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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."

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