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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.

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