It Only Seemed Like The End Of The World

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It's hard to believe it's only been 11 days.


On February 13th after the home loss to St. John's, the most frustrated Bearcat fans were on the verge of giving up on this year's team.  Even the most loyal diehards - me included - would have to admit to being worried about the 'Cats chances of going to the NCAA tournament.


Not anymore.


Consecutive wins over Louisville, Providence, and Georgetown not only quelled the public panic, but have given the Bearcats their swagger back.


"Winning does help," head coach Mick Cronin told me.  "Especially when you beat a team like Louisville and lead by double figures for most of the game.  I think that did a lot for our confidence - no doubt about it."


But the team started to regain its confidence before the Louisville game.  One day after that demoralizing loss to St. John's, the Bearcats did not practice even though it limited them to one day of preparation before facing Rick Pitino's Cardinals.  Instead, they held a team meeting where their coach tried to build them back up.


"You have to get a fresh mindset," Cronin said.  "It's a long year and you have to give your guys some perspective.  I wanted everybody to understand that we were 19-6 at the time - that's a pretty good year.  We had to get guys focused again and in a positive frame of mind."


Mission accomplished.


Wednesday's stunning 58-46 win at #11 Georgetown means the Bearcats are 22-6 overall and 9-6 in the Big East.  It was their fourth win over a Top 25 RPI opponent (only five teams have more), greatly enhancing UC's resume as the 'Cats look to go return to the NCAA Tourney for the first time in Mick Cronin's tenure. 


"People say, 'You need to get in for you.'  No I don't - I'll be OK no matter what happens," Cronin said.  "I just don't think that way.  I think along the lines of team improvement and program improvement.  Obviously I like the way we're playing right now.  We're playing extremely hard, unselfish basketball.  Every man that goes in is focused-in on the defensive end.  When you have guys that are bought-in defensively the way we are right now, it's easy to coach."


In the win over Louisville, the Bearcats held the Cardinals to a season-low 54 points.  They were even stingier against Georgetown, holding the Hoyas to a season-low 46 on 12-for-48 (25%) shooting.  A big key was giving the Hoyas different looks, as the Bearcats played more zone defense than in any other game this season.


"They're such a rhythm team that it's almost like a symphony the way they run their half-court offense," Coach Cronin said.  "I just think you're foolish if you're just going to play them half-court man-to-man and let them get into that rhythm.  If you continue to change, it eliminates any rhythm for them and that was our goal."


With a three game Big East winning streak, all is well in Bearcat nation.  As the players walk around campus on Thursday, they'll undoubtedly be showered with praise.  But just as Coach Cronin did not want them to listen to their doubters 11 days ago, he does not want them to crave compliments now.


"With all due respect to everybody, we don't seek approval outside of our locker room." Mick told me.  "That can't be why you play the game or coach the game.  You have to coach and play for the love of the game and know that you're trying to do your best.  At the end of the day, life is empty if you've living it for the approval of other people.  You can't play the game for other people because their opinion can change at a moment's notice.  You lose a game and it changes real quick."


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Sam grin 2011.jpg

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