The Bearcats didn't play perfect basketball on Wednesday night, but they didn't need to. They only needed to win. And in the Big East, that's always good enough.
CINCINNATI -- Maybe the wishful thinking of plodding through piles of snow for the past two days moves the brain to thinking in golf metaphors, but leaving Fifth Third Arena on Wednesday night they seemed to fit.
Faced with a the latest obstacle, the Bearcats shot par. On this night, shooting par was good enough to beat the competition -- even if their home course is in
Not on this night. They needed only to avoid the hazards and fend off disaster.
It didn't have to be pretty. And it wasn't.
Ibrahima Thomas continued to find himself in foul trouble. Yancy Gates continued to battle inconsistency. Outside of some late foul shooting, the entire starting five took the night off for the most part.
The Bearcats still managed par. They still avoided the disaster hole. In the 18-game round of the brutal Big East, that's half the battle.
Make no mistake, a loss to USF on Wednesday would have been a disaster.
"You got to win at home," Mick Cronin said. "We need to go undefeated at home. I think every Big East coach would be sitting there thinking you have to win every home game."
Like an old man who slugs every drive down the middle of the fairway, the Bearcats are built to avoid the disaster hole. They weren't before.
With 10 players who can play the role of star on any given night, somebody is bound to save the day. Sean Kilpatrick and the Goon Squad did the scrambling Wednesday
During the 12-2 first-half run that provided a lead the Bearcats wouldn't relinquish, Kilpatrick figured in on every point. He scored seven points while assisting on a Yancy Gates dunk and Cashmere Wright 3-pointer.
"That's my job," Kilpatrick said. "Especially with coach having me coming off the bench is to come off with a spark. I try to lift my team up."
Kilpatrick still suffers from a feast-or-famine production trend. He's scored at least his Wednesday night total of 18 points four times. However, in six games this season, Kilpatrick couldn't total more than four points.
Despite the up and down, with games like Wednesday, he's beginning to build a case to follow in his buddy Lance Stephenson's footsteps as Big East Rookie of the Year.
Though, that discussion is for another day. This day was about finding a way to win. Cronin felt this one wouldn't easy. Sandwiching a team with six consecutive losses between trips to No. 7 Villanova and No. 4 Syracuse challenges the human nature of even the toughest-minded teams. Add in the fact USF hasn't lost a game by double digits this season and the possibility existed some of those four-letter words so commonly uttered on the links would be coming out of Cronin's mouth as he tried to sleep Wednesday.
He may still when thinking about Gates managing only three rebounds in 30 minutes. He almost certainly will when thinking about Thomas fouling out for the second consecutive game, this time in only 12 minutes while contributing no points and two assists.
"This was probably (Thomas') worst game of the year tonight," Cronin said. "He will tell you that. He has to stop fouling. Maybe the nicest kid I've ever coached, but he maybe needs therapy. He has an addiction of reaching in with his hands. The last step is denial, he's still in denial. I need to get him to recovery stage."
Those shortcomings and frustrations will be ironed out in practice the next two days. Then the trip to the Carrier Dome will serve as the latest test for this team to learn if they can show poise under pressure and compete with the best in the country.
Thanks to Wednesday's par, the Bearcats can take the Big Bertha driver out of the bag Saturday. You know, the one with the oversized tiger headcover you have the tendency to duck hook into the woods.
When you win the ones you're supposed to, a game like Saturday is a win-win. The Cats have nothing to lose.