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For Bearcats, drowning out critics temporarily disproves them

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Cincinnati's 63-54 victory against No. 16 Louisville on Wednesday showcased a renewed vigor that was the product of turning all allegiance to the people inside the home locker room.

 

CINCINNATI - For the past three days the college basketball public buried the Cincinnati Bearcats. Talk shows and Twitterverse, bloggers and broadcasters, friends and fans, the eulogy on the 2010-11 UC team blanketed every corner of the country a media outlet covered.

 

The team's in disarray. The locker room fractured. They're cracking under the pressure.

 

Yet, during those three days, while the outside world claimed basketball Armageddon in Clifton, the Bearcats regrouped.

 

Check that, they recoiled.

 

The team nobody outside Fifth Third Arena was buying looked around the locker room and liked what it saw: A contingent of young men who believed in each other.

 

Too often over the past few weeks, these players caught themselves listening to the damning outside rhetoric. So often, a piece of them began to believe it.

 

A string of Monday meetings allowed grievances to be aired and air to be cleared. The conversation turned to those outside influences. The team that bulldozed its way to 15-0 riding the mantra nobody believed in them rediscovered a chip amid the rubble of negative press clippings and placed it square on their shoulder.

 

A conclusion was met. They were done listening to the outsiders. They were done talking about signature wins. They were done playing for anybody except those filling that room.

 

"We have been telling each other we had to hold each other accountable," Sean Kilpatrick said. "Even though, say one of their other player scores, we are not looking at it like our coach is going to be mad, we look at it like one of our players is going to be mad. We can't let them down. If anything, we are playing for each other."

 

Mick Cronin called Tuesday the Bearcats best practice in two or three months. For the 24 hours after the practice, the Bearcats prepared to pounce, desperate to take the court.

 

From the moment the ball flew in the air Wednesday, the Bearcats delivered a new message. The salvo may have been the gameplan against the Louisville Cardinals, but could as easily been directed at every person doubting them recently.

 

"Attack and attack and attack," Cashmere Wright said.

 

Led by Wright, the Bearcats did. The team still searching for consistent intensity over 40 minutes never relented against the No. 16 team in the country. Wright dove to the floor for loose balls he had little business stealing. Others did the same. Seemingly every third pass was deflected. Players attacked the rim to create open looks rather than waiting for shots to develop.

 

"I wanted to do anything I could do to keep my team on the attack," Cronin said.  

 

Louisville would cut a lead of 15 down to five, but the run that's defined so many of their close wins this season never came. The Bearcats responded with more hustle, more energy, more grit.

 

"We played as hard as we've played all year for 40 minutes," Cronin said. "Our defense was great to the end."

 

They forced Louisville's lowest point total in Big East play.

 

"They were the tougher team tonight," Louisville's Terrence Jennings said.

 

The Bearcats wouldn't allow a loss Wednesday. They weren't about to let each other down.

 

"Kids can get distracted," Cronin said. "They are under a lot of pressure, a lot of stress. It is hard to insulate your team from negativity. We said we are 19-6 and we need to be proud of that. We need to act like it. We don't need to let anybody define us individually or as a group that is outside of our locker room."

 

Nobody fought more outside influences the past three days - or past three years, for that matter - than Yancy Gates. Controversy and opinions swirled on how he should be handled and what his role on the team should be going forward.

 

A negative spotlight that bright would crumble many 21-year-olds. Gates didn't.He played one of his most inspired games of the season. The numbers were light on points, but heavy on effort. Gates provided help defense, deflections and physicality en route to eight points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks, a steal and zero turnovers.

 

"He had a great game," said Cronin, who played Gates 30 minutes. "The stat line doesn't do justice to how big an effect he had on the game by getting fouled. He had zero turnovers against a team that was trying to trap him a lot. It allowed us to run our offense through him in the second half."

 

By the time he left the floor for the first time, the boos that cascaded down on Sunday were replaced by roaring cheers. Gates said the response felt good, but for him, the performance wasn't some heroic endeavor. In fact, dealing with criticism the last few days hasn't been a problem at all.

 

For his view, as well as the rest of the Bearcats, there was no criticism.

 

"I've got great teammates," Gates said. "My teammates never complain about nothing. My teammates know. I talk to my teammates about everything. Nothing has really been hard because as long as my teammates were not upset with me nothing else really mattered."

 

Where many predicted Sunday's loss and the residual aftermath would split the Bearcats apart, they came out Wednesday and proved it accomplished the opposite.

 

Just when they stopped worrying about the knock of lacking a signature win, one was earned.  

So, the eulogists were wrong, at least for one night. They'll likely resurface again. Just don't expect the Bearcats to be listening.

 

"No," Gates said when asked if they proved anything Wednesday. "Everybody doubts us. We don't care. It doesn't matter to us."

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