Bearcats encouraged after hanging with No. 4 Xavier

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By Will Frasure

Special to


CINCINNATI -- The dejection could be seen on Shareese Ulis' face as time slowly dwindled off the Fifth Third Arena scoreboard. Xavier's eight-point lead was too much for Cincinnati to gain back in 53 seconds as the Musketeers finally closed out the Bearcats.


But in a game Cincinnati made much closer than expected, much confidence and hope can be taken from the 69-61 loss to their crosstown rivals. Ulis and her teammates played valiantly as they attempted to take down the bigger, more athletic Musketeers, the No. 4 team in the country.


"I had seven players tonight that played with unbelievable heart," coach Jamelle Elliot said. "If you would have told me before this game that we would be down by 5 with 5 or 6 minutes left, I'd say you were crazy."


Last year, Elliot's team was embarrassed at the Cintas Center by basically the same Musketeer team in a 31-point loss. In her second year at the helm, the fiery head coach believes her team has matured and gained significant confidence since last year's Crosstown Shootout.


"The team is completely different than last year," Ulis said. "There's a lot of things we have now than we did then. We play more together and deal with team's runs better as we try to come back."

If Elliot needs an example of what type of players she wants for her program, Ulis, a senior, is the perfect pick. The guard relentlessly attacked the Musketeer defense as she drove to the basket, even as Amber Harris and Ta'shia Phillips, who stand at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6, stood in front of the basket. She finished with 24 points.


It could be seen on the other end of the ball, too. Ulis hounded Harris and the other Musketeer guards relentlessly throughout the game. Her toughness sparked the rest of the Bearcats as they pestered Xavier throughout the contest.


Plus, she's been doing it while fighting through two bad knees.


"She just goes out and leads us into battle every single night," Elliot said. "As we play more and more, the troops are going to fight harder if she keeps on like she has."


The effort and drive was there for the Bearcats. Their talent and athleticism, however, couldn't hang with the Musketeers. Harris and Phillips stood like the Carew and Great American Towers stand over downtown Cincinnati, and Harris fluidly navigates around the floor despite her long frame.


"Their front line is probably bigger than two of our guys on top of each other," Elliot said.


Harris showed off the tools that make her a top WNBA prospect on the final play of the first half. She dribbled up court, faked right and dribbled the ball behind her back to separate her from Kayla Cook. She proceeded to toss up a perfect 3-pointer the hit nothing but net.


"We pressed them and she looked at Kayla like she was a little ant," Elliot said. "I was thinking she was more of a mid-range, get the ball to the block, spin and dribble baseline player, but that last play says it all for her."


A loss always stings, but for the second-year coach and a team that chosen to finish 15th in the Big East, the Bearcats can take solace in how this one turned out.


 It could be the much-needed turning point for the young coach and the previously struggling program.


"I told my guys, when it comes time for January, February, March, when we start to play Big East games, this game is gonna be the game I'll talk to them about," Elliot said. "We hung with the No. 4 team in the country. We should be able to compete and come away with some of those."

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