Bishop rises from rock bottom to rock solid

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Mick Cronin said Rashad Bishop is playing like the best small forward in the Big East conference right now. Watching the senior post 17 points on perfect shooting Saturday, it's hard to argue.  


CINCINNATI - Mick Cronin always knew Rashad Bishop could be an offensive force. He saw him post 38 points in high school against a St. Benedict's team with Samardo Samuels and a host of other Division I prospects.


He knew had it in him.


For the past three years, he's shown glimpses.  


Bishop cracked double figures in three of his first five games as a freshman. The expectations grew exponentially from there. Only, consistency rarely followed.


For every scoring binge came an inevitable purge.


In Bishop's first three seasons he reached double-figure points 17 times. He followed that with a second double-figure game only three times and never more than once a season.


Bishop has scored double figures three of the last four games and tallied at least eight points in all but one game.


In the first half Saturday night, he broke out.


All seven of his shots went down, including three from 3-point range. He owned a season-high 17 points at the break. His outburst fueled the highest scoring half of the season for UC and a 92-72 victory against Utah Valley.


Yes, Bishop's long sought after consistency may have finally arrived. Consequently, the undefeated Bearcats may have as well.


"He's in a good place," Cronin said. "Right now, he's playing probably as good as any small forward in our conference. Ther'es no trick to winning, guys. You got to have some of the better players in your conference if you are going to win your conference."


Bishop's ascension to the top of his game comes as a direct result of being forced to rock bottom.


There's no denying the correlation between Bishop's suspension and renewed commitment to the game. Consistency comes from working every day, caring about improving and never taking a game off.


Bishop took games off over the first three years of his career. He was content with his offensive skills sporadically flashing on and off.


Once Cronin took the game away from Bishop prior to the Big East tournament and throughout the offseason, it slapped Bishop in the face.


"It really gave him a chance to look in the mirror," Cronin said. "I have been asking him for three years to just want to be a better player. He always wanted to win, he was always a willing defender, he's always a smart player but I want him to be a better offensive player and put the time in and take ownership in his game. It's unfortunate I had to suspend him to get that across."


Bishop worked tirelessly over the offseason to return to the good graces of his head coach and his program. In the process, his game polished - specifically on offense.


"It just comes from hard work over the summer and the offseason,"  Bishop said. "Working on my jump shot and it paid off."


It paid off in a rise of assist numbers for Cashmere Wright, who sees a noticeable difference in Bishop's offensive confidence.


"I think he's relaxed," Wright said. "Now he's focused. He takes his time on each shot. He's not rushing. He just knows that he's going to make the shot. When you got in your mind you are going to make the shot it's easy to take it."


Bishop's certainly taking it. He's never experienced a run of productivity like the one to open this season in his career. He would have more double-digit scoring games if it weren't for the blowout victories. Cronin pulled Bishop at times to allow other players minutes to prepare them for Big East play. He's not concerned about Bishop being ready for the 18-game grinder.


"I know he's ready," Cronin said. "He's been ready every day and given us great leadership by the way he is approaching every day in practice. He's in a great place right now."


Funny how the journey can be so unpredictable. Cronin always knew Bishop could be in this place since that 38-point night against St. Benedict's put him over the top on signing him. Little did he know the wild roller coaster he'd have to ride to make it happen.


As seems to be the case with so many players on this team, Cronin doesn't worry about coaching effort anymore with Bishop. At the rate we saw Saturday, he may not have to worry about coaching shooting, either.  


"I always knew he had it in him," Cronin said, "it was just trying to get it out of him."

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