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Bearcats defense has lasting power

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The Bearcats frustrated yet another opponent with a myriad of defensive tactics in passing their latest test of the season. If defense travels, how far can it take this team?

 

CINCINNATI - Yancy Gates exited Ed Jucker Court in the final seconds of Cincinnati's victory Thursday night to the sounds of the crowd chanting his name.

 

Gates sunk runners in the lane, leaning jumpers from the top of the key and even drained a fadeaway falling into Nick Lachey. Once the cheers subsided, he finished with a season-high 22 points and 14 rebounds.

 

The final score was 66-46 in the 2011 Crosstown Shootout - or as it will forever be remembered, The Yancy Gates game.

 

That Gates story will be chronicled and should be chronicled. But when this team walks onto the The Pavilion floor to play No. 7 Villanova and challenge the Wildcats' 44-game home win streak Saturday, the play of Gates won't puff their chests.

 

Belief in pulling off an upset that amounts to impossible recently in the Big East stems from a defense that left another opponent in its wake, thinking it made boneheaded mistakes and missed too many shots.

 

At what point, when 15 teams in a row walk away feeling like they had an off shooting night do we connect the common thread? At what point do missed layups become a product of tired legs and relentless pressure? At what point do we realize this defense owns a unique talent to systematically expose every opponent's fatal flaw?

 

"Obviously we are pretty good defensive team," Mick Cronin said. "I was pretty confident we would be able to defend Xavier, but I got to give our guys credit, we couldn't have done much better than that."

 

An easy gameplan against a Musketeers team with as much depth as a Paris Hilton interview would be to run, jump and press them into exhaustion. Cronin didn't bite for the easy solution. He opted to wear the Musketeers out in the half court and force them beat the Bearcats from anywhere but the free throw line.

 

In the end, UC held Xavier to 15 free throw attempts - second fewest of the season, the lowest came in a blowout win against Albany.

 

Terrell Holloway finds his flow and rhythm at the line. He's shot double-digit free throws in half of Xavier's games. Only twice has he shot less than seven.

 

His first free throw Thursday came with 4:39 remaining.

 

"We were just trying to make them try to drive and sit in the lanes," Gates said. "Make them drive to us and take tough shots and not give up fouls."

 

Fake traps, knowledge of the opponent's tendencies and discipline in the lane were the key. Maturity and fresh legs were the answer. Younger teams, less talented teams of the Cronin's past weren't as capable of executing this type of tactful aggression.

 

As many have thought, but most UC fans have been afraid to say: This team is different.

 

"When our defense is set we are a pretty adept defensive team," Cronin said. "If you can disrupt them from their offensive rhythm, without giving up an easy basket or wide open 3-point shot, that's what we try to do. It's a little easier to do that when you have a veteran team, that's the luxury I have this year."

 

Sure, Xavier struggles offensively. Relying on Mark Lyons and Kenny Frease to consistently make shots would not be a winning recipe.

 

Yet, this would be the lowest point total of the season and the lowest point total by a Musketeers team in the Crosstown Shootout since 1949 -- the same year Skyline Chili was founded.

 

The Bearcats played with a palpable poise a year removed from last year's Shootout fracas. When Terrell Holloway earned a technical foul for an elbow, nobody retaliated. When Cashmere Wright was slammed into the hoop support on a layup, he quietly proceeded to the foul line.

 

Cincinnati didn't pack its lunch pale, it packed a briefcase. Defense was played like a board-room negotiation: smart, calculated, relentless. 

 

Chris Mack sat the UC media table and shook his head at 15 turnovers that led to 25 UC points. He sat at the same spot Kevin Willard bemoaned 14 turnovers and only six offensive rebounds. And the same spot Oliver Purnell laughed at his team's 29-5 disadvantage in points off turnovers.

 

Spot a trend?

 

These are not Savannah States and St. Francis'. These are two Big East teams and a top tier Atlantic 10 squad coming off three consecutive Sweet 16s. All concluded with margins larger than 16 points. They scored an average of 53.

 

In the words of George Constanza: It's not you, it's me.

 

"You got to give Cincinnati credit, they are an excellent team," Mack said. "The turnovers driving the ball to the basket, UC's length had a lot to do that. That was our undoing."

 

And has been the undoing of many teams for a win streak that reached 15 games Thursday.

 

The tests increase in difficulty and the Bearcats continue to pass with flying colors. The offensive heroes change. On this night, fittingly, it was Cincinnati's own, Gates. But Sean Kilpatrick, Larry Davis and Dion Dixon have all owned that title at one point or another this season. 

 

Defense is the constant.

 

As the saying goes, defense travels. We'll find out Sunday if it travels well enough to beat Villanova.  

 

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MICK AND COACHES GOT EM PLAYING WISCONSIN BIG 10 TYPE DEFENSE, THE KILLER IS WE GOT SCORERS!!

I GIVE CREDIT TO THESE GUYS FOR BUILDING THIS PROGRAM BACK RATHER QUICK AND HAVING A LONG TERM OUT LOOK TO BEING A PERENNIAL TOP 5 TEAM IN THE COUNTRY AGAIN.