The No. 1 thing I was looking for last night was some improvements made in the offense. For the most part, we saw that.
The Bearcats did a much better job than they had been of making the extra pass and locating the open shooter. Even a few times when somebody penetrated the lane and could have forced up a contested layup, they kicked out to a wide open 3-point shooter on the perimeter.
At the end of the day, they shot 46.8 percent from the field. That was their highest total since hitting 47.1 percent in a win against Seton Hall. And it could have been better, UC hit 6 of 18 3-pointers, but not for lack of good looks. Outside of a few shots at the end of the shot clock, most of the 3-pointers were uncontested, they just missed them.
The Cats finished with 16 assists on 22 baskets.
I thought one of the most telling quotes of the season came from Mick Cronin when discussing the progress of the offense over the last couple days. He took on responsibility for the offensive problems over the last two weeks.
"You got to look in the mirror. As a coach it is embarrassing when you watch the film of your team that's just too disorganized at times," he said. "It's easy to blame kids, then you got to go back and watch it again and say, 'OK, my job is to get him to do what I am telling him to do. How do I make is simpler for him? Make it easier for him?' That's really what I tried to do."
Cronin said the the team spent the last two days simplifying the offense. They ran about five things and made sure they ran them well.
"Sometimes you try to do too much and your guys get confused," Cronin said.
Rutgers assistants were calling out the Bearcats offense whenever Cronin would yell it from the bench. Obviously the Knights knew what was coming, but judging by the numbers and open looks created, that didn't much matter.
Now, scoring against the bottom half of the league hasn't been an issue this year. Finding a way to score consistently against the more athletic teams continues to be the difference between UC and the upper crust of the BE.
We'll see how the simplification works against Bob Huggins and the West Virginia defense.
--- For last night's column I wrote about how the toughness the Bearcats showed last night is a good sign for the final month finish this team is about to endure. I think this was a much more impressive win than the Bearcats will ever get credit for.
Cashmere Wright's slide on the floor, steal and assist for a dunk was one of the great plays of the season.
--- Speaking of great plays, Darnell Wilksx2. He was put into the starting lineup to finish better in the lane than Ibrahima Thomas was. Yeah, I'd say he's doing that.
--- How about Rashad Bishop?
He needed that game badly. His struggles of late were well documented, but Bishop did a much better job Wednesday of attacking the bucket and not settling for jump shots. He still hoisted up a fair share of 3-pointers (2 for 6) but also made it to the FT line for eight shots (two were for a tech on Mike Rice).
Not surprisingly, the guy whose now shooting 91 percent (34 of 37) from the line didn't miss.
Cronin stressed with Bishop attacking the basket instead of settling for jumpers and he responded. Those were the most free throws he's had in a game since he went 6 for 6 in each of the first two games of the season.
All his free throws came during the normal flow of the game, he didn't shoot any foul shots when Rutgers started hacking.
"He's been telling me it doesn't make any sense shooting 96 percent if you never get there," Bishop said. "Tonight I just tried to be aggressive and to the lane."
Cronin went off on a tangent when I asked him about Bishop's attacking offense. It was an interesting take which overflowed into the Sean Kilpatrick-Bishop dilemma Cronin deals with in his rotation almost nightly.
"We are a different team when he plays well offensively. He's our best defender. He and Dion lead us in scoring, obviously, there's people who don' think either one of them should start. There's a reason Sean Kilpatrick doesn't start. I got a senior and junior that are good players, very good players. Sean Kilpatrick is a freshman and he plays like a freshman. But Rashad's defense, you watch him play one-on-one defense, he's as good as anyone in
Cronin went on to talk about how confident he was at St. John's after Yancy Gates made his free throw because he knew STJ would go 1-4 flat with Dwight Hardy and Hardy wouldn't score with Bishop on him one-on-one. The he continued back on the Kilpatrick topic...
"When Rashad is scoring we do go to another level as a team. Whenever you get your best defensive lineup to play well on offense and vice versa. When your best defender struggles to score, what do you do? You got to put a freshman in and he's got to guard somebody he really can't and he's not ready to guard. It's not realistic to think Sean Kilpatrick is going to stop Dane Miller one on one. It's not going to happen. He didn't stop him one time tonight."
--- Kilpatrick did play 20 minutes with seven points including a big 3-pointer as Rutgers was pulling the game close.
--- Another game and more quality minutes from Biggie McClain. Against St. John's it came in the first half and sparked a 15-1 run. He didn't play in the second half. On Wednesday, he didn't play until entering with 4:59 left. And what happened?
He put in a nice lefty layup on a dish from Ibrahima Thomas, soaked up the middle on defense and even threw an perfect long outlet pass for a dunk off a rebound.
When he entered UC led 52-48. A minute and a half later, the Cats led 60-48. It wasn't all Biggie, but he gave the team a nice lift.
"Biggie, he's always ready to play no matter how long he sits," Gates said. "He's always on the bench ready to come in. You could tell. He came in right away and got a tough bucket. A big bucket at that."
At one point I tweeted "Biggie=Instant offense" -- and it wasn't sarcastic. So many things about this season have been hard to believe. That's near the top of the list.
--- The conversation turned to West Virginia after the game and Gates didn't deny that this team has what happened last year in the Big East tournament in the back of its mind.
"The coaches haven't brought it to our attention," he said. "We haven't done any team things, film or preparation. Us as players, we thought about it. I am not going to lie, we talk about it a little bit, but not to the point it took away the focus from tonight."
--- It was announced last night the WVU game is officially a sell out, though there are a limited number of student tickets available.
--- Brandon Phillips, Drew Stubbs and Todd Frazier of the Reds were in the house last night. Phillips was sporting shades indoors and a Heman shirt. You don't get much cooler than that.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, somebody was running around in a full-body green spandex suit which was less than appealing.
--- Stat of the night: The Bearcats grabbed 35 percent of their offensive rebound opportunities (10 of 29) while Rutgers only grabbed 17 percent (5 for 29).
--- Quote of the night: Mick Cronin talking about the improved passing of Larry Davis, who had three assists -- his highest total in conference play this year.
"For people that follow us, his passing improvement is unbelievable, the plays he's making for other people is just tremendous. We used to say don't ever go duck hunting with Larry. He'll kill you. He literally used to take out spectators in practice. High school kids, early season, he'd take people out with some of the passes he threw."