The reserve group of Larry Davis, Justin Jackson, Darnell Wilks and Sean Kilpatrick call themselves "The Goon Squad," but everyone else is calling them a big reason UC could return to the Big Dance.
By Will Frasure
Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- After Larry Davis sank a wide-open 3, Darnell Wilks made a quick steal and slithered in for an powerful slam.
Then, as DePaul guard Jeremy Drew dribbled near half court,
The proclamation let the Fifth Third Arena crowd know that "The Goon Squad" had arrived.
The group's nickname derived from the unit's defensive toughness, "The Squad" consists of Davis, Wilks, Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson. The tandem is usually first off the Bearcat bench and jolts the Bearcats to life early in games.
It could be seen early against DePaul. The first substitution horn acted almost like an alarm clock for the sluggish Bearcats. When Davis and Wilks entered,
The group offers help in many ways to Mick Cronin's team. Not only do they provide depth on the bench, but the second team (called the "Red Team") goes all out against the starters at every practice.
Kilpatrick says Cronin has to blow his whistle so much during the scrimmages, he's surprised he hasn't broken one yet. The fouls are a result of the two sides playing so competitively, something that is essential for progress.
And when the Red Team wins, it isn't taken as a surprise. The high-energy players earn their fair share of wins during practice.
"Our second team wins a lot of the time," Cronin said. "Those guys have an innate ability to play hard every play. Our practices are as competitive, more so than our games have been, and that's allowed us to improve."
With how strenuous practices have been, it's not surprising to see Dion Dixon look so comfortable in a real game after being hounded by Davis, Wilks and others during practice.
It also has allowed members of the Red Team, most notably Davis, to carry over confidence actual gameday. Against DePaul, the shooting guard's 3-pointers motivated him on defense, which could be seen in his tenacious style. The celebration after his forced turnover was an exclamation of how far he's come.
"Larry's playing great," Cronin said. "I don't think you can ask him to play any better than he did tonight or in his last couple of games."
Not to be outdone by his bench colleague, Wilks has also shown distinct progress. He's always possessed athleticism, but now knows how to use it on offense. It was obvious against DePaul, where he created separation with ease multiple times before sinking a short jumper.
While "The Squad" has found success on offense lately, defense will always be its calling card. Cronin's comment about the group is filled with "high-energy" players is an understatement.
The group has an in-your-face, we're-not-going-to-let-you-guys-cross-half-court attitude that can be seen in each individual's expressions. Each has a focused look as they scrappily try to stop their man.
"We all have the same mentality that I have," Kilpatrick said. "If someone does score on us, that's the end of the world for them. They aren't going to get it that easy next time."
With each having similar mentalities, Kilpatrick says he thrives off the certain swagger of the group. It allows him to play with confidence, knowing his benchmates are right there to go just as hard as him.
"Darnell and Larry, they play with so much energy, especially when we're pressing, that you have no choice but to feed off it," forward Yancy Gates said. "Their energy kind of just traveled over into the rest of us."
During the battle royal that is the Big East, "The Goon Squad" could separate the Bearcats from the pretenders and finally vault them into the company of the contenders. Not only do the bench players provide depth, but also can get things done when they're actually in the game.
"As a coach, we can play that style and know we can go to the bench and be okay," Cronin said. "If we can make it a game of depth, it's an advantage for us 9 out of 10 games. It's going to help tremendously in Big East play."
When the buzzer finally sounded at the end of
"We all just work hard,"