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A veteran win

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The manner in which the Bearcats responded to Mick Cronin's focus on defensive rebounding and finishing games illustrated the maturity of this team more than any of the previous 13 wins.

CINCINNATI -- Mick Cronin spent most of 2010 telling us this team listened and responded to him. Not until the final four hours of it did we truly witness the enormity of such a luxury.

Cronin spent three days reminding his team about their poor defensive rebounding effort against Seton Hall. 

What happened?

A litany of Pirates shots -- 66.7 percent of them, to be exact -- caromed off the rim. That alone would be enough to guarantee a win most nights in any conference. Of those 33 missed shots, the Pirates grabbed offensive rebounds on six of them -- most of which came in garbage time of the blowout.

If the 18.1 offensive rebound percentage the Pirates put forth Friday were placed as their season average they would arrive 342 out of 345 Division I teams.

Herb Pope, widely regarded as the best offensive rebounder in the conference last season, only grabbed one. One offensive rebound.

"I told the guys it was my fault," Cronin said. "Boxing out is coaching. Nobody boxes out unless they are made to. You are going to force me to make you, the only way I can do that is you either box out or run. They don't want to run, so they boxed out. A pretty simple trade off." 

Simple, yes. But simple has failed before. Even simple often fails when paired with immaturity.

This team is different. After failing to finish off DePaul in the second half, they responded with a 28-13 run Friday once Seton Hall pulled within four. Cronin warned his team about finishing. The pedal never left the floor until 5,550 rose to their feet and drowned out the final horn.

sean kilpatrick.jpeg"Coach told us if we let them back in this game it is going to be a tough night for us," Sean Kilpatrick said. "If we have someone on the ropes like that we have to keep punching them. We have to keep executing the way that we do."

This team responds to the urgings of its coach. It transfers lessons from practice into production in the game. It does more than listen. It learns. It improves.

Seems easy enough, but those results occur far fewer than most coaches in college basketball would care to admit.

Kilpatrick embodies the maturity of the team to a higher degree than almost anyone, even as a redshirt freshman. He responds in a calculated, intelligent manner in the direction prodded by his coach. And he produces. Friday, it was 14 points, including eight to spark the decisive second-half closeout.   

"I just do exactly what coach tells me to do," Kilpatrick said. "If he tells me to go in or we need a bucket or we need a stop or we need rebounds, I just follow his lead. He's been in tight situations more than anyone on the staff."

So, coach must have pulled Kilpatrick aside and told him to bury 3-pointer, snake the lane for an and-1 then pull up for a dagger jumper with the crowd sensing the win.

"Nah," Kilparick said with a laugh. "That was just second nature. If it's a clean, wide open look, I am going to take it."

Oh yeah, maturity doesn't mean much if you don't have talent. Combine the two, however, and you get, well, 14-0 for now.  

For many fans, the response to adversity when trailing at Miami or the dedication to 40 minutes of offensive execution against Georgia Southern were discarded with a mention of the opponent's RPI.

While Seton Hall stands far from the best team UC will face this season, they were certainly the most athletic to this point. These displays of maturity are becoming harder and harder to disregard. Records are beginning to drop.

Cincinnati is 14-0 for the first time since 1998-'99.

They recorded back-to-back, double-digit wins for the first time since joining the Big East.

Heads are beginning to turn. Or at least they should be. 

The team forgotten in the cluster at the back of the preseason Big East standings, the one built on such forgotten arts in college basketball such as passing, rebounding and defense are listening, learning and improving their way into the national conversation.    

Those elements are as undeniable in this team's identity as the C-paw donning the front of the jersey. 

"Our defense got better as time went on," Cronin said. "That's the sign of a veteran team."   

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