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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.


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