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."

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