's why we love him."

      Exit Gilyard and it's Binns and D.J. Woods back hauling down footballs at a rapid pace. Plus, there's the USC transfer that some may have forgotten in Vidal Hazelton. After sitting out his mandatory year, some believe Hazelton could be as productive as Gilyard. Binns, like Hazelton is from California.

      "Vidal's been really anxious and he's been working really hard this winter," said Binns. "He's got that hunger that we all need to have to be the best we can be. We just talk about being the best receiving corps in the country. We talk about all three of us making plays, scoring touchdowns and being guys that DBs worry about."

      Three Amigos. Tres Hombres. Whatever you want to call them, it should be a triple-threat much like last season's threesome. You double one, the other two get you. You double more than one and look out for Isaiah Pead or Zach Collaros coming right up the gut in the open field.

      Butch Jones really has more weapons than the hunting section at Dick's.

      "Definitely," said Binns. "We feel that we should improve. We've got a good quarterback in Zach. He's got experience and he's going to distribute the ball all around--should be a lot of catches."

      That's the plan at least.

      The only thing that may stop Binns and the Bearcats from lighting up the scoreboard at Nippert at this point is burnt-out bulbs.


First and foremost, I obviously hope the Bearcats win their opening round NIT game tonight against Weber State.

 

But almost as much, I hope Dion Dixon has a good game.

 

As frustrated as we all were by Dion's costly mistake at the end of the West Virginia loss in the Big East Tournament, you have to have some sympathy for a 20-year-old kid whose anguished reaction has been replayed approximately one billion times on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and any other ESPN platform that I'm forgetting.

 

Dion Dixon anguish re.JPG 

"You feel terrible for him obviously," Mick Cronin told me.  "In sports, things like that happen - it's an unfortunate thing.  Whether it's a kicker that misses a field goal to win the Super Bowl . . . you don't forget, but things like that happen.  It's over, you have to deal with it and move on."

 

I understand why ESPN kept cutting to Dixon with his head buried in his hands at the end of the game - it was compelling video that summed up a heartbreaking loss better than anything the announcers could say. 

 

There's been abundant analysis of why Dixon got the ball in that situation.  To review, the game was tied at 51 with 6.4 seconds to go when Deonta Vaughn inbounded the ball to Dixon.  Dion was supposed to feed it right back to Vaughn to dribble up the court and try to make a game-winning play.  Instead, Dixon thought that his defender went too far to one side trying to steal the ball, giving him a wide-open path to dribble up the sideline.  The mental mistake of ignoring the intended play was compounded by a physical one when Dion dribbled the ball off of his leg and out-of-bounds with 3.1 seconds remaining. 

 

I asked Coach Cronin on Monday night's radio show to outline what he drew up in the huddle.

 

"Lance was the first option (to receive the inbounds pass) . . . Cashmere was the second option . . . and Dion was the third option.  If you get four guys up there, you're not going to have any space.  Lance was double-teamed and I thought we checked off of Cashmere a little early - because he did break wide-open after a second-and-a-half in reviewing the tape.  But I understand what Deonta was thinking.  When a guy (Dixon) is sprinting up from half-court, he usually has enough room to get open and Deonta thought he was going to be able to get it to him and get the ball right back."

 

Keep in mind that Cincinnati had just used its final time out to avoid a 5-second call, meaning Vaughn undoubtedly felt pressure to get the ball inbounds quickly.

 

"His clock was definitely clicking a little bit faster," Mick said, "and he looked at Cashmere for a second and thought, 'I see Dion running up here, he's going to be open so I'll just throw it to him and get it back.'  They had nobody guarding Deonta in that situation.  But your internal clock is running pretty fast if you're the guy inbounding the basketball, there's no doubt about it.  Things happen - it's a crazy world sometimes.  You feel bad for Dion . . . but the guy didn't have to bank a shot in."

 

TV viewers saw a bunch of replays of Da'Sean Butler's 24-foot game-winning bank deposit, followed by a similar number of replays of Dixon regretting the biggest gaffe of his athletic life.

 

Wouldn't it be great if we saw numerous replays of a great Dion Dixon highlight tonight?

 

* * * * *

 

So the e-mails and texts have been pouring in since last Friday night asking me why David Letterman did a series of Chuck Machock gags throughout his show followed by shots of yours truly laughing hysterically in the audience.

 

If you missed it, you can see the opening monologue at http://tiny.cc/QaRio

 

Here's the untold story.

 

Last year I attended a taping of the Late Show With David Letterman with Bill Koch from the Cincinnati Enquirer and learned that Dave comes out and takes a question or two from the audience before the show begins.

 

Well, I returned last week and was picked to ask a question before Friday's show, so I asked Dave if he would like to join me as a guest color commentator on 700-WLW radio during the Big East basketball tournament.  When Dave started laughing, I told him that I was serious because my broadcast partner Chuck Machock was kicked out of a game once for yelling at the refs and I might need Dave's help if it happened again in New York.

 

Here's a photo of Chuck being escorted off the court by a cop in the 2003 NCAA Tournament game between Cincinnati and Gonzaga.

 

Chuck Gets Tossed re.jpg 

And here's a photo of CBS using a telestrator to point out where my color analyst was supposed to be sitting.


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Letterman was amused to learn about Chuck's infamous moment and turned it into a running bit.

 

However, one key segment didn't make the broadcast.  Just before doing the Top 10 list, Dave read a card that explained what happened to Chuck and introduced me in the audience.  I was a little surprised that it got edited out because the whole gag (including numerous shots of a certain bald guy in the crowd) would have made more sense to somebody watching at home.

 

Still, I must admit that it was pretty cool.  And if the Bearcats make it back to New York for the NIT Final Four, Dave has a standing invitation to join us on the broadcast.

 

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-Weber State preview

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Remember a week ago when UC was in the middle of a drought in which it had dropped five of six games and was headed to the Big East tournament with zero momentum on its side.

 

Who thought the Bearcats could make any kind of run in New York? Who, at the time, thought a postseason berth of any kind was secure? Who thought they could save their season - and the wrath of the fans against Mick Cronin - in just three games?

 

Who thought they would have been excited with an NIT selection?

 

Not many, that's who. Not me, for sure. But after surviving Rutgers and, stunning Louisville and pushing West Virginia until the final second of the game, the outlook for UC is suddenly much more positive. It's two victories away from a 20-win season. It gets at least one more opportunity to play in front of a home crowd. It gets to continue to try to win in the month of March.

 

"It's about how to win in March and how to stay focused in March," Mick Cronin said. "We've played very few games in March. It was good for us to stay in New York as long as we could and it will be great to stay in this tournament as long as we can. It's good for us to go through the process of being in the postseason."

 

If anybody has impressed since the beginning of the Big East tournament, it's been freshman forward Lance Stephenson. After a solid freshman season in which he unanimously was voted onto the conference's all-rookie team - but still failed to live up to the expectations that were set for him before the season - Stephenson had big breakout games on national TV during UC's tournament run. What was most impressive was that he, for the first time in his college career, simply took over games.

 

He recorded 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists vs. Rutgers and then followed that with 12 points against Louisville and a 19-point, seven-rebound performance in the West Virginia loss.

 

"He's just a young player with talent finding his way," Cronin said. "They can't be who somebody wants them to be. They have to worry about getting better every day and giving their best effort. It's just a process they go through. Lance's biggest growth recently has been that his rebounding has gone up and his turnovers have gone down. That's been big. He's struggled when he's turned the ball over. It's hard to put the ball in his hands, if he's not getting shots off. There's no doubt he's been more aggressive lately, but it's all in the decisions he's been making lately."

 

And as for the thoughts of Deonta Vaughn, who will never play in the NCAA tournament?

 

"It's not the tournament that I wanted, but what can I say?" he said. "We lost a tough one (vs. West Virginia) that hurt us deep down. I've never been to the NIT either. It's better than the CBI."

 

--Cronin reiterated during his Monday news conference that Rashad Bishop is still suspended. Aside from that, he didn't have much to say about the junior forward who averaged 8.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and provided the team with its best perimeter defender.

 

To Cronin, the squad is deep enough to withstand the loss of just one player.

 

"I don't think we're that much different," Cronin said. "Our rebounding and our defense were excellent in New York. Those were two things he did really well. Jaquon (Parker) is capable of giving us toughness and Ibrahima (Thomas) and Darnell (Wilks) both rebounded the ball. They're the guys who took up most of those minutes."

 

--Cronin also discussed how sophomore guard Dion Dixon is handling the aftermath of his last-second turnover in the West Virginia game that ultimately led to the banked-in 3-pointer by De'Sean Butler that gave the Mountaineers the win.

 

"He's better," Cronin said. "It's just an unfortunate one of those things as a young player. You can't think about one play. We missed numerous tip-ins in the game. We missed free throws. We all had mistakes, including myself throughout the game. You can't put the blame on one player or one play at the end of the game."

BUTCH BUBBLING OVER

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      In about three months time, the "Brian Bubble" has become the "Butch Bubble". We're talking the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex here. It's the semi-open area from what's left of the old Sander Hall up to the Corry Lot and beyond.

      For a wad of cash, you can have your name on it. Just look up Andy Hurley and you can see your name in lights for the next 15 years or so (or however the contract is negotiated).

      While the facility will be eventually used by women's lacrosse and some other community functions, its primary use is to give the UC football team their own practice facilities. I was told that pretty much everyone has such facilities with the exception of Marshall and Miami (OH). It may appear to be a case of "keeping up with the Jones'". Actually, it's about keeping Jones here (as it would've been with that fellow that left for South Bend).

      Butch Jones fully knew what was on the menu here and it definitely was a factor in him signing on with UC (contractual details in Tuesday's Enquirer).

      "I knew a lot about it and it was obviously a great draw," said Jones. "It just illustrates the commitment this great university has to collegiate athletics and the total development of the student-athlete."

      You can say what you want about Brian Kelly (and many have) but he did leave Butch Jones with a well-oiled late model "vehicle" so to speak. He was also instrumental in getting this new "garage" built.

      "Anytime you can go into a controlled environment, especially in the offseason and be able to work on your timing (is good)," Jones said Tuesday. "So much of football is timing."

Jones' timing couldn't be better.

     'No question," said Jones. "You always look at how you can develop your football team. Can you take each person and develop them to their fullest. This is going to be another great tool for us--to be able to provide the best a student-athlete could ever want."

      So, perhaps we'll call it "The Tool Shed"? Personally, I like the "Butch Bubble".

      Among those speaking at the groundbreaking was a UC football player with great perspective. Chazz Anderson as a junior should get a couple years use of the new fields. Certainly, we all know Chazz can play football (quarterbacked the team to a couple wins in 2008 when Tony Pike was hurt).

     What many didn't know (and found out) was what a poised speaker he is in a formal setting.

      Chazz "represented the C" Tuesday. He represented class and Cincinnati.

      "This facility as a football team serves as our home away from home," said Anderson. "It serves as a shelter in the cold winter months. I was one of those people standing outside in the cold. I understand, my teammates understand what it means to have something like this. If we want to transform the community, we need to be able to have resources like this."

      Considering some of the University's biggest and best donors were on hand for the celebration, it might not have been a bad idea to have passed a plate after the Reverend/Senator Chazz Anderson was finished. He spoke completely off the cuff and was persuasive and convincing.

      Anderson represents the combination of student-athlete as good as anyone. Tuesday, he spoke as if he were on campaign, Wednesday he'll campaign for some playing time with fellow quarterback Zach Collaros.

      Oh yeah, while the silver shovels dug into the ground, your Butch Jones 'Cats are about to hit the ground running for the first of fifteen spring practices (including the Bearcat Bowl April 24th).

      Personally, I find it quite humorous that day one of the "Jones era" begins on St. Patrick's Day when the Irish are drinking.

      Bad references aside, it's an exciting time for anyone involved in the UC football program. And, at this point more are involved than ever. Ask Larry Sheakley, the donor who put up millions toward the Jefferson Complex.

      Now, all Butch Jones has to do is get the Bearcats on the field and get back to the momentum that led them to a 12-0 regular season record.

      "Really, really excited, can't wait," said Jones when asked about hitting the current practice facility a/k/a Nippert Stadium. "I hope the weather continues to cooperate. It's been a long time coming, everyone's looking forward to it."

      Perhaps that's why Jones is anxious to get his men on the field. He's taking a little different path initially by scheduling a couple practices early.

      "We have two practices right away, then we'll break for spring break," said Jones. "I think it'll be great because our players will learn the expectations. The first two practices are in helmets and shorts. So the foundation will be laid so when they come back from spring break they exactly understand the expectations."

      Translation?

      Have a good spring break guys, but come back ready to get after it. Remember, Jones coached under Brian Kelly and Rich Rodriguez before unleashing his own rapid-fire style at Central Michigan.

      "Very uptempo, very intense, we're learning as we go," said Jones. "(It's) another step in the evolution of our football team and our football program. You know there's been very minimal growing pains up to this point in time."

      It'll be a typical spring day (although not quite spring yet). Jones gets to back out the 'Catmobile, dust it off and then mash down the pedal like a teen in their first car.

      Let the road to the BCS begin....

NOT IN TOURNAMENT--BUT THIS AIN'T BAD

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      Deonta Vaughn never made it to the NCAA tournament in his time at UC. While he's far from alone in that category, it is disappointing given the four-year starter put up numbers that made him one of the top scorers at UC ever. (Plus, putting it in perspective, those figures came from four years in the Big East--the toughest conference the Bearcats have ever played in.)

      The upside of all of this is that Deonta and fellow senior Steve Toyloy DID NOT play their final game at Fifth Third Arena in the Senior Day loss to Villanova. Much like Eric Hicks in 2006, Vaughn will have a chance to continue squeaking the Adidas on Ed Jucker Court as UC could host up to three NIT games. The first being Wednesday night at 7 p.m. against Weber State.

      "It feels kind of good," said Vaughn "It ain't the tournament that I wanted. What can we say? We lost a tough one and that kind of hurts deep down inside for everybody. But, you know, it's the NIT. Ain't never been there neither."

      A lot of the Bearcats I talked to, bypassed the NCAA Selection Show, knowing that their name wouldn't come up on the big screen. Others, like Yancy Gates, had other viewing plans. Gates claimed he was more interested in the "Reggie Miller Show" that ESPN had to offer.

Then there's Deonta Vaughn who said he didn't watch the show on purpose. Nor, did he watch the Big East final that he'd hoped to play in.

      "Nah, I didn't want to watch it," said Vaughn. "I saw on Top 10 (Butler's shot to beat Georgetown). He traveled too. You know it's the Big East. It's a whole different atmosphere when you play top teams and top players. They get a lot of respect. My hat goes out to Butler."

      His hat goes out to Butler, but his heart remains torn. Deep down he knows UC could've been there. Their shooting touch might still qualify them for an honorary membership in the Greater Cincinnati Homebuilders Association as "brick" experts, but the 'Cats played with the toughness and "Maui Mojo" that we saw back in November when they knocked off Vanderbilt and Maryland and were a missed foul call from beating Gonzaga.

      By the way, the Commodores, Terrapins and Bulldogs are all in the field of 65.

      While Vaughn passed on the Big East game and the NCAA Selection Show, he did take in the NIT event on ESPNU. He there found motivation to play hard on Wednesday against Weber State. While he didn't know much about Weber State in the Big Sky, he did find out about one talking head who was flinging stuff around to see if it would stick.

      "I haven't ever heard of them," said Vaughn of Big Sky runners-up. "I don't like the comment that the sports announcer made saying they were going to beat us (Mike Kelley on ESPNU, former Wisconsin guard). We just have to go out there and show them different. They're a little conference and we're Big East and we still we don't get no respect though we play a little school. We're still a Big East school. We should have the upside against them because of the teams we play against and how physical we play."

      Mick Cronin chimed in immediately after Vaughn's diatribe, "Actually, I paid him to say that because I knew you guys would watch."

      "Mike Kelley's fired!" said a still-perplexed Vaughn.

      For motivational purposes, I wouldn't be shocked to hear that Kelley's comments were played in and around Weber State video sessions. Heck, I might put it on the scoreboard right before gametime if I were Cronin.

      Once he settled down, Vaughn admitted that the NIT appearance should still be good for the program. With eight teams in "The Big Dance" it has to be frustrating to miss out (especially when you've beaten several teams that made it). Then again, UC might still be playing when a good many NCAA teams fall short Thursday and Friday.

      "It'll mean that we made a lot of progress," said Vaughn on continuing play in the NIT. "Then next year, with Coach Cronin and those guys they can go on and make it to the NCAA tournament. First we had CBI, now we have NIT and hopefully next year they'll make it to the NCAA."

      It's not the way Cronin and Vaughn had it all planned, but given the cards that were dealt, it was the best they could do. Truthfully, many of the NIT teams are flat-out better than some in the NCAA field.

      But, the tournament's success relies on those "underdog" schools that get in and knock off a "Goliath". It's one of the more popular sporting events going, so it's not going to change anytime soon.

     Sure, some want everybody in, and UC would be in if that happened. But, it's something that isn't broke--so don't fix it!

      In the meantime, enjoy the NIT and enjoy the opportunity to watch your team extend their season.

     For those that return this fall, it could be a meaningful experience.

UC officially in the NIT

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Just got off the conference call with Mick Cronin regarding UC's inclusion in this year's NIT. The Bearcats will play Big Sky opponent Weber State (20-10) Wednesday at 7 p.m. at 5/3, and Cronin said the team couldn't be happier about it.

 

"We have finals week, so playing a home game is something we were hoping for," said Cronin, whose squad could play Dayton in the second round. "If we can win, we'll have two home games. Just from an academic standpoint, we're thrilled about being at home. To get a chance to play again in front of our fans, it's something our guys will be excited about. We had a great run in New York, and our guys are looking forward to playing again this week."

 

Though on Sunday night, he didn't know much about Weber St - he hadn't seen the Wildcats play at all this season - Cronin knows how important a run in the NIT could be to this team to bring some momentum into the offseason.

 

"Whenever you can win games in March, it's a good habit to create for your program, starting in the conference tournament and then in your postseason, wherever it may be," Cronin said.  "Especially when you have lot of young players, you're creating habits. That's creating winning habits in March, which is what college basketball is all about. Now that we have this opportunity, we have to make the most of it."

 

As for Rashad Bishop, who was suspended for the Big East tournament because of the violation of team rules?

 

"I have no comment," Cronin said. "His status remains unchanged."

Thank you, parents

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Covering a couple of very different sporting events today reminded me about how important having support at home is for young athletes. The first, was a wet, soggy lacrosse game at Nippert Stadium, which UC won handily, by the way. But of the 100+ who were there, I'm sure the majority was made up of friends and family.

And all I can say, is bless 'em. You have a feeling there are a half dozen other things parents and families could be doing on a Saturday, but they chose to support their student-athlete at the game.

Now, the other sporting event I've been attending is the high school basketball tournament-regionals in Dayton. And more often than not, when it's the final home game for many of these teams, the cheer block points to the stands and chants, "Thank you, parents." Now, how cool is that?

My parents didn't wait for me to play basketball or soccer, but they did wait for me when our little singing group, the "Misty Crystals," practiced a couple of times a week. (Mary Travers was my idol) I wasn't old enough to drive, so the only way to get me back and forth, was to shuttle me around. I hope I thanked them for doing that, but I think they knew anyway that I appreciated the opportunity.

So whether you're supporting a lacrosse player, basketball player or soccer student-athlete, we all say, thank you parents, families, and everyone who gives these young women support as they follow their dreams. You rock.

Is there someone you'd like me to write about at UC women's sports programs? If so, drop me a note at bross@gamedaypr.com and let me know. And thank you for reading.

 

"SHOT PUT" THE CATS OUT OF THE TOURNEY

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We've all probably seen West Virginia's last second shot and the turnover several times now and it was a reminder of how exciting the tournament can be good or bad. Arguably the Big East Tournament is one of the best year in and year out because of games like UC-West Virginia and the 5 overtime thriller last year. Say what you want but UC did earn some respect and 2 wins to eliminate the ghost of tournament past. While everyone still has thier doubts about Mick, there was the improvement factor and you can now say next year the expectation should be a tournament berth, NCAA that is.

As Dion Dixon relives the play over and over again it will now develop and/or reveal his character. We all make mistakes but on this stage they're never forgotten. He has an off season to get better, as do the rest of the 'Cats, and come back with a Chicago chip on his shoulder ala Chicago's finest Michael Jordan. You root for and want to see players like this rebound from a embarrassing moment to a shining one. How sweet would it be next year to see him practice and play with a purpose so when he's put in that position again the results will be the complete opposite. UC has people talking again and losing Deonta' Vaughn will hurt but for those who've been looking for playing time, here's your chance to snatch it and keep it. But more than that work on your game offensively especially; the tough D kept you in games but you have to win on both ends of the court to get to that Sunday evening in March of '11 to hear "The...seed is the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, who are finally back in the NCAA tournament."

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

Another Top Ten List From The Big Apple

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Greetings from the Bolt Bus - my preferred mode of transportation when traveling between Boston and New York City.  Cheap + abundant leg room + wireless internet is a winning combo.  Especially the cheap part when I turn in the receipt to Dave "Yid" Armbruster at WLW.

 

Unfortunately, I'm on the bus two days too soon after Thursday's kick-to-the-onions loss to West Virginia in the Big East Tournament.  Oh well, at least I'll be home in time to watch Letterman tonight (hint, hint!).

 

For the 2nd straight day, here's a Letterman-inspired Top 10 list from New York.

 

1.  The Big East Tournament

 

When a former US President and one of the 5 coolest people on the planet attend the quarterfinal round of a conference tournament, you know it's a big deal.

 

Seeing Bill Clinton and Denzel Washington at Madison Square Garden last night was a reminder that we ain't in Conference USA anymore (didn't run into either of them in Hattiesburg or Birmingham).

 

A lengthy stay in New York is painfully expensive, but if you have the dough and the time, attending the Big East Tourney is as good as it gets for a college basketball fanatic.

 

2.  The future of the Big East

 

I hope the schools the schools that are being courted by the Big 10, consider the prestige of the Big East Tourney before bolting and destroying the league as we know it.  Of course, the fate of the 16-team Big East will obviously come down to one thing - money.  Doesn't everything?

 

Here's the obvious fix - do whatever is financially necessary to get Notre Dame to join the league for football - even if it's a ridiculously one-sided deal.

 

Notre Dame wants to remain an independent in football, but probably doesn't want its other athletic teams to get stuck in a Big East that no longer includes the likes of Pitt, Rutgers, or Syracuse.

 

The Fighting Irish could join the Big 10, but there's no way they would get a sweetheart deal from Ohio State, Michigan, etc.

 

If the Irish join the Big East for football, the league's problems are solved.  It would forever guarantee a spot in the BCS, and give the Big East leverage with the TV networks (or help the league to form its own).  It would give the league a 9th football member to make scheduling easier, without forcing the league to add to its already hefty number of 16 basketball schools.

 

So do whatever it takes:  Allow the Irish to keep a bigger chunk of the TV money and all of its bowl money (they already do anyway) . . . move the league offices to South Bend . . . make Catholicism the official religion of the Big East . . . you get the picture. 

 

I don't care how you do it - just save the league.

 

3.  Dion Dixon

 

I feel really, really badly for the kid, but in my opinion he probably shouldn't have handled the ball.

 

I know what Mick was trying to do.  Since West Virginia wasn't guarding the player throwing the ball inbounds, he put Deonta Vaughn in that spot to pass it in and then get it right back while racing toward the basket.  It's a concept that worked to perfection last year against Eastern Kentucky, when Deonta sprinted up the court and threw an alley-oop to Yancy Gates for a dunk that forced OT with 0.1 left in regulation.  Vaughn was wide open last night and waiting for the pass when Dixon had a brain-cramp and decided to dribble.

 

Associate head coach Larry Davis told us after the game that Dixon was put in because they trusted his ability to get open and catch the ball.  The coaches know which of their players can do that better than I do.  Still, if at all possible, I would have liked to see the 'Cats draw something up to get it to Lance Stephenson.  If he can't get open (and he was double-teamed), one of the point guards would be my next choice in case they were forced to handle the ball.

 

Not for nothing, but Rashad Bishop would have probably been the inbounder if he hadn't been suspended.  WVU wouldn't have been able to double-team both Vaughn and Stephenson.

 

4.  Darnell Wilks

 

If you've listened to our radio broadcasts, I've probably been more critical of Darnell than any other player this year.  But he was terrific in all three games in New York, and I'll give Mick credit for sticking with him.  Wilks proved he can be a valuable piece to the puzzle if he's willing to attack the offensive and defensive boards.

 

"The most important thing was that his defensive was pretty solid," Coach Cronin told me.  "He has always struggled on the defensive end.  He's made shots for us when open all year, but his rebounding was what I was proud of the most."

 

5.  Mick Cronin

 

One of the most frequent criticisms leveled at Mick is that his players don't always play hard enough.  Nobody could say that in New York.  If wasn't always pretty, but the 'Cats laid it on the line for 40 minutes every night.  It's an encouraging sign moving forward.

 

"It was tremendously gratifying," Mick told me.  "My biggest challenge all year was to impress upon the guys to play with heart, passion, and toughness.  We had a team meeting before we came up here and basically talked about exorcizing the demons of our season.  We've lost a lot of close games to some tough teams and we tried to wipe the slate clean.  It's been liberating to just worry about effort and fight.  Never stop fighting until the bell rings - that's been our M.O."

 

6.  The NIT

 

It's not what we hoped for going into the season, but I enjoyed the NIT games during Andy Kennedy's season as head coach, and if the 'Cats are picked for that tournament this year, I'm looking forward to seeing if they can continue to play like they did in New York.  If so, they could be back at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, March 30th.

 

7.  Bob Huggins

 

Thursday's win was the 664th of his career, pulling Huggs even with John Wooden for 21st on the all-time list in Division I.  I hated losing last night, but with UC and Syracuse out, I'll be rooting for the Mountaineers to win their 1st Big East Tournament title in 15 tries.

 

8.    Rich Chvotkin

 

The legendary radio voice of the Georgetown Hoyas is a hoot.  If you think my man Chuck is excitable, he's Garrison Keillor in comparison to Chvotkin.  Rich is famous for screaming "Hoyas win" multiple times whenever Georgetown pulls out a big game.  When the clock was winding down on the Hoyas upset over Syracuse yesterday, several media members stopped watching the court and turned toward Chvotkin to observe his hysterics.  He yelled "Hoyas win" nine times.  I'm setting the over/under at 10 for tonight's game against Marquette.

 

9.  Sean Kilpatrick

 

When the Bearcats took the floor last night, six players walked out to the center of the court - the five starters and redshirting freshman Sean Kilpatrick who enthusiastically tried to pump up his teammates.

 

It's too soon to say if he's going to be a great college player, but SK is one of the most likeable kids I've seen in 15 years of covering Bearcat basketball.  His personality reminds me a bit of my all-time favorite Bearcat Melvin Levett.  I think he's destined to become a fan favorite.

 

10.  The Late Show With David Letterman

 

Tonight's the night.  Since Dave's P.R. person confirmed a few details for the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Kiesewetter, I guess I can share a few more.

 

On Monday, I attended the taping of tonight's episode of the Letterman show.  Before each taping begins, Dave takes a question or two from the audience.  I was picked and asked Dave is he would like to join me as a guest color commentator on 700 WLW during the Big East Tournament.  When he laughed, I informed him that I was serious because my partner Chuck Machock was kicked out of a game for yelling at the refs once and I might need help if it happened again.

 

A running gag quickly developed.  You can see for yourself tonight.   

 

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

 

 

STAND IN AWE OF WAUGH

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(Photo Chris Granger/New Orleans Times-Picayune)


      For the most part, 26 NFL teams represented at UC's Pro Day were looking at the usual suspects: Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard. But, good teams find gems in some of the lesser-known participants.

      From my eye, Alex Daniels turned some heads with his versatility and strength. Craig Carey also played a variety of positions, but has the body and hands of a good tight end.

Brad Jones turned in some good numbers and it's evident that he's kept busy since the Sugar Bowl.

      Then there's Marcus Waugh.

      Listed at 6 feet and 270, he's probably more like 5-11. He says his weight is down. He doesn't look particularly sculpted running with his shirt off.

      But, he can run, he can hit, and he just likes mixing it up on the football field. He also is the strongest Bearcats (based on in-season numbers). While he had a good showing at UC's Pro Day, it still wasn't the best Marcus Waugh has to offer.

      "Yeah, it was a nerve-wracking day," said Waugh. "I kind of psyched myself out on the bench, I only did 29 (reps of 225 pounds). I haven't done 29 since my freshman year of college. It was rough for the bench, everything else turned out fairly well."

      Waugh was outlifted by both Alex Daniels and Curtis Young, who did 31 reps. The frustrating thing for Waugh was he figured he'd have the best numbers hands down.

      "38 is my best," said the still-optimistic Waugh. "Getting like 10 reps below that is kind of disappointing. At the same time, it's the best the fullbacks did in the combine. I could go down right now and do 35 just to get my confidence back."

      A bruising runner in high school, Waugh played special teams, fullback, defensive line, center, tight end and linebacker at UC. He just wanted to play. Players like Waugh are a peculiar breed--they enjoy bone-crushing contact.

      Most of the NFL scouts should know that. Most also know that he's the proverbial "freak" with the weights. What maybe they didn't know is that Waugh can carry his 260-pound load in rapid fashion over 40 yards.

      "It was a rough day," said Waugh, still a little miffed over his lifting numbers. "Other than that, out here with the drills and the running, I did really well. 4.71 is what I did (in the 40). That's also the fastest in the combine (for fullbacks). I feel like I did myself some justice here."

      His workout reminding me some of Ryan Manalac's from last year. He doesn't drop your jaw as you watch him in his Under Armour, but his numbers are solid across the board. For his efforts, Manalac got some preseason work with the Buffalo Bills. Waugh is hoping for the same and hopefully more.

      "Yeah, everything's been encouraging," said Waugh. "I've got a workout with the Bengals. The Carolina Panthers and the Giants have been talking to me as well. It gives me both confidence and hope to make it in the NFL."

      Like many Bearcats, Waugh's been working with a number of advisers to attract some NFL attention. Pro offenses feature a lot of unsung fullbacks and Waugh's hoping to become the latest.

      "I've been working out with Ignition," Waugh said (same group Connor Barwin and others have trained with). "The guys have really helped me get my speed up. I've lost about 10 pounds so far--it felt good to run a good time."

      Truthfully, NFL fullbacks rarely run 40 yards. They're usually bulldozing holes for the tailback to get all of the glory. He got some experience in UC's "jumbo" packages, but was on defense in '09 for the most part.

      On occasion, he would also line up as the tight end and he had the good fortune of catching a touchdown pass from Tony Pike in the Sugar Bowl. He's also featured on the cover of the most recent UC Magazine cover with Nick Stone, the young cancer patient whom the Bearcats "adopted". Suddenly, Waugh's a little bit in demand after toiling in the background during his college career.

      "Yeah, it was really nice," Waugh said of his Sugar Bowl score. "I think I have a lot to offer for the NFL scouts. Just to get a chance to go to camp is all I want."

      Again, who knows?

      What is known is that in FRONT of every good tailback is a battering ram that most people never hear about. Nowhere on your fantasy team is there a spot for a fullback.

      In REAL football, the Marcus Waughs of the world are invaluable.

It all looked and felt too familar

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If you're a UC basketball fan, you've experienced plenty of moments like tonight, when West Virginia stunned the Bearcats 54-51 at the buzzer in the Big East Championship quarterfinals.

Two memories come to mind immediately:

1. Charles Williams losing the ball out of bounds, setting up Xavier's upset when UC was No. 1 in November 1996.

2. West Virginia hitting a halfcourt shot to knock the Bearcats out of the 1998 NCAA Tournament.

UC was a No. 2 seed that year and beat Northern Arizona in the first round of the NCAA. Bob Huggins was coaching against his alma mater and against former Cincinnati coach Gale Catlett,

The Bearcats were ahead 74-72 with 7.1 seconds left, West Virginia's Jarrod West took the inbounds pass, dribbled to halfcourt and fired away. UC's Ruben Patterson tipped the ball with his middle finger. The ball went right in for a Mountaineers upset. Certainly the stakes were higher that night; UC would've advanced to the Sweet 16.

Now, back to Williams. (Dion Dixon played his role tonight, losing the ball out of bounds in the final seconds to give the Mountaineers the chance to win)

It was Nov. 26, 1996, and the Crosstown Shootout was at Shoemaker Center. The Bearcats were the top-ranked team in the country and a 171/2-point favorite against Xavier.

The game was a classic Shootout that came down to the end. James Posey's basket off an inbounds play with 6.7 seconds remaining tied it 69-69. Williams was running up the court with the ball, then dribbled it off his foot. It went out of bounds to Xavier.

You know the rest: XU guard Lenny Brown nailed a jumper at the buzzer for a 71-69 Musketeers victory.

Well, tonight UC fans got to add another gut-wrenching moment to the vault.

UC-WVU LIVE blog

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Jaquon Parker gets the start at point guard. The reset of the starting lineup is predictable.

Jeez, I wonder if it will be one of those nights. Ebanks slips, falls into Gates for the foul, throws the ball over his head toward the basket sight and unseen, and gets the roll for the basket. It's a 3-point play.

Stephenson picks up his second foul just 2:57 into the game. Not a good foul.

Missed layups, offensive fouls, not a good start.

WVU 9, UC 3 (15:08 to go)

I wonder if UC will ever score a field goal in this game.

WVU 15, UC 4 (11:39 to go)

With 9:18 to play, Lance Stephenson's reverse layup was UC's first field goal. The Bearcats missed their first 10 shots.

I wonder if they're nervous with Bill Clinton in the stands.

And Vaughn hits a 3 to cut the lead to nine.

WVU 18, UC 9 (7:45 to go)

Lance Stephenson, instead of waiting until the second half, is taking over the game in the first half.

WVU 21, UC 16 (3:53 to go)

UC isn't doing much on the offensive glass, but Ibrahima Thomas' putback cut the lead to three, and then, Wilks' ridiculous dunk makes it 21-20.

UC playing a zone on defense. Not something you see every day.

UC has had four chances to take a lead. The Bearcats have not succeeded on any of them.

But Larry Davis' 3-pointer ties the game.

And little-used Jonnie West with the 3 at the buzzer to take the lead.

WVU 26, UC 23 (halftime)

That's not good. Stephenson takes a hard spill, and he takes a while to get up. He stays in the game.

UC scores its first second-half point 3:33 in on a free throw by Gates. Still no field goals this half.

Cashmere Wright has pretty much been terrible.

WVU 32, UC 25 (15:59 to go)

Man, Bill Clinton knows everything about everything, it seems. If he was asked about why Jaquon Parker should be playing more than Cashmere Wright, he could probably tell us.

Gates hits a short jumper with 12:38 to play. That's the first field goal for UC in the second half. The Bearcats missed their first seven shots.

WVU 36, UC 30 (11:27 to go)

Stephenson with the drive to the basket, and he's hurt again. Looks like he hit his head against Thomas' knee. But he's OK. He's shooting free throws.

UC is shooting 27.9 from the floor and 27.3 from the 3. Plus, WVU is barely ourebounding the Bearcats.

WVU builds the lead to nine, but a Lance Stephenson floater cuts it.

WVU 45, UC 38 (6:03 to go)

The Chuck Machock gag never gets old. ESPN points out that it's been 266 games since he's been ejected from a game.

The Bearcats showing more full-court pressure now as the game is winding down.

Vaughn's 3 with 3:31 to play cuts the lead to 47-45. Then Wilks with the ridiculous put-back to tie the game.

Huge shot by Kevin Jones.

Gates misses a layup and Vaughn then misses a 3.

WVU 49, UC 47 (1:45 to go)

Stephenson will take two free throws. He makes one.

Wow, lucky break for WVU as Ebanks scores the layup just before the shot-clock buzzer went off.

WVU 51, UC 48 (:53 to go)

Stephenson with the 3 with 42 seconds to play. Unreal shot ties the game.

WVU 51, UC 51 (0:30 to go)

Ebanks drives and airballs his layup attempt. Shotclock violation.

UC has the ball.

WVU 51, UC 51 (0:06 to go)

Dion Dixon loses the ball on the inbounds, and WVU will have the ball with 3.1 seconds to play in their half of the court. Looks like he just lost the handle on the ball. Poor guy, he looks like he's ready to vomit on the sidelines because of his mistake.

Ridiculous shot by Butler at the buzzer. A 3-pointer with Stephenson draped all over him. What a shot - banked in. Terrible way for the Bearcats to lose that game.

WVU 54, UC 51 (final)

A New York City Top Ten List

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Good afternoon and greetings from the Big Apple.  I'd love to be here for a few more days - especially since somebody else is paying for the hotel room.  A cup of coffee in the lobby is $6 . . . WLW will be happy to know that I've been willing to walk a block to get my morning caffeine fix at a diner. 

 

I arrived in New York on Monday and had the opportunity to attend a taping of the Late Show With David Letterman (more on that later).  In honor of Dave, here's a Top 10 list of observations after Cincinnati's wins over Rutgers and Louisville.

 

1.  Lance Stephenson. 

 

He may not have been "Born Ready" but he's certainly "been ready" here in New York.  Lance has relentlessly been taking the ball to the basket.  Of his 26 shots in the first two games he's only attempted two 3-pointers, and when Lance goes strong to the bucket good things generally happen.

 

I was thrilled for him when he was named the Big East Rookie of the Year on Tuesday because Lance has a burning desire to be great and understands that he has still has a ton of room for improvement.   

 

"Lance has been a guy that we've relied upon a lot and it's been tough on him this year because so much was expected of him," Mick Cronin told me.  "He's played well of late and I'm proud of him.  He's had to deal with a whole lot of pressure - probably too much at times - but I like the frame of mind that he's in right now.  He's playing really strong, physical basketball of late, and really rebounding the ball.  He's evolving as a player and hopefully he'll keep it up because we need him to play well."

 

"(Winning the award) means a lot," Stephenson said.  "Without my teammates, my family, and coach, I don't think I would have won this honor.  I'm just going to keep working hard and try to get better every day."

 

2.  Ibrahima Thomas

 

When the 6'11" junior transferred from Oklahoma State we were told he was a good athlete and decent shooter but wasn't much of a rebounder.  I'm not sure if the scouting report was lousy or if Ibrahima has drastically improved, but he is rapidly becoming a force on the glass.

 

"His length allows him to be a good rebounder and also his pursuit of the ball," Coach Cronin said.  "He has good energy and he's not afraid to go get the basketball - in particular on the defensive end.  Yancy is not the best defensive rebounder - he blocks out but isn't as quick to the ball because of his size.  Thomas plays above the rim with his length and he can go and get the ball out of his area.  He's become one of the better defensive rebounders in our conference over the last month and that's been big for us."

 

The next step for Thomas is to score in the paint.  He's making 27% of his 3-point shots, but he's only making 39% of his 2-point shots.  The second number has to get better.

 

3.  Yancy Gates

 

The big guy can be extremely frustrating to watch.  After he went 4-for-13 from the floor against Rutgers - and only 1 of the shots was from more than 5 feet from the basket - I was tempted to remind Yancy that the dunk was legalized in college basketball in 1976.

 

But I'll give him credit.  I thought that Gates played with as much energy and emotion against Louisville as he ever has as a Bearcat.  His defensive work on the perimeter in slowing down the pick-and-roll in the second half was a big key to why the Cardinals only scored 25 points in the last 20 minutes.

 

4.  Jaquon Parker

 

You can't win in the Big East without warriors, and I think Parker fits that description.  He continually ripped the ball away from Louisville players in traffic to grab 7 offensive rebounds last night, and he's averaging 10.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in the tournament. 

 

Not for nothing, but the Bearcats are 4-1 in the games that Parker has started this season.

 

"Jaquon is still making the adjustment to being a primary ball-handler and hasn't always been able to get consistent minutes," Mick told me.  "From here on out, he's going to get consistent minutes because of the situation that we're in (Rashad Bishop's suspension).  I'm committed to playing him and he's going to continue to battle.  The one thing that's great about Jaquon is that he's always going to battle for you.  He finds a way to stick his nose in there and make plays.  He may not be the best shooter in practice, but he's not afraid to make a shot in a big-time atmosphere like the Big East Tournament."

 

5.  Rashad Bishop

 

I don't know the details of what he did or didn't do, but I was very surprised by his suspension.  Unlike Alvin Mitchell who was an obvious pain-in-the-neck before being booted from the program, I haven't heard many complaints about Bishop over the last three years.  The 'Cats haven't needed him so far in the tournament, but Rashad certainly could have been helpful tonight to defend West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler.

 

I hope he learns from this and is reinstated after the Big East Tournament.  Mick made no guarantees when I asked him about Rashad's future.

 

"I'll meet with him when we get back, but right now I'm worried about the Bearcats and the guys that are here," Cronin said.

 

6.  Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas, and Bill Raftery

 

I obviously haven't heard their work during the first two games of the tourney but I'm sure it's been terrific because I think it's the best broadcast team in any sport. 

 

(In the interest of full disclosure, Sean was one year ahead of me at Syracuse and is a close friend.  I think he's as good as any play-by-play announcer in the business.)

 

When Raftery does a UC game, he always approaches me before tipoff and asks, "What's the number?"

 

That has nothing to do with gambling . . . it's a reference to how many consecutive games Chuck has done since being ejected.  The "number" is up to 225.

 

7.  Officiating in the Big East Tournament

 

I'm not sure if it's as easy to tell on TV as it is in person, but it is all-out war in this event.  The officials are letting just about anything go.

 

That's been good for UC.  It's hard to get 28 offensive rebounds (as UC did against Louisville) if the officials are calling the ticky-tack stuff.

 

8.  Nick Lachey

 

UC's most-famous celebrity fan was in the front row on the baseline last night and then spent a few hours hanging out with Bearcat fans at a New York City watering hole after the game.

 

I can't say that I'm a huge fan of his music, but he showed me something last night with his willingness to pose for pictures and sign autographs.

 

Lachey also spent some time talking to my pal Doug Zang from Skyline Chili about having some authentic Cincinnati chili shipped to California.

 

9.  Larry Crawford from Mason.

 

Larry is this year's winner of the online version of the Struggle for the Steak (at struggleforthesteak.com).  He's gets a $500 gift pack, autographed Bearcat gear, and an invitation to next year's steak dinner. 

 

Thanks to Plante Moran, the official auditing firm for the contest, for making it happen.

 

10.  The Late Show With David Letterman

 

I can't say why, but I strongly encourage Cincinnatians in general and Bearcat fans in particular to watch and/or record Friday night's show.  Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

 

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-Louisville LIVE blog

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Live from the basement (the wife kicked me downstairs):

It's Louisville 18-10 with 11:36 to go as we start it off.

Threes, threes and more threes. I haven't seen the Bearcats hit one yet. Finally, Darnell Wilks gets one.

Louisville, meanwhile, is hitting its long-distance shots, making 62 percent of them.

You don't see the "carry" called all that often. But Lance Stephenson just got whistled for one.

I'm enjoying Mick Cronin's cuff links tonight. I need to get some more French cuff shirts.

Darnell Wilks has eight points to lead UC.

Louisville 31, UC 21

That was a nice job of Samardo Samuels of taking Yancy Gates to the basket.

Louisville 35, UC 25 (3:38 to go)

Anthony McClain in the game. He misses a layup.

I have been pretty impressed, though, with the way that Ibrahima Thomas has played so far in the Big East Tournament.

Darnell Wilks with eight points and Thomas with six. But UC is shooting a ridiculous 27 percent from the field and 30 percent from the 3.

Well, do you see UC making a comeback in this game? Not sure that I do.

Louisville 41, UC 32 (half)

Impressive that UC had 18 offensive rebounds in the first half. Of course, the Bearcats missed a ton of shots.

Edgar Sosa is not a bad player.

Flops in the paint and plenty of offensive fouls called on both teams.

Vaughn hits a 3 that cuts the lead to six. Welcome to the game Mr. 1-for-6-in-the-first-half.

A big Gates dunk cuts the lead to five and forces a Cardinals timeout for the second time this half.

Louisville 46, UC 41 (15:09 to go)

Bearcats go on a 13-0 run to draw to 46-45. Then Lance Stephenson ties with 47-47 with 13 minutes to go.

Gates and Thomas with three fouls now.

Louisville 49, UC 47 (11:15 to go)

Stephenson with a nice drive and a runner and then a nice pass to Darnell Wilks for the dunk and the foul to tie the game 51-51. He misses the free throw, but Parker rebounds a Stephenson miss as UC takes its first lead of the game.

Then Wright with the drive, the foul and the layup. He missed the foul shot and Parker with another offensive rebound. Wright then makes an absolutely ludicrous pass.

Unreal that UC is leading this game.

UC 55, Louisville 53 (7:52 to go)

ESPN tells me UC is on a 26-7 run to make it 57-53.

Yet another offensive rebound for Parker, who gets fouled while making the layup. His free throw makes it a seven-point lead.

And now UC is back to airballing 3-pointers, and Sosa hits a 3 to make it a two-point lead.

I'm not sure Cashmere Wright wants to be bumping chests and talking trash with Edgar Sosa.

Wilks with nice defense on Samuels.

Sosa, BTW, has a season-high 26 points.

And another offensive rebound by Parker. That's four big ones late in the game. Unreal.

UC has 28 offensive rebounds.

Deonta Vaughn enters the game and turns it over, which leads to a breakaway dunk by Sosa. Free throw upcoming.

UC 64, Louisville 63 (1:45 to go)

Sosa's free throw is no good. UC still up one.

Deonta Vaughn is not in the game anymore.

Cashmere Wright will take two FTs. He misses it. Parker also missed one earlier.

UC calls a timeout to put in Vaughn. Guess Mick wants Vaughn to take some free throws. Nope, Stephenson will take. He has two with UC leading 65-63. He makes both for the four point lead with 29 seconds to go.

Sosa misses the 3, Stephenson with the rebound and he's fouled. He misses both FTs.

Delk hits a 3 with 9.7 seconds to go

UC 67, Louisville 66 (0:09 to go)

UC inbounds to Vaughn, and nobody fouls him. It takes like 4 seconds before anybody can get to him. He makes both.

UC 69, Louisville 66 (0:05 to go)

And Vaughn strips Sosa as he's about to take a last-second 3-pointer. Nice final 5 seconds by Vaughn.

UC finishes with a ridiculous 28 offensive rebounds. Gates records with 16 points. Stephenson and Wilks finish with 12 points and Vaughn has 10.

UC 69, Louisville 66 (final)

BARWIN BACK FOR PRO DAY

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barwin(3).jpg

(photo courtesy Houston Texans)



      The guy that wore #89 and #5 here during his career (I forget his basketball number) was on hand at Nippert Stadium Wednesday for the 2010 version of the Pro Day at UC. Connor Barwin, who last year had a most successful workout in front of NFL scouts, was back to watch as an interested bystander.

      He was joined by some other former Bearcats in the NFL--Haruki Nakamura, Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith.. Where a year ago Barwin was tossing off his shirt to run a 40, this time he came pretty much as an "expert" of how to win friends and influence people in "The League".

      "I don't know about expert, but a lot of these guys I'm still friends with," said Barwin while watching on a nearly perfect day weather-wise for running shirtless.

      After a record-breaking six draftees last year from UC (Barwin, Smith, Huber, Underwood, Mickens and Canfield) there seemed to be more pro scouts and more people scattered in the stands watching festivities that used to be held in front of friends and family in the Armory Fieldhouse.

      "You can turn some heads or move up or down in the draft," said Barwin. "In the end, I told these guys, don't make it a bigger thing than it is. Be who you are and do the best you can but it's a very small part that goes into the draft and making a team."

      Trying to win over the hearts (and stopwatches) this year were: Craig Carey, Alex Daniels, Mardy Gilyard, Brad Jones, Chris Jurek, Jeff Linkenbach, Ricardo Mathews, Tony Pike, Jacob Ramsey, Marcus Waugh, Aaron Webster, Mike Windt and Curtis Young. In what is pretty much a "cattle call",

     Barwin knew what each of the 'Cats were feeling.

     "It's really nerve-racking, a lot of these guys didn't go to the combine," explained Barwin. "When you go to the combine and have your Pro Day, you've got two chances. For a lot of these guys, it's one and done. They get to show up for all of these scouts, that's the nervous part of it."

      Barwin knows the amount of hard work that's required to be put in. Matter of fact, had some of the Bearcats followed Barwin's training regimen, they may have done better. Connor's not one to brag, but Wednesday's best 40 time was 4.47 by Mardy Gilyard--that's what the bigger Barwin ran last year improving on his combine mark.

      But, it takes more than a 40 to get a contract.

      "I'll never run a 40 as fast as I can in my life again," said Barwin as we watched lumbering linemen try to break five seconds. "It's a little over-rated. I think some of these scouts--they're not looking at their 40--they're looking at their 10 and their 20. But, the stuff you read about in the media is all 40. Scouts look at a lot of different things. For D-linemen or O-linemen it's the first 10 and 20-yard time."

      Certainly, reassuring news for Chris Jurek, Jeff Linkenbach and Curtis Young. However, Alex Daniels and Craig Carey battled hamstring issues and weren't able to record a time. At some point, they'll have to as it's generally recognized as a "telling" stat for some reason.

      In Barwin's case, he improved immensely on his 40 time a year ago and showed some "blue collar" ethic in doing almost every drill (Alex Daniels took on that role Wednesday). Despite the fact that a lot of big guys never run a 40-yard sprint in a game, it's still a measuring stick and Barwin made the most of it.

      "That's the thing, I was relaxed when I came back here because I knew I already put up a decent time," said Barwin. "I just kind of came out here and had fun with it and ran the best time I could."

      Now, Barwin's trying to impart some wisdom on his friend Craig Carey. Carey played some tight end at Elder High School, but was played quarterback his senior year. Mark Dantonio recruited him as a quarterback, but after getting lost in the shuffle, Carey was moved to special teams and defense by Brian Kelly. After two years at linebacker/defensive line, the  6-4, 242-pound Carey's trying to show he can catch a ball or two at tight end.

      "Connor's been in for about the past month and a half or so and we've been hitting the weights," said Carey. "He's been doing everything he can to get me ready. He's been a big help. I allowed him to stay with me. He's been kind of annoying (laughter). He does whatever he can to help me. Me and him have been friends forever, he does whatever he can."

      Obviously, Carey and Barwin are close. If Carey gets an NFL look, well, stranger things have happened. Rod Monroe was a Bob Huggins power forward until he became a blocking tight end in 1997 and went on to an NFL career. Antonio Gates played against UC at Kent State IN BASKETBALL!

      Certainly, if you could rub a little Connor Barwin on a UC player, you would. He was a great player and is a good ambassador of the school. Not many guys can come into Paul Brown Stadium in the uniform of the opposition, sack Carson Palmer and get cheered.

Soon, you could see Connor Barwin Texan jerseys around. Actually, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea if the UC Bookstore ordered some. For now, they're not widespread, as I asked if they were available in Houston.

"Not yet, but hopefully by the end of next year you can." he said. "You can order one if you want. Houston's good, I like it down there. I've been back here for a couple weeks now and I'm starting to miss it a little bit with the nice weather there."

      He'll always be back, but UC will always miss Connor Barwin on the field because of the effort and determination he played with.

      For that matter, if you could pin him down, Mick Cronin probably misses Connor Barwin too.



UC-Rutgers blog

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Live from the couch:

By now you probably know that Mo Egger has reported junior guard Rashad Bishop has been suspended for the entire Big East tournament due to a team violation. As Mo writes on his Twitter account, "So next year's most counted on senior potentially goes into the offseason coming off a suspension." Pretty much.

Waiting for this bad boy to start.

UC offensive rebounding earlier. And, as Marvin Lewis would say, that's a good thing.

Ndiaye blocks Yancy Gates and forces the 35-second clock violation.

UC 5, Rutgers 5 (15:40 to go)

Yesterday, Ibrahima Thomas said Ndiaye had never blocked one of his shots. Well, it just happened. Ndiaye has four blocks so far.

UC goes more than 6 minutes without a field goal until Cashmere Wright's runner. The offense is not looking good.

Rutgers 12, UC 10 (10:59 to go)

I think UC might want to cover Mike Rosario from the 3-point line.

From the I bet you didn't think that would happen file: Darnell Wilks with a tough 6-foot runner. Jaquon Parker with the 3 and then Cashmere Wright with the three-point opportunity. For about 45 seconds, UC looks all world.

UC 21, Rutgers 18 (6:49 to go)

Darnell Wilks making an impact so far on the court. That rebound-dunk was nice. He's got nine points so far.

Yancy Gates has missed two layups so far, including an airball.

UC 31, Rutgers 27 (2:45 to go)

Not a good way to end the half. Ndiaye with a dunk ties the game with 32 seconds left in the half. An out of control Cashmere Wright misses an attempted layup. Then, UC fouls with 1.8 seconds to play and Coburn hits a free throw.

Stephenson is 1 of 7 for 2 points. Deonta Vaughn has three points. Wilks leads the way with nine points, and Wright has seven. UC is shooting 36 percent from the floor and 37 percent from the 3. Rutgers is 47 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

Rutgers 32, UC 31 (halftime)

Deonta Vaughn opens the second half with a 3. UC needs him to get going.

Rutgers putting more pressure on UC's offense. So far the Bearcats are handling it OK.

Thomas fouls Jonathan Mitchell as he makes the layup. The free throw ties the game at 41-41 with about 16 minutes to go.

UC 41, Rutgers 41 (15:58 to go)

Amazing how many open shots Rosario is getting.

UC, by the way, is easily out-rebounding the Knights.

Vaughn, after making that early 3, is 0 for 4 from the field this half.

Rutgers 46, UC 43 (11:53 to go)

UC is 5 for 17 from the 3. That's pretty much all you need to say.

I'm still not exactly sure what Larry Davis brings to the team.

Yet, when UC goes away from the 3-pointer, the Bearcats start scoring.

UC 53, Rutgers 52 (7:25 to go)

Lance Stephenson has just taken over this game. And suddenly, UC is up by 5.

UC kind of treading water until Jaquon Parker hits a big 3.

UC 62, Rutgers 54 (3:55 to go)

Now, we will say if UC can salt away this game with FTs. Gates hits 1 of 2 to make it an eight-point lead. Then Parker misses the front end. Vaughn hits two.

Will UC let another win slip away. Rutgers cuts the lead to four with 54 seconds to go. Then, after Parker loses the ball on an in-bounds, Vaughn fouls Mitchell and Mitchell hits two FTs with 30 seconds to go. It's a two-point game.

Larry Davis gets trapped in a corner, and his pass is knocked out of bounds. Mick has to call a timeout. Parker, a freshman who doesn't play very much, is supposed to inbound the ball. He can't. He calls timeout, UC's last.

UC runs four seconds off the clock before Vaughn has to go to the foul line. He misses the first. He buries the second, a 3-point lead.

Heck of a 3-point shot by Rosario over Davis to tie the game with 15 seconds to go. Then, Stephenson drives to the bucket and is fouled with 1.8 seconds to go. He's got two foul shots. He makes the first. He purposefully misses the second, and Rosario had a chance from 3/4 court, but he misses.

The rebounding margin obviously was huge for UC. Bearcats end up owning the glass 44-27. 

Stephenson records 13 points and nine rebounds. Parker also has 13.

Onto Louisville in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

UC 69, Rutgers 68 (final)


My Vote Is For The Fu Manchu

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I ran into former Bearcat Kevin Youkilis on an airplane in Cincinnati a few days before Christmas and barely recognized him because he was clean-shaven.  The bushy goatee that inspired its own website - Beard of Truth Dot-Com - was nowhere to be found.

 

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(photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor)

 

I didn't ask Boston's two-time All-Star first baseman and 2007 Gold Glove Award winner why the chia pet on his chin was gone, but my guess is that he shaves it in the off-season to be a little less recognizable.  Having achieved rock star status in Red Sox Nation, I'm sure that Youk has a hard time going anywhere in public (especially in New England) without being engulfed by autograph seekers and cell-phone camera picture takers.

 

Perhaps a winter without whiskers was the inspiration for his latest charitable endeavor called "Facial Hair Frenzy."  Here are the details, courtesy of the Red Sox media relations staff:

 

FACIAL HAIR FRENZY: Kevin Youkilis' Hits for Kids charity began the "Facial Hair Frenzy" on Thursday, March 4th...For every dollar given to Hits for Kids, donors will get a chance to vote on how Kevin's facial hair will look on Opening Day...The "look" that receives the most votes (and donations) is how Youk will take the field on April 4...Voters choices are goatee, mustache, clean shaven or Fu Manchu...For more information visit youkskids.org or call (781) 444-9685.

 

If you go to the website, you'll see this box labeled "Mirror Mirror On The Wall" that shows what Youk would look like with each of the four choices.

 

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I'm planning on voting for the Fu Manchu.  It costs $1 to vote.  You can vote as many times as you want if you're willing to spend $1 for each vote.  All of the money goes to Youk's charitable organization.

 

Hits for Kids teams up with children's charities and medical research programs in New England and in Kevin's home town of Cincinnati, to help them raise money and awareness.

 

In this case, Youk is putting your money with his mug is.

UC-Rutgers preview

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Some interesting comments emerged from the basketball team's Big East tournament news conference on Monday, and none of them had much to do with the opponent the Bearcats will face tonight at 9 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in the first round.

 

First, Rufus over at Fox 19 asked Mick Cronin about Mike Thomas saying Cronin would be back to coach UC next year. Rufus asked about negative recruiting, which Cronin basically glossed over, but Cronin did respond to Thomas' public declaration of support.

 

"Mike always has been supportive of me," Cronin said. "When we started, we've always been on the same page with how hard it was going to be. That being said, I need to deliver. The only thing I'd like to say is just because you hear me say we lost a close game or this or that, nobody wants to deliver more than me. We've made progress, but we're not over the hill. Mike and I are trying to get the program back to the NCAA tournament and back among the top-25."

 

There are those that complain that Cronin never seems to take responsibility for his mistakes or shortcomings, and sometimes, that criticism is not hard to dispute. But I thought it was telling that he said, "I need to deliver." Probably won't be enough for Cronin's critics, but there you go.

 

Then, George over at Channel 5 asked about the criticism that some have given when they say UC's players don't seem to be progressing. Full disclosure, I was asked about this Monday on the Eddie and Tracy radio show, and I said I agreed with that criticism. Here's what Cronin had to say when asked specifically about Yancy Gates. I thought it was a very interesting answer, and depending on whether you love or hate Cronin, you'll either love or hate this answer.

 

"I don't know how fair that is. Who says he's supposed to be a force? Other guys don't have the expectation levels because they don't have the five (recruiting) stars next to their name. Yancy was not a dominant player at Withrow High School. He averaged seven rebounds a game at 6-foot-9, 270. He's a project. He's got talent, but he's a project. He continues to be one.

 

"I don't have the magic wand. Coaching a guy is one thing. You can't make somebody something they're not. You can try to develop them, but there's only so much you can do. You can teach a guy his footwork or work with him on free throws, but you can't make a guy something he's not. The problem with Yancy is that people want him to be somebody he's not. He's got to worry about being the best guy Yancy Gates can be.

 

"As far as playing hard and practice habits and commitment off the floor - dieting and training - they're all learned skills. Yancy is better with his practice habits; he's better with a lot of things. Is he where I want him to be? No. Is he where he wants to be? No. Because of his so-called potential that people have bestowed upon him, it brings stress to his situation. He has to do the best he can do, and I have to live with that. At times, he gives me sophomore effort. There's a difference between sophomore effort and senior effort."

 

--Ibrahima Thomas was pretty funny in the presser, especially when he was talking about one of his best friends, Rutgers senior center Hamady Ndiaye.

 

"Our whole lifetime, we've been together," Thomas said. "Even when we came to the States, we went to the same high school. It's a little tough (to play against him). It's the first time ever we played against each other. Even on the playground, we never played against each other. We were always on the same team."

 

Thomas also admitted Ndiaye is a pretty good trash talker. He called Thomas at 5 a.m. the day the tournament bracket was announced and then later sent him some text messages, saying UC had no shot to beat the Scarlet Knights.

 

--And finally, we get to the matchup with Rutgers - which has won five of its past 10 games (although that includes two victories vs. DePaul and one win against somebody called Caldwell). Senior guard Deonta Vaughn talked Monday about how UC's season was starting over and that the Bearcats were now 0-0. They're not even going to think about how they beat Rutgers 65-58 in early January.

 

"I like where we're at right now," Vaughn said. "We know what we have to do. We've got Rutgers, who we beat once. But Rutgers seems to get better every game. We just have to restart a new season."

NOT DOUBTING THOMAS

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      While five wins in five days is quite a stretch for a team that has won just once since February, that's exactly what Mick Cronin's trying to get his team believing in. After a 27-point loss on the road to Georgetown it sounds particularly far-fetched.

      Yet that's what UC's trying to do if you listen to forward Ibrahima Thomas. He's hoping everyone has a short memory and forgets the nightmare at Georgetown to focus on a "tournament of dreams".

      Forget the fact that UC's never won a Big East tournament game, a lot of these guys have never played in one, including Ibrahima Thomas.

      "Everyone knows that loss against Georgetown was really frustrating," said Thomas. "Worse case scenario, I think everybody has a good attitude. We plan on going out there and winning."

      One of the toughest things Mick Cronin has had to do is keeping the team upbeat through such down times like the last two months. What appeared promising in January has faded, but the transfer Thomas hopes that positive energy returns to this team.

      "The best thing about this team is our attitude," said Thomas. "Everybody's on the right page and we're not thinking about this loss. Just like any team we've got to be real focused about what's coming next. We're going to the Big East and we're going to win it. We're going to take it one game at a time."

      Well, maybe the prediction doesn't rate with Joe Namath in the 1969 Super Bowl or anything Muhammad Ali said, but it's all the Bearcats have right now. It's the proverbial, "Why not us?" train of thought.

      Again, it's another "winnable" game situation as the Bearcats played Rutgers in early January and beat them 65-58. However, Rutgers also beat Georgetown this season and the Hoyas just finished blowing UC out of DC with a thumping.

      The upside to Thomas here is he gets to play again against a good friend. Scarlet Knights seven-footer Hamady Ndiaye is also from Dakar, Senegal and has been friends with Thomas for sometime.

      "I remember a lot, actually my best friend goes there," Thomas said when asked about UC's prior win at Rutgers. "Our whole lifetime we've been together. When we came to the states we went to the same high school. I always talk to him on the phone and stuff."

In this case, it was Ndiaye that wanted to do some talking on the phone with Thomas. After spending a number of years playing on the same teams with Thomas, the two now are obviously separated.

     "I can tell you that he's talking trash already," said Thomas. "Before the coaches let us know yesterday morning, he called me at five in the morning. When I answered the phone, the first thing he said was,'We're going to beat you guys!'" I'm like, 'Are you dreaming or something?', he's like, 'You didn't watch TV--we play you guys. He just kept ringing my phone, I put it on vibrate and stuff. I had about three messages: 'You have no shot!'"

      Well, either Ndiaye has scouted the Bearcats of late and formed an opinion, or he's trying to get back at Thomas for UC's road win at Rutgers January 2nd.

      In that game, neither had the clear edge. Thomas scored four points and had six rebounds, while Ndiaye put in seven points, but had just two rebounds. He also apparently took a whack in the face from his old teammate.

      "Last game I was going to the basket and I made an 'and one' on him and I broke his nose," Thomas said with a grin. "He always looked at me as a little brother. I was just laughing, I didn't want to say nothing."

      It just goes to show you, all teams are human. A broken nose and win over Rutgers on the road, doesn't assure the Bearcats of another W just by walking out on the floor, Likewise, for the other schools. Pretty much anybody can beat anybody on a given night, which is usually how a lot of postseason tournaments go.

      UC has a tough hill to climb for respect and a bid to the NCAA (or even the NIT depending on how things fall into--or out of--place.

      "We've got to take them just like we take any team," Thomas said of Rutgers. "We've got to play like we're playing the best team we've ever played. It's just one game...out. We've got to take everybody the same and take one game at a time."

      Cliched as it is, that's the bottom line in March. Those that look ahead get undercut, those that rely on past results get an early shower.

      The hope of Thomas and the others is to have taken five showers in the locker rooms of Madison Square Garden. Should they need a bar of Dial for five straight nights, things should be on the upswing.


New Season New Reason

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Well the 2009-10 regular season is over and no matter what your opinion is the 'Cats are back in the NCAA tournament run. Yes; the Big East tournament has granted the extra wish as a result of a bubble or once bubble team playing well in the tournament. UC has only one game and that's Rutgers. If they're able to get by them U of L is next and after their win over Syracuse do they have any emotion left for the next game?

I know some are not happy about Mike Thomas confirming Mick's next year of employment but do you really want to start this whole thing over or deal with the growing pains? I'll take growing pains for $500 Alex. Then the opposition is saying Box lets get a Calipari in here and I'll quickly say will you contribute to the 5-8 million dollar price tag a hired coach commands? NO and neither will the university in this yet to be named recession.

Face it, Mick has some decisions to make about his staff and maybe who stays and goes or how they do things. I thought he upgraded the staff with the addition of Coach George Jackson who has ties to local talent and high school coaches but more importantly has a rep for developing big players (i.e. Tyrone Hill and others) I look for a more consistent Yancey Gates next year; and the other coaches like Stubblefield who grind all year long are valuable so that is a tough one but at best you'll have to share with your supporters some upgrades even if its how you'll teach the kids, even more, about playing smarter at the end of games. If you look at the games they lost down the stretch it says these kids can play in the Big East. Getting them to do it a few minutes more solves all our problems and ensures us a spot in the NCAA tournament.

The time is now; the new season is called the Big East Tournament and the opportunity to address some concerns and make some noise is here. It's still a one game season and the one game is Rutgers; if anybody looks past them including fans, shame on you. Here's wishing them well after a season more akin to a ride at Kings Island...up and down, up and down.

This time lets just Get up for Rutgers and get down to business for 40 minutes minimum! That's the way I see it sitting in "The Box Seat".

Let's Hear Your Thoughts

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Congrats to the UC women's basketball team on a foundation-building year. Despite the challenges, the 'Cats were able to pull off an upset or two, prove the pre-season critics wrong and win their first round game in the BIG EAST tournament.

This season, the basketball program tried a number of new initiatives to bring fans to the women's game. Among the programs were VIP and Pride ticket packages and house parties to introduce the new coach to the community. If you are a long-time fan of the women's program, we appreciate your support. If you're new, we're glad to have you aboard and are excited to have you on the ground floor of what should be a spectacular program.

But we would like to get your opinions of what went right, what can be improved, and if you have any ideas that you think will help get more fans in the stands. We have a new survey being distributed asking those questions and more. It'll take only a few minutes to complete, but the information we can get from your answers is priceless. It will help all of us grow the women's basketball program here, and make the fan experience better for everyone.

Now, full disclosure here, my company, Game Day Communications, helped develop the survey in conjunction with Pat Fettig of Focus with Fettig. The bottom line is, we want to make your trip to see UC women's basketball a great experience next year for you and your family. Tell us how we can do it, and we promise we'll listen to your suggestions and try to implement them as best we can. Thanks in advance for your help.

Here's the link to the survey: SURVEY

 

Craig Carey's Big Adventure, Part II

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In case you missed the first part of Craig Carey's Big Adventure, click here. That's the background of how he's training like crazy for UC's Pro Day so he'll have a shot to continue his football career in the NFL.

 

Now, let's talk about his chances for impressing a scout or two on March 10 when most of the NFL teams invade the UC weight room and Nippert Stadium to measure, weigh and inspect each of the now former Bearcats.

 

Look, Carey isn't dense. He realizes his climb to pro football is steep, if not completely vertical. He's seen former Bearcats long shots have strong Pro Days only to be left on the outside of the league looking in. He knows a player in his position - a player not many college football fans outside of this city know much about - is an afterthought to the team representatives who will be attendance mostly to watch Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard.

 

But he knows there's a chance, however slim. He knows he'll have a shot to impress.

 

"Hopefully the scouts come and see my ability and that everything goes well," Carey said. "Hopefully I'll get some individual workouts and go from there."

 

Carey also has secured the services of Xam Sports, the same agency that represents his good buddy, Connor Barwin. That only will help him in talks with possible employers.

 

As a tight end - a position Carey hasn't played since his junior year at Elder - his biggest strength is his hands. You might remember them from the Fresno State game last season when, with the Bulldogs deep in UC's territory late in the game, Carey read quarterback Ryan Colburn perfectly and intercepted him to preserve the Bearcats win.

 

But other than that catch, there's not much tape of what Carey could look like as an NFL tight end. That's probably a bit of a hindrance.

 

"It can be. It probably is," Carey said. "But it's kind of intriguing. Maybe scouts see I'm going to do the whole tight end thing, and now it leaves their mind open to see what I can do at that position. Not having any film probably hurts me, but I'm hoping they come in with an open mind and ask themselves, 'What can he do for us?'"

 

There also is something worse than no tape in the minds of NFL scouts. And that's bad tape.

 

"You have to have a really good Pro Day, and you have to have good tape," Barwin said. "The thing is Craig can have a really good Pro Day, but I can tell you that he's not going to have bad tape. There are guys who have a really good Pro Day and do all this stuff, but put him on a football field, and they have bad tape. That's the problem. Not having tape can be an issue, but it'd be worse to have bad tape."

 

When I was talking to Carey and Barwin a few weeks ago, I tried to think of the last two UC Pro Days I covered and who, if anybody, had a good enough Pro Day to turn themselves from a long shot into a potential prospect. Didn't happen for Terrill Byrd or Earnest Jackson or Dominick Goodman. Maybe Haruki Nakamura, but I think the Ravens liked him from the very beginning. We couldn't think of anybody.

 

But that doesn't mean Carey can't be the trailblazer.

 

"Right now, nobody pops into my head, but I really hope I'm the first to do it," he said. "I know a lot of people would say it's a long shot. And it obviously is a long shot. But with my ability, I can turn some heads and things can work out for the best."

 

Barwin agrees.

 

"I'll tell you what's going to happen," Barwin said. "This is what I learned through the process. They all don't think the same. All the coaches, all the personnel people don't think the same. Some people will look at him and think exactly what you said: 'He hasn't played in five years. I'm not even going to consider that.' There will be a half-dozen teams that say that. Then there might be one or 10 who say, 'This is kind of intriguing. We won't have to draft him; we won't have to pay him a bunch of money. Why not bring him in as a fourth tight end at training camp and see how he does?'

 

"That's all it takes to get a foot in the door. Somebody could pop an injury, something happens and he gets on practice squad for a year and he gets a coach that really likes him. There are so many ways that guys get in the league, stay in the league and get out of the league. It's never a traditional pattern with how things work out.

 

"I played defensive end in the league - it's only been one year, and I'm nothing near any kind of personnel guy - but I go against tight ends and he can play tight end in the league. There are things he'll have to do. He's have a lot he'll have to learn, but when you talk about raw talent on a football field and seeing what guys in the league can do, he can do it. He just needs to pull all the small things together, and he'll give himself a chance."

PRE-DANCE LANCE

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      After starting all but two games, Lance Stephenson's first regular season ends Saturday in our nation's capital against Georgetown. While his stats probably aren't what most expected, you have to admit he's been fairly solid compared to most incoming freshmen and he has all the potential in the world.

      Now, he takes his act to D.C. to help give the Bearcats some momentum heading into the Big East tournament next week. Just like any Big East opponent on the road, the Hoyas will be tough.

      "I played a lot of the players that's on the team now in high school," said Stephenson. "I think this is going to be a big game for us because I think to go into the tournament we've got to have at least one win going in there."

      Winning in Georgetown wouldn't silence all of the UC critics, but it would at least tone them down.

      That would put the 'Cats at 17-13 and then they'd probably have to determine their destination from there by racking up some W's at Madison Square Garden. Just like most of the teams in the Big East, they've got the talent to do it.

      "We need the confidence because we've been struggling a lot this year," said Stephenson. "There were games I think we should've won, so I think this game is going to be one of the big games for us."

      Coming off a legendary prep career, Lance Stephenson is not used to dropping games that were there for the taking. While not putting up Sportscenter numbers, Stephenson has had his share of Sportscenter plays and arguably plays as hard as anyone when he's on the floor.

      "We lost a lot of games that I thought we (had) won," Stephenson said of his first up-and-down season. "The St. John's game, we should've won that game, we just gave it away."

      This is true. Nobody would know that more than Lance as he was the one who threw a key inbound pass in the final seconds to one of the St. John's guys. Being from New York City, that memory will stick with him for a long time.

      "That was the worst UC game that we had," Stephenson described. "We were up four with 30 seconds left and gave up the game. I was so upset. I felt like I let my family and friends down."

      Alas, redemption is right around the corner though. More of Stephenson's family and friends will be on hand at "The Garden" to see if "Born Ready" is ready yet. One thing's for sure, he is ready to atone for his mistakes in that last visit to the Big Apple in January.

      "I just wanted to play good so bad when I was in New York," Stephenson recalled of the nightmare against St. John's. "Nothing was falling for me That's what happens when you're too high for a game. I just need to come and play how I usually play."

      Well, usual is about 11 points and five rebounds. Some time's that enough, other times Stephenson needs to be more reliable. However, early talk (from others) that he was selfish is unfounded. He's made plenty of NBA caliber passes and has been a good teammate on the bench when he's not in the game.

      "I'm not worrying about the minutes, I'm just worrying about us winning games," said Stephenson. "Minutes don't concern me at all. Sometimes when somebody's playing as well as I am and I think they deserve more minutes, sometimes I tell Coach,'I think Dion or Larry is playing better than me now, stick with him'."

      Sometimes Mick Cronin takes that into consideration. Sometimes he doesn't. Either way, Lance Stephenson is content with the decision he made to come to the University of Cincinnati.

      "Oh, of course," he said "I think this is one of the best decisions that I've made in my life. I'm going to stick with it."

      In the end, that decision benefits both Lance and UC and Mick Cronin. At the very least, he needs some seasoning and mental preparation before he takes on the rigors of the NBA. And, he hasn't budged in his decision to return, even when asked repeatedly.

      "Oh, of course," he replied again.

      It may not give you any comfort now, but having Stephenson return as a sophomore is outstanding news. You add him to classmates Cashmere Wright, Jaquon Parker, Sean Kilpatrick and (future juniors) Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon and that's certainly something to   build upon.

     What everyone needs to accept is that building takes time and patience. Should the players above remain, there's a good chance that patience will be rewarded.

Deadly Shooting

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At some point, somebody has to make a shot.

 

The Bearcats were 7-for-30 from 3-point range against Villanova and I'm sure a common complaint after the game was that they shot too many threes.  Especially since the Bearcats are only making 29% of their shots from outside the arc this year to rank 325th out of 347 Division I teams.

 

In this case I respectfully disagree.

 

There have certainly been games this year where the Bearcats offense was too stagnant, resulting in forced 3-pointers with the shot clock winding down.  That was rarely the case on Tuesday night.  Villanova doubled-teamed UC's big guys when they caught the ball in the paint and dared the 'Cats to make jump shots.  As far as coaching strategy is concerned, that would qualify as a "Duh."

 

Most of Cincinnati's treys were wide open.  Larry Davis - who was recruited as a Field Williams-type shooter - went 0-for-5.  Cashmere Wright - who opened Big East play by making 7 of his first 8 treys - went 0-for-3.  If they go 2-for-8 (instead of 0-for-8), UC probably wins the game.

 

It would be great if the Bearcats shot layups on every possession, but if the opposing defense doesn't have to respect the threat of an outside shot, it's difficult to get the ball close to the basket.  With the size and athleticism that Cincinnati faces in the Big East, it's tough to finish in the upper echelon with a lousy shooting team.

 

And that's a big challenge moving forward.

 

UC has a strong nucleus of returning talent led by Rashad Bishop, Yancy Gates, Ibrahima Thomas, Lance Stephenson, Cashmere Wright, and Jaquon Parker.  But who is going to make outside shots?

 

Larry Davis and Dion Dixon are shooting a combined 32-for-130 (25%) from outside the arc.  That number drops to 20% in Big East play.  Sean Kilpatrick - who is redshirting this year - is more of a penetrator than a jump shooter.  Every perimeter player on the team needs to put in serious time this summer trying to become the best shooter he can possibly be.

 

If there are shooters available in the late signing period, I suspect that Mick Cronin will be holding a "Help Wanted" sign.  Having recruited the likes of Steve Logan, Francisco Garcia, and Taquon Dean in the past, Mick knows the value of having a consistent outside threat.

 

Cincinnati is not far from turning the corner.  That's one of the reasons why this season has been so frustrating.  What would UC's record be if the 'Cats were just an average shooting team? 

 

Mick has rebuilt the program from ruined to respectable. 

 

Unfortunately, it's been "one brick at a time" in more ways than one.

 

* * * * *

 

March 2nd is National Sportsmanship Day.  To recognize it, the Big East is holding an online vote to choose the best act of sportsmanship in the Conference this year.

 

One of the three choices involves a Bearcat:

 

Nomination #2:  Big East Most Outstanding Swimmer Josh Schneider Greeted With Unusual Welcome.

 

Cincinnati's Josh Schneider was awarded with the 2010 Big East Most Outstanding Swimmer by the league's coaches, and was greeted with a special entrance en route to receiving his award.  By virtue of his team's deck position, Josh had to walk past several other teams before making it to the podium.  In an impromptu gesture of respect, the other teams put their arms in the air to create a dramatic entrance similar to what you would see at a wedding when the bride and groom are announced.

 

You can vote for Josh here.

 

* * * * *

 

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

Clean Slate as the 'Cats Head to Hartford

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Jamelle Elliott and the Bearcats will head to Hartford tomorrow morning where they meet USF in the 1st Round of the BIG EAST Tournament on Friday at (approximately) 8:00 p.m..  This will be the second time USF and UC have met in the conference championship and the second time in as many years.  The Bulls ended the Bearcats season last year in the 2nd round.  With that said, here are some 'notebook' style thoughts as the Bearcats set for the BIG EAST Tournament. 

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REPEAT OPPONENTS: This will be the second time in five years the Bearcats have faces a repeat opponent in Hartford.  UC played Pittsburgh their first two trips to the BIG EAST Tournament, missed the tournament in 2007-08, defeated Marquette last March before losing to USF in the 2nd round. 

LITTLE CHANCE FOR OPPONENT REVENGE: All four conference team the Bearcats defeated during the regular season (St. John's, Seton Hall, Louisville and Syracuse) are on the other half of the bracket and are unlikely to see the red and black.  The only way UC plays one of those four teams would be advancing to the championship game and one of the four defeating undefeated Connecticut. 

OPPORTUNITY FOR REDEMPTION: Out of 16 regular season conference games, the Bearcats game versus USF on January 30th, may have been their worst performance of them all.  The Bearcats lost at home 64-47 and never really felt like they were in the game.  UC shot 22% in the first half, 64% from the free throw stripe and got out rebounded 40-29.  The Bearcats two leading scorers, Kahla Roudebush and Shareese Ulis, combined to go 5 for 23 from the field.  If the Bearcats can play more like they did against the Cardinals, Orange and Red Storm and less like they did versus the Bulls, they will have every opportunity to advance to 2nd round and a re-match with Rutgers. 

JE at the XL CENTER: This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but Jamelle Elliott did very well as an assistant coach both at the XL Center in the BIG EAST Tournament.  With Elliott on staff, the Huskies were 15-2 in the conference tournament at the XL Center.  Over the course of her 16 years on staff, UConn was 32-3 in the BIG EAST Tournament. 

TIP-OFF TIME IS TENATIVE: The Bearcats and Bulls play in the second game of the second session on Friday with the tip-off tenatively scheduled for 8:00 p.m. ET.  In reality, tip will likely come closer to 8:20-8:30.  Either way, you can listen live, CLICK HERE

In the meantime, follow my updates from Hartford via Twitter: http://twitter.com/TommyG_sideline

UC-Villanova Rock 'N Roll Party

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An at-large NCAA tournament berth looks completely out of the question now. I'm still surprised the Bearcats are being mentioned as one of the last four teams out on some well-respected web sites, but after losing tonight for the sixth time in the past eight games, I just don't see how UC can leapfrog so many other deserving squads.

 

That, in my mind, leaves one option. Win the Big East tournament. Is it possible? I'd say it'll be close to impossible. But UC's players wouldn't say it quite like that. Instead, they're hanging their hat on Hawaii and the way the team played during the Maui Invitational in order to survive the rigors of New York.

Remember that stretch three months ago? Beating a couple top-25 teams in Vanderbilt and Maryland before narrowly losing in overtime to Gonzaga? How well the team played together? The expectations that trio of games set off (at least temporarily)?

 

Deonta Vaughn thinks the team can return to that mindset when the Bearcats journey to New York next week (after, of course, playing their regular-season finale at Georgetown on Saturday). He believes the team can, in a manner of speaking, go back in time.

 

"We can still use that; we know what we did over there," Vaughn said. "We watched film as a team in Maui. We saw how we were playing. We were all one. Nobody was getting mad at each other because we missed a shot. Hopefully we'll get back to it when we get back to New York."

 

A nice sentiment, but is that really reality? Can anybody really see this team - one of the worst 3-point shooting squads in the country with an offense that doesn't score enough points - winning four-straight games at Madison Square Garden?

 

I guess it doesn't really matter what you or I think. Mick Cronin and his players believe they can. I asked Cronin how the team can do it. After saying the team just needed to win, I pressed him a little more. Better shooting? Better defense?

"Here's the biggest thing we talk about," he said. "When we struggle to score, that's when we have to get defensive stops. You have to play better defense when you struggle to score. I've been part of a lot of teams that have 25 or more wins. Look at Villanova, on nights when they don't make shots, they've still found a way to win. When they were scoring in the second half to get that lead, that's what hurt us. We were missing a lot of open shots, but you have to hang in, and your defense has got to keep you in there. That's where our defensive fortitude has to come in."

 

After the game, Cronin talked about how proud he was of his team, about how it continued to fight hard against the ninth-ranked squad in the nation.

 

"We had every opportunity to give in tonight," Cronin said. "We had tough calls go against us. We couldn't make a shot for a long period of time. But we continued to battle back against one of the best teams in the country. It's a pretty simple game. One team was making open shots and the other team was not."

 

The Bearcats will need to start to have any hope for the NCAA tournament.

 

--Nice effort from Deonta Vaughn. Though he only managed four points in the second half, he finished his Senior Night with an 18-point, three-assist performance. We'll miss him in the media room. Always willing to take questions, always willing to give the best answer he could, always pleasant to be around.

 

"He's a great player," Cronin said. "He gives everything he's got every night out there. Great preparation for this game. He showed he had great leadership in the locker room tonight. We would have loved to have gotten him a great win. It's nice to have somebody compete so the younger guys, like Cashmere and Jaquon, can see the way Deonta is competing out there and how hard they're going to have to compete to play in this league."

 

Villanova adjusted to his first-half production in the second half, making more of an effort to deny Vaughn the ball and using 6-foot-5 Reggie Reading to guard him.

 

"They figured out, on the pick and roll, to hurry up and come up with a trap so I wouldn't beat the man to the basket," Vaughn said. "They started to try to do a little more denying. We know what they were going to do. We knew the gameplan and we made the extra pass. We just couldn't make the shot."

The More Things Change...

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So we're transitioning out of the women's basketball season and getting ready for the spring sports season, so let me take this time to talk about women's sports, and the business of sports, in general.

 

Right now I'm sitting in a sports and p.r. class on the campus of the University of Cincinnati, just wrapping up a panel of four sports 'professionals' giving career advice to undergraduates at U.C. It's amazing how the onset of spring will set the alarm clock off in students' heads--hey, maybe I'd better start looking for a job, since I'll be out of here in a few months.

 

It's mainly the same questions, like how do I get started looking for a job, is there a website that's better than others for looking for a job, etc. And, of course, in this class, many of these students are looking for a job in sports.

 

Used to be, for every 100 students who graduate, there would be two entry-level jobs available. That percentage is probably down to ½ of a job for every 100 students graduating these days. Advice is the same for either group--it's nice to have a plan in place, especially before you go to the bookstore and order your cap and gown.

 

So here in the sports world, the gamut runs from being an anchor on ESPN to working in sports marketing. More women than ever are interested in the sport- but the job goals haven't varied over the years. For example, I've been covering high school football here in the Greater Cincinnati area since 2002, spending Friday nights on the sidelines within shouting distance (and closer) of thousands of high school students. I've never had one young girl come up to me and say she wanted to cover sports. Never. Guys will, but never a young girl.

 

I thought maybe it was just because of the work I was doing (not glamorous, in a driving rainstorm or snowstorm), but I got a similar response from my former ESPN colleague, Pam Ward. Pam's a pioneer in her own right, calling play by play for major college football games for the Worldwide Leader. There's no other woman who does that right now on a regular basis.

 

During an interview for my radio segment a couple of weeks ago, Pam said that when young girls and women come up to her and ask her about a sports job, no one wants to do play by play. They all want to be sideline reporters. They all want to be Erin Andrews.

 

Nothing wrong with that. But women have been sideline reporters for years. Been there, done that. It's not new. Pam is breaking ground. But if you break ground and nobody hears the plow, does it count? I asked Pam if she thought she was a trailblazer, and she said, quite accurately, "you can't be a trailblazer if no one follows you on the trail."

 

And that is what disappoints me more than anything. There are a lot of women, friends of mine, colleagues of mine, who have stuck their professional necks out and done a non-traditional sports job, be it in front of the camera or in the front office,  to be a pioneer for other young women who might want to follow the same path. But no one's following these women on these paths.  If that happens enough, these women who broke ground won't even see the worth in picking up the plow anymore. If young girls and women don't want to take that unconventional step and lead the way for others, then why should these pioneering women lead the way for them?

 

There are more opportunities than ever for young women to take the lead in all kinds of sports fields. Take advantage of those who have gone before you. Ask questions, choose a mentor, watch what she does. You just might find out you can be a pioneer, too.

 

 

 

 

 

UC-Villanova LIVE blog

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Live from 5/3 on Senior Night:

Not a ton of people here to honor Steve Toyloy and Deonta Vaughn, but they both get a nice round of applause, especially Vaughn. He really has been remarkable in his four years at UC.

Starting lineup: Vaughn, Larry Davis, Lance Stephenson, Toyloy, Yancy Gates.

Vaughn, on the second possession, nails the 3 to open the game's scoring. Sorta like what Ron Allen did a couple years ago.

Stephenson has a hand in each of the four possessions. First, he took a bad shot and missed. Then, he dished to an open Vaughn for the 3. Then, he turns it over. Then, he gets two offensive rebounds and pushes in the tip-in.

Say one thing for UC; the Bearcats are playing hard so far.

Not doing such a great job of rebounding, though. Villanova leads there 6-4.

Villanova 13, UC 7 (14:25 to go)

So far, Vaughn looks great. Best I've seen him look in a while.

At first, we thought "Why in the heck is McClain in the game?" Then, when Maalik Wayns couldn't get off a shot in the lane because McClain was standing there, we said, "Oh."

MIck is screaming at one of the refs, and he gets called for the technical. He is absolutely livid.

Somehow, I don't think the Chicken Dance during the official timeout will calm down anyone.

Villanova 18, UC 14 (10:47 to go)

For a brief time, Villanova was imssing its shots and not hitting 3-pointers with alarming regularity. That time has passed. A 3 by Corey Fisher gives the Wildcats a 10-point lead.

Ibrahima Thomas with an appearance.

Villanova 26, UC 20 (6:52 to go)

Nice dish by a driving Larry Davis to Yancy Gates, who lays it in, picks up the foul and makes the free throw. UC down by two with 5:15 to go in the half.

Villanova 27, UC 25 (3:52 to go)

Mick's got the jacket off after an offensive foul called on Gates. He's precariously close to getting tossed.

Actually, good atmosphere here tonight. It's about time.

Vaughn also playing really hard.

Wow, Vaughn with an amazing shot while taking the foul. He goes 1 on 3 on a fast break, somehow gets the layup to fall, and he makes the free throw to tie the game at 28-28. Then, a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left to tie the game again.

Vaughn leads the way with 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting. Nobody else with more than 5 for UC. The Bearcats are shooting 38.7 from the floor and 23.1 from the 3.

Villanova is led by Stokes' 10 points. The Wildcats are shooting 41.7 percent from the floor and 45.5 percent from the 3.

UC 31, Villanova 31 (half)

And just like that, Villanova scores five-straight and UC calls a timeout.

As Vaughn takes the foul and both he and Antonio Pena fall to the floor. Four Villanova players converge on Pena to help him up. Nobody gets Vaughn, until Gates walks over a few seconds later.

Gates tries to slap the ball away from Pena, and Pena responds with an elbow to the head. Then, some words are exchanged. Double technical foul on Gates and Pena.

Jeez, what horrendous shots UC is taking.

Everybody not named Deonta Vaughn is 0 for 11 from the 3.

Villanova 43, UC 32 (15:56 to go)

I don't know why Steve Toyloy is shooting a 15-foot jumper, but not surprisingly, he missed it.

It takes more than six minutes for UC to score its third and fourth points of the half. NIce dish by Vaughn to Bishop. Then, a 3 by Bishop cuts the lead to six.

Villanova 47, UC 39 (11:50 to go)

Larry Davis, it should be noted, is now 0 for 5 from the 3.

UC cut the lead to four, but then Scottie Reynolds scores six points, and suddenly, the Wildcats are up 12.

Mick still isn't happy with the refs.

Villanova 57, UC 48 (7:59 to go)

Jaquon Parker off the bench late, and he's making an impact. A nice drive for the layup and then a 3-pointer.

Then, a 3 by Vaughn, who had been awfully quiet this half, cuts the lead to seven. Jay Wright with the timeout.

Villanova 66, UC 59 (3:41 to go)

Two free throws by Stephenson cut the lead to 3 with 3:24 to go.

UC with the full-court pressure.

Stephenson misses the 3, but Bishop comes flying in for the rebound and the putback. One point game.

Reggie Redding gets a little lucky with that 3, and then taunts Deonta Vaughn a bit. UC timeout.

Villanova 71, UC 65 (1:22 to go)

Gates with a couple FTs to make it 71-67.

A turnover, and Vaughn misses the 3. That would have set this place on fire. Then, Bishop misses the 3 that bounced around the rim for like three bounces.

Reynolds makes 1 of 2 FTs to make it 72-67 with 40 seconds to go.

Vaughn misses a runner, a UC foul and that should just about it.

Redding makes only 1 of 2 to make it a six-point lead.

Not sure why UC isn't shooting 3s with 19 seconds to go, but Stephenson will get two foul shots. And he misses both.

OK, UC still in it. A Bishop 3 with 3.7 seconds to go cuts the lead to two points.

Reynolds will take two foul shots with 3.2 seconds to go. He makes both. Game.

Vaughn's final shot at 5/3 (unless there's somehow a NIT game here) clangs off the side.

Bishop leads the way with 19 points and Vaughn with 18. UC shoots 39.4 percent from the floor and 23.3 percent from the 3.

Villanova 77, UC 73 (final)


Tales from UC's championship teams

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Before Tuesday night's game against Villanova, UC will honor members of the 1961 and 1962 national championship teams as a kickoff to a two-year celebration.

This brings to mind some of the related stories in "Tales from Cincinnati Bearcats Basketball," a book I wrote which came out in 2004.

Here are a few anecdotes about some of those players.

GETTING PSYCHED UP

 

     It was the day of the 1961 national championship game. No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Cincinnati. The first time in NCAA history two teams from the same state met in the title game.

     The Bearcat players were getting taped and dressing in the hotel across the street from the arena in Kansas City. A radio was turned on, and the team was listening to an Ohio State broadcaster breaking down the game's matchups. It was pretty much even, they decided, except for one position: That was UC's Bob Wiesenhahn against OSU's John Havlicek.

     "They thought he was going to whip me," Wiesenhahn said.

     Now understand, Wiesenhahn was the kind of player who preferred to play on the road and loved to get booed. It made him play harder. He was, well, an emotional guy.

     Getting knocked on the radio? "That's all I needed," he said. "I was a psycho. I got fired up real easy."

     "Weise's face just got red because (the announcer) called him a hatchet man," Carl Bouldin remembers. "He said, 'I'm going to kill him.' "

     Wiesenhahn outscored Havlicek 17-4 and outrebounded him 9-4. The Bearcats won their first NCAA title, 70-65 in overtime. Wiesenhahn mostly tried to keep Havlicek, who finished 1-of-5 shooting from the field, from touching the ball.

     "That was the greatest feeling that you could have," Wiesenhahn said. "That was very satisfying."

 

GOOD-BYE PURDUE, HELLO UC

 

     Ron Bonham was getting pressure to stay in state. A star at Muncie (Ind.) Central High School, his team won 29 straight games before losing to East Chicago Washington in the Indiana high school state finals.

     Naturally, Purdue and Indiana pursued him hard. Bonham picked Purdue, but was not thrilled with the choice. He went to West Lafayette, stayed a few days, then went back home and told his family he wanted to attend the University of Cincinnati.

     "UC is where my heart was all along," he said.

     In 1960-61, he played on UC's freshman team, which played an up-tempo style of basketball, just as Bonham's high school team did. That season, however, the "varsity" was slowing down their play under first-year coach Ed Jucker, and they went on to win the NCAA title.

     When his sophomore season started, Bonham was coming off the bench.

     "I have to admit, I played very little defense when I was in high school," he said. "We pressed the whole time. I didn't know how I was going to fit in (at UC). I had to get acclimated to playing defense, and that took a while. That helped me later on."
     Bonham was soon a starter and was second on the team in scoring (14.3 ppg). In the 1962 national championship against Ohio State, Bonham was matched against John Havlicek of the Buckeyes. Bonham scored just 10 points in the final, but UC won 71-59. Havlicek scored 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting.

     "We had scouted each other so much, I'd come off a pick and Havlicek would be waiting on me," Bonham said. "Jucker's strategy for me was to be a decoy. I just ran around and kept Havlicek right on me, and that helped them in starting the fast break."
     As a junior, Bonham averaged 21 points, was UC's top scorer and a consensus first-team All-American after leading the Bearcats to the 1963 NCAA final, where they lost to Loyola (Ill.) in overtime.

     He averaged 24.4 points and was second-team All-America as a senior, when the Bearcats went 17-9. Bonham left as UC's No. 2 scorer behind Oscar Robertson.

 

NO 'I' IN TEAM


     George Wilson was one of those guys who set a standard for role-playing when he was a Bearcat. Wilson was a high school All-American coming out of John Marshall High School in Chicago. He was a big-time scorer who continued that trend on UC's freshman team.
     But when it came time to join the varsity as a sophomore, the Bearcats were not in need of a scorer. They had Paul Hogue, Tom Thacker and Bonham. Coach Jucker told Wilson that he needed him to rebound and play defense. And so it was that Wilson became the defender always assigned to stop UC's toughest opponent.
     Wilson accepted the role and took it seriously, reading about his opponent and watching film so he knew what to do in games. All of this is why he calls a two-point, one-rebound performance the best of his sophomore year and one of the best in his career.
     Cincinnati was facing Creighton in its first NCAA Tournament game in 1962, and Wilson was going to be matched up with Paul Silas, who led the country in rebounding and was among the nation's top scorers.
     Silas would finished with just eight points and five rebounds, and UC won 66-46.
     "Everybody had to do their part, and that was my role," Wilson said. "Everybody gets a ring when you win a championship. When I speak to kids, they always ask, 'How many points did you score?' I didn't worry about scoring. I set picks. I did what I had to do."

GOOD TIMING


     Tom Thacker had not hit a shot all night. He was 0-of-6 from the field. And with the score tied in the final seconds of the 1962 NCAA semifinals against UCLA, the plan was for Thacker to give up the ball to Bonham, who would take the potential game-winning shot. Thacker dribbled to the right side, but Bonham was covered. "He couldn't get free," Thacker said. "I think everybody in the world knew Ron was going to get the ball."
     Time was running out. Thacker knew he had to get off a shot quickly. So, he fired away from about 12 feet out with three seconds left.
     "As soon as I let it go, I felt good," Thacker said. "It hit all net."
     The Bearcats would go on to the title game and defeat Ohio State 71-59 for their second consecutive national championship.
     When it came to winning championships, nobody was better than Tom Thacker.

     After winning two titles at UC, he won a North American Basketball League title with the 1967 Muskegon (Mich.) Panthers, an NBA title with the 1968 Boston Celtics and an ABA title with the 1971 Indiana Pacers.
     Thacker, from William Grant High School in Covington, Ky., would also become the first African-American head coach at the University of Cincinnati, leading the women's basketball program from 1974-77.


 

 

 

 

VAUGHN,VICTORY,VILLANOVA

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vaughn.jpg


      Typically, on Senior Night, you'd like to have a team you can beat on the schedule. Not a horrible, inferior team, but a team you feel pretty good about defeating.

      That's kind of tough to work out in the Big East though. Consequently, UC will say goodbye to Seniors Deonta Vaughn and Steve Toyloy Tuesday night against Villanova, who has hovered about the Top 10 for most of the year.

      It's certainly not impossible to beat them (UC did in '08) but at 23-5 'Nova is the favorite in this one. And, it's doubtful they'll come in overlooking UC as the Wildcats have dropped three of their last four games.

      Nothing like having an angry ranked team to deal with.

      "Villanova's a good team," said departing Senior Deonta Vaughn. "They've got a lot of great ballhandlers. They run a lot of pick and roll to where it's hard to guard them. We've just got to come out as a team with a defensive mindset--don't worry about our offense, worry about our defense--try to outscrap them at every position"

      Should that happen, Vaughn and Toyloy will depart in style. It would be a big boost to any tournament chances.

      "I feel like these last couple games is where we're really going to show it and then make a run to get into the tournament," said a still-confident Vaughn.

      Realistically, UC is two behind last year's win total and that 18-win squad sat home with nary a call from the NCAA nor the NIT. Vaughn is just fighting to get in the postseason (which doesn't include the infamous CBI invite two years ago for purposes of this article). The four-year starter sits fourth on UC's all-time scoring list, but minus the proverbial "dance ticket".

      "That just comes with hard work and playing good throughout your four years you were here," said Vaughn. "I may not have had the senior year I wanted, but still being one of the top scorers in UC history, it means a lot as an individual. All of that can be erased if I never get to experience the NCAA tournament."

      Vaughn knows all about Villanova as the Bearcats had them on the ropes here a couple years ago.

     What UC's missed all year is exactly what they need Tuesday night--the knockout punch. While the Bearcats have won some big games, they've also "let slide" a few that would have been "significant wins".

      "They've got Scottie Reynolds, they've got Corey Fisher, they can create their own shot," Vaughn said of the 'Nova talent. "They do all the little things in order to get a win. They dive for loose balls, they're a real scrappy team. We've just got to outplay them and that's what we're going to try to do as a team."

      Specifically, Mick Cronin looks at defense (again) as the key to stunning Villanova.

      "Well, we've got to defend them--83.5 points per game," said Cronin of Jay Wright's team. "Top 10 in the nation, they're a hard team to defend. They've got a lot of weapons. Tremendous shooting team, tremendous dribble-drive quickness team. Very aggressive team. We're going to have to be strong with the basketball and get to the foul line."

      The great disparity in free throws and free throws made that has haunted this team on occasion, cannot be there once the stats are handed out late Tuesday night.

      "Everybody that's beat them has shot 35-plus free throws and made a pretty good percentage of their free throws," said Cronin. "That's going to be a big focus for us. We're going to have to get to the line. If they have on weakness, it's sending kids to the foul line. We've got to capitalize when we get there."

      It all could make for a memorable Senior Night for Steve Toyloy and Deonta Vaughn.

Especially Vaughn.

      For toughing out four years in a program that was undergoing extensive rebuilding, he deserves to sit in the interview room afterward with a grin on his face and a gleam in his eye.

Craig Carey's big adventure, part I

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Craig Carey used to talk to former UC quarterbacks coach Greg Forest about it all the time. When the Bearcats special teams units were running through their drills at practice and they had a little time to kill, Forest would watch Carey run receiver routes and catch passes from Tony Pike, Zach Collaros and Chazz Anderson. Then, Forest would teach and encourage.

 

Carey - a former Bearcats quarterback, defensive end and linebacker - had a shot to play pro ball, Forest told him. But his chance wouldn't occur at any of the positions he played in college. Instead, in order to find a spot in the NFL, he'd have to return to a position he hadn't played since his junior year of high school. He'd have to play tight end.

 

"Coach Forest was always giving me feedback and he felt I could play tight end at the next level," Carey said. "That helped me with my mindset that I should give this a shot."

 

As Carey prepares for UC's Pro Day on March 10 - where those Bearcats who are hopeful long shots have a chance to impress the NFL scouts - Carey's mindset is sound. He's confident - perhaps, he laughs, overly-confident - and he really feels he has a chance to impress those who are on campus in nine days.

 

He says this in the bowels of the Lindner Center as he and Connor Barwin prepare to work out in the UC weight room. It's a place where he spends much of his time these days.

 

He drives to Mason every morning to train at Ignition, and lately, former La Salle and Bowling Green quarterback Tyler Sheehan has been showing up a couple times a week to throw to him. When Carey isn't catching passes, he's working on his 40-yard dash and his shuttle run times, focusing on perfecting his start and molding his technique.

 

Then, he'll grab some lunch and head to the UC weight room for a few hours of sweating and grunting. He'll finish the day by playing basketball with Barwin - who's also in town keeping himself in shape before he prepares for his second season with the Houston Texans.

 

"We play basketball, because you have to have a little shake to you," Carey said. "We're always going against each other to stay loose. We don't play one-on-one, but he did beat me in H-O-R-S-E the other day. Which is embarrassing, because he's not a very good shooter and I pride myself on my jumper."

 

And, oh yeah, Carey's still taking classes on Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday night, Thursday morning and afternoon, and on Friday to earn his degree.

 

"That's right," he said. "I actually forgot about that. But I throw that into my days as well. I wish I would have graduated earlier, because it would have made this a lot easier."

 

It's not easy for Carey, and that's probably appropriate, because his path to the NFL certainly won't be a simple one. Heck, it's almost impossible.

 

But he's also getting some indirect help from some of the Bearcats stars of the past. Now that the Bearcats have become a major player on the national scene and because now they're getting recognized for it by teams in the NFL - let's face it, UC has put plenty of players into pro ball, but the Bearcats weren't exactly considered Florida or Ohio State when it came to pro prospects - that only helps a guy like Carey.

 

Think most NFL teams won't be at UC on March 10, even if it's only to see Mardy Gilyard and Tony Pike? They will. Think a fringe prospect can't get noticed due in part to an extraordinary Pro Day? Ask Haruki Nakamura about that. If the scouts are there and Carey has a great day, that could bring a big boost to his pro dreams.

 

"I've always been a confident person," Carey said. "Going through the process, I always feel I have that shot to make it at the next level. Whether teams see that and see my ability, that's different because I haven't played as much as pretty much any person that's going to get drafted."

 

Still, an unknown can make a big impact if he impresses the right team at the right time. Transforming himself into a tight end might just be the way to do it.

 

"That's the thing: if anybody else was trying to do what he's doing, it doesn't sound like a good idea," Barwin said. "But then people that know him say, 'Ah, it might work.' You sit there and think about it, and you think about if he was a big recruit in high school. Look at his physical body. And look at what he did in college to what happened to him at quarterback to getting bounced around on defense. Why they didn't move him to offense? You start to think about that, and you say, 'You know? Maybe it will work.'"

Deonta Vaughn has not had a great season.

His 11.3 scoring average is the lowest of his Bearcat career.  After making 40% of his 3-point shots as a sophomore when he was named 1st Team All-Big East, Vaughn is only making 33% of his treys as a senior (including 3-for-22 in nail-biting losses to Gonzaga, Xavier, St. John's, and Marquette).

So how should we react when Deonta takes the court on Senior Night against Villanova?

If you're in attendance, I hope you'll join me in giving him the longest and loudest ovation a Bearcat has received since Eric Hicks' senior year.

Vaughn is the 4th leading scorer in UC history behind Oscar Robertson, Steve Logan, and Danny Fortson.  He's started more games and played more minutes than any other player in school history.  And he did it - at least initially - when the program might have been at the lowest point in its history.

"What he's meant to the program is hard to describe," Coach Cronin said.  "You just have to think back to how bad it was.  He allowed us to have a player to try to build to a point to where you could at least have a winning team.  He and I are both probably the most disappointed guys that we're not already locked in to the NCAA Tournament and that he hasn't had a better senior year.  But that being said, we're both very proud of what we've been able to accomplish in getting the program back on its feet.  I know we wouldn't have been able to do it without him."

Vaughn is the only player who has been with the team for all four of Cronin's seasons as head coach and both were hoping that Deonta would end his UC career in style.

"It hurts me that he hasn't had the best senior year because I feel for him," Cronin said.  "You hear people take shots at him and you take it personally, because if anybody deserves the benefit of the doubt around here it's him.  What people don't realize is that most guys in his situation after he had the freshman year that he had . . . and we were 2-14 in the Big East and he's facing massive rebuilding . . . and his friends Mike Conley and Greg Oden are in the National Championship game . . . he could have easily transferred to Indiana or Purdue and went home.  If you don't think those things were options for him, we're all kidding ourselves."

Fortunately for Cronin and the program, Vaughn stayed and he led the team in points and assists in each of his first three seasons.

With a minimum of three games left in his college career, Deonta is 88 points behind Fortson for third on the all-time scoring list, and 13 assists behind Eddie Lee for the UC career record.  At a news conference on Monday, Fox 19's Ron "Rufus" Millennor asked Coach Cronin if Vaughn should be considered one of Cincinnati's all-time greats.

"Oh absolutely," Mick said.  "I'll say this.  Who else on that list played in the Big East and played against the level of competition that he's played against night in and night out?  And under the circumstances that he had to do it.  You have to give him his due.  He hasn't been Nick Van Exel who played here for two years, had great success and a wildly successful NBA career.  He's done it in a different way, but he's probably meant just as much to the program as any Bearcat, because you have to factor in where the program would have been without him.  If anybody ever deserved an ovation on Senior Night it's him."

I look forward to giving him one.

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

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