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Shooting woes mask strong showing

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The Bearcats earned a 65-59 victory against IPFW that could have been much more had the Bearcats made open 3-pointers. Mick Cronin isn't concerned, but should he be?

 

CINCINNATI - The same, but different.

 

Saturday felt quite a bit like Monday inside Fifth Third Arena. Another productive first half followed by an offensive second half only a mother could love.

 

Only, the manner with which UC flipped from 45 first-half points to six second half field goals looked decidedly different.

 

Against Mount St. Mary's, 40 first-half points turned into seven second half field goals. The team panicked. The defense lagged like it was dragging a ball and chain.

 

On Saturday, the defense picked the ball, chain and hopes for a 2-0 start up and slung them over their shoulder.

 

"I don't think we could have played much harder," Mick Cronin said after a 65-59 victory. "When we struggled on offense we played harder on defense."

 

No, intensity and mentality weren't the problem as they were Monday.

 

This time the Bearcats missed shots. Over and over again. Open looks more frequently than not. IPFW coach Dane Fife packed his zone around Yancy Gates and dared the Bearcats to beat his undersized team from the perimeter.

 

"It was a smart plan," Cronin said.

 

Smarter than he would have liked.  

 

UC knocked down 1 of 12 second-half 3-pointers and shot 55 percent from the free throw line to make matters worse.

 

"Our defense saved us," said Cronin, whose defense held an IPFW team who knocked down 7 of its first 10 3-pointers without one over the final 17 minutes.

 

Indeed, the ghosts of last season hovered above the home rim at Fifth Third reminding everyone of the 29 percent 3-point shooting team of last season. Through two games this year, the Bearcats are 8 of 32 from 3-point range for 25 percent.

 

Cronin didn't waver on the belief he's aired since the first exhibition game. He's not concerned about his team's shooting ability. The numbers don't lie, though.

 

"We got a lot of good looks against the zone," Yancy Gates said. "You kind of get frustrated at open shots you normally make don't go down, but you don't start to panic or anything because you know you can hit those shots."

 

In practice, the shooting problems don't exist. The players drain jumpers from the corner, the wing, the top of the key. Cronin doesn't spout of his lack of concern about shooting because he feels the guys need to hear it. He sees it every day.

 

Somewhere between empty echoes of practice and the time the gates open, execution becomes lost in translation."

 

"It's probably adrenaline," said Sean Kilpatrick, who sent some adrenaline through the crowd in a game where he hustled up 13 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals. "We are so hyped to hit the shot. In practice we are also hyped, but there's not a lot of chaos."

 

Whether the law of averages will play out for this team over the course of the season is anybody's guess. A few hot streaks against FAMU on Monday and Savannah St. on Wednesday and nobody will be talking about shooting concerns.

 

Unfortunately, for the time being they are.

 

On Saturday, the Bearcats forced turnovers, adjusted defensively on perimeter shooters, dove for loose balls, moved well without it, exploited passing lanes and outrebounded a team they should.  

 

They did everything necessary to blow out a quality team from a small conference and play like an upper echelon Big East team on Saturday - except bury open shots.

 

Some of the problems are technical. With Cashmere Wright, his shot preparation needs to be better. JaQuon Parker continually comes up short.

 

"For the most part we shoot the ball as much as you can possibly shoot the ball," Cronin said. "Got to hope it's one game, keep firing, work on the small things."

 

Whatever the reason, 3-point percentage could be the statistic to watch for this team. Defense and rebounding will win UC a fair share of games this season. Against IPFW, size, athleticism and effort were enough to overcome the inaccuracy.

 

That won't always be the case.

 

"Our effort is tremendous," Cronin said. "Guys prepared well, we had three great days of practice. When you really struggle the way we did offensively in second half, a lot of times you lose a game like that."

 

Other teams will take notice. The zone collapse on Gates will become a staple in the opponent's playbook. Gates smiled at the concept. Much like his coach, he's not concerned. 

 

"If (opponents) do, go ahead, because I watch these guys make shots like that all day in practice," he said. "If they want to do that, they can do it."

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