(Rashad Bishop in UC's 66-46 win over
Xavier/Courtesy AP/Al Behrman)
Certainly after dropping three straight Shootouts, everyone in and around UC basketball is grateful for a win over their nemesis from Victory Parkway. You can say it's not important, but to the guys on the court and the geeks in the office that know nothing other than that one game each year, it's important.
However, that important feeling is over and the Bearcats best close the book on the Muskies and move onto walk across hot coals known as the Big East. Even Yancy Gates, with a career game against Xavier, knows it's in the rearview mirror.
"It means a lot to get the win," said Gates. "They're a real good team but we're not overwhelmed about the win."
For Larry Davis, it might've been a little sweeter as he didn't want to leave UC with a goose-egg against X, but even he realizes the brutal schedule ahead and the importance of focus. As a senior, Davis has been one of the Bearcats playing under control and not getting all hyped up in games where emotion can get the best of one.
"Just keep working," said Davis on UC's plans from here after holding Xavier to a mere 46 points. "We're going to still do defensive drills in practice."
And they will need them. Four of UC's next five games are on the road. After the Jan.12 game at home against USF, the Bearcats won't be back in Fifth Third Arena for a game until Jan. 26. Meantime, visits to Syracuse, Notre Dame and St. John's in a week's time are far from a picnic.
Gates hopes the lessons learned from their early Big East wins and the Xavier win will help them as they roll into the meat of the league over these next two months.
"We know what can happen if you come out for a game too antsy," said Gates. "We want to play hyper with a lot of energy, but not overdo it to the point where we're not playing basketball and just jacking up a lot of shots."
That's where the Shootout win can help, if that plan is followed. On the other hand, a Crosstown Shootout win for either team hasn't always guaranteed future success.
In 1996, #3 UC beat Xavier 99-90, then dropped a two-point game at UAB four days later. Nine years later, #21 UC won the game 65-54, then proceeded to get whipped at DePaul 85-66. 2006 saw Mick Cronin's new team beat the Muskies 67-57, only to get pummeled by 4th-ranked Ohio State three days later 72-50.
It's been proven time and time again; winning the local rivalry doesn't define the season one way or another. The game has had an impact in a variety of ways.
You can even go back to last season when UC was ranked in December after an impressive Maui Classic, but then fell to Xavier 83-79 in double overtime at Cintas Center and then were blown out of Bartow Arena (and the Top 25) by UAB.
An early Bob Huggins team won the game at the (then) Shoemaker Center, but then was only .500 (6-6) from there on out and fell short of an NCAA bid. They eventually lost in the second round of the NIT.
In contrast, Xavier twice beat the Bearcats when they were ranked #1. The '96-'97 team went 25-7 from that point and still won the Conference USA championship. In '99-'00, the Bearcats regained the #1 ranking twice more in that season and were 21-3 beyond that game.
Unfortunately, that season also featured Kenyon Martin's broken leg in the CUSA tournament which was far more painful than losing to Xavier at Cincinnati Gardens a few months before.
What's it mean?
It's just one game. The NCAA Selection Committee factors in a lot of things, but I'm guessing they don't issue the "golden ticket" solely on a team winning the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout.
"We know it's the Crosstown Shootout, but it's still just a game on your schedule that you have to go and play," said Gates. "We feel in the past couple years we probably put too much into this game and it probably overwhelmed us."
Hearing those words from a junior forward is proof that student-athletes mature. Not only did Gates have one of the more memorable Shootouts, he also had memorable postgame remarks.
"We need to worry about ourselves," said Gates when asked of UC's unblemished record. "We're really not worried about what those other teams are doing. We're just trying to stay focused and take our season one game at a time."
As clichéd as it is, that's the way it works.
The biggest thing UC took from the Xavier win was that the crowd was memorable and helpful.
"I think we need more of that," said Davis. "The fans need to come out and give us motivation. Me, on defense, when I hear the fans like that, it makes me not want to let the opponent score. I think we need more of that."
"I loved it," echoed Cashmere Wright. "It's one of the best things since I've been here. To have the crowd behind you every play you make, every situation that happens they make noise, it kind of helped us out and gave us the extra push."
Also giving that extra push is the undeniable effect of UC's "throwback" uniforms that they've worn several times this season in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1961 NCAA Championship team. Count the current 'Cats as fans of the "old school" look.
"They've got a skinny strap," said Gates of the way the uni's hang on his shoulder. "The other ones you're always tugging on. These feel like basketball jerseys instead of that new stuff they always come out with."
Then he made one more valid and mature point....
"They won a championship wearing these," said Gates. "You don't want to come out and dog it, especially on 'Throwback Night' when you wear their jerseys."
Thus far, there's been no "doggin' around" these 'Cats. But again, there's plenty of clawing to go to get to where those heroes 50 years ago got.
The Shootout is over. In the words of Bob Seger, "Turn the Page".