Dion Dixon spent the last three games rediscovering his offense, attacking the hoop with renewed confidence and providing a much needed perimeter presence.
Justin Jackson spent the last three games making the Bearcats base forget last year he was attending prom and grinding through the
To see them combine for 14 points and 10 turnovers Sunday could certainly be called surprising. Mick Cronin chose a different word.
"Disappointing," he said during the postgame press conference in between shaking his head and rubbing his hand across his forehead.
Every game teaches a lesson. Sunday, the Bearcats taught us a lesson we already knew, a lesson they already knew: They aren't good enough to win in this league with less than full effort.
Sloppy passes, lazy outlets and failing to fall back in transition after a bucket doesn't cut it in Big East play. That's where the disappointment comes from for Cronin.
"We did not come with the mentality of fighting and scrapping today," Cronin said. "We had some guys that looked like they would rather be at the Kenwood Towne Centre."
Waiting in the back of a snaking line at FYE would probably have been less frustrating for the coach.
The Bearcats came a long way over the past few years. Learning to deal with success represents the final stage of a program rebuild. It's no secret how this team plays with its back against the wall. Two wins against Top 25 teams in the last two weeks tell that story. They looked like one of the elite teams in the country's elite conference.
Sunday answered a popular question making the rounds since the
"Much is talked about Mick Cronin has he built the program, let's talk about the kids, the effort of what they have fought through," Cronin said. "What they have dealt with all the surrounding stuff around
Cronin didn't know the answer to his own question. Sometimes dealing with 20-year-olds can be confounding. Battling human nature can be as difficult as battling Kemba Walker. UC provided breathing room for itself by winning in D.C. Only one problem, that doesn't mean they can breathe. In this conference, it will expose you.
And in the Bearcats current situation, it exposes their resume. Now a game awaits at a
An inability to scrap and claw for those contests and the Bearcats become a topic of bubble discussion inside the board room in
Sunday was an opportunity to keep their name out of conversation. Instead, they learned another tough lesson.
"I've been saying that all year, some of our guys, in particular Cash Wright and Dion Dixon, they are great kids, they are not easy to coach," Cronin said. "They can really at times dial it down."
Some days shots won't fall. UC made 4 of 17 from 3-point range Sunday.
Some days opponents' role players will contribute above their standard. Freshmen Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith combined for 28 points, they average 15.
Some days, injuries will occur. Rashad Bishop hurt his toe at the beginning of the second half and it limited him to eight minutes after the break.
On those days, toughness and urgency most make up the difference. Finding that on a consistent basis continues to be most confounding obstacle for this group. Cronin inferred a vocal, undeniable leader might be lacking right now.
Bishop has been providing that more than any other Bearcats player. In Cronin's mind, he was the only one providing it Sunday. When he went down, nobody was available to take his place.
"Coaches talk about having a Kenyon Martin, a leader," Cronin said. "When you have that kind of guy, they may not win the game but that kind of guy that will make sure you are ready. No doubt, any chance we had to win went out the window when (Bishop) went to the locker room with the injury."
The good news is the Bearcats back is again placed firmly against the wall. The bad news is the Bearcats back is again placed firmly against the wall.
Following Sunday's missed opportunity, the margin for error is that much smaller.
The loss was not fatal for their postseason expectations. It was just disappointing.