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Defense defines win No. 4

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The Bearcats defense held Savannah State to the lowest total for a UC opponent this season and established the method with which this team can win games.

 

By William Frasure

Special to GoBearcats.com

 

CINCINNATI -- From the opening tip Wednesday night, the Bearcats were determined to establish their superiority against overmatched Savannah State.

 

For this team, this year, that means allowing their defense tell the story.

 

The mission could be seen on Rashad Bishop's face early in the second half. After forcing the Tigers into a desperation heave as the shot clock expired, Bishop breathed heavily as sweat covered his face.

 

The desire of this team to dominate on the defensive end reflected through every bead of sweat.

 

By the time the 54-41 UC victory went final, Bishop finished with three steals and 11 pass deflections.

 

"We were all very active," Bishop said. "We anticipated passes and got steals and got in passing lanes."

 

Bishop's hard work didn't go unnoticed. Only a few months ago, his position on this team came in question, but four wins into the season, Bishop's contribution sits at the soul of what Cronin believes can propel this team to new heights.  

 

"He's one of the best defensive players in the country," Cronin said. "If we can put together a string of wins and become a team that people pay attention to, analysts and people on television will talk to him at that length."

 

Cashmere Wright and Bishop's early intensity caught on with teammates as the Bearcats forced 11 first half turnovers and held the Tigers to 17 points.

 

Cronin was satisfied with the effort, at least until the closing minutes of the game.

 

"Defensively, we can't play much better, holding a team to 41 points," Cronin said. "I wasn't happy with our last three minutes. For the most part, our defense was tremendous. Our older guys are playing hard and smart. Our guys are focused in."

 

When the Tigers did manage to break the frontcourt pressure, forwards Yancy Gates and Ibrahima Thomas waited for the driving Tigers. The forwards forced ugly shots as Preston Blackmon and Cedric Smith crossed into the lane.

 

The pair also stood like giants over the much smaller Tigers and dominated in the post, something they won't enjoy the luxury of doing as the season progresses.

 

As the Bearcats trapped outside and helped effectively inside, the Tigers had trouble finding their shots. Cincinnati forced Savannah State into only shooting 17 field goal attempts in the first half.

 

The shots came late in possessions as the Tiger guards nervously looked for space and helplessly fired at the rim.

 

Only Tiger top scorer Jovanni Shuler looked comfortable shooting against the Bearcats en route to his 14 points.

 

The Bearcats bit hard at the beginning of each half, but pulled off a little late in the game. Before the final minutes of the game, Cincinnati only gave up 28 points.

 

With the team struggling to find offensive identity, Cronin knows he can hang his hat on the defensive effort his team has offered in the young season.

 

Whether missing lay-ups as the Bearcats did on repeat Wednesday or draining 3-pointers as occurred Monday, the fingerprint of this team blanketed win No. 4.

 

"We can defend,' Cronin said. "We can be a great defensive team, no doubt about that."

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