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The Morning After: UC 63, Louisville 54

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What a difference a game makes.

With one impressive showing such as the one last night against No. 16 Louisville, the outlook can change on a Cashmere Wright dime. The NCAA selection committee and the rest of the public looked to Fifth Third Arena for another eye test of the Bearcats.

They saw what an NCAA tournament team looks like.

Anybody who followed the Bearcats all year knew they were capable of this. Many non-believers and fair-weather followers jumped ship, but those who watched closely knew it could happen.

Whatever this team found between Sunday and Wednesday they sure need to bottle it. One game does not make a streak, but playing 40 minutes with that kind of intensity is the water that makes them grow.

Loved this line last night from Mick Cronin, however, when asked if he thought this win helped his NCAA tournament chances. It beautifully reflected the need to stay even keel. Not too low after the St. John's loss and not too high after the Louisville win.

"Every win helps," he said. "But Saturday, if we get beat, you will ask me how much that hurts your NCAA chances."

--- I wrote my postgame column on what sparked that 40-minute intense effort the Cats have been waiting for all season long.

They took the "nobody believes in us" mentality and really played with a chip on their shoulder for the first time in a long time.

Cronin talked about keeping his kids insulated from all the negativity and how hard it's been to do that.

He delivered a line I wasn't able to sneak in, but was pretty humourous. 

"It is hard to insulate your team from negativity. Probably a lot harder than I anticipated because I am totally insulated. I coach basketball, try to get a work out in and play with a 4-year-old. With princess dolls. Sometimes I'm the king, sometimes I'm the guard of the castle. Other than that I don't really know what's going on in the world."

--- As for Cronin, Wednesday provided his first 20-win season with the Bearcats. It also assured that for the fifth consecutive season his win total rose from the previous.

His pride in what has been accomplished here continues to be abundantly clear. In fact, pride was a large part of the message he delivered to his team as they regrouped this week.

"I told guys in the meeting Monday: Nobody is raining on my parade," Cronin said. "I don't need to rehash what my situation looked like when I took this job. Tough loss against St. John's, trust me, I was sick for two days. It's a brutal existence when something like that happens, but nobody is raining on my parade. I don't care who it is. I used to have to coach games in this league with kids that I loved, but Marcus Sikes playing center against Aaron Gray and Hasheem Thabeet.

"I got a good team that plays hard, we are banging it out in the hardest league in America. Fourth and 11th place are separated by two games. We are having a good year whether anybody wants to recognize it or not. We are. I am going to do everything I can to make sure they enjoy it and nobody is going to stop me from enjoying it."

Nobody ever wants to give Cronin credit, but everything he said was 100 percent correct. And it took a phenomenal coaching job to turnaround what happened against St. John's and extract the effort put forth Wednesday.

Right now, his team is 20-6, 7-6 in the Big East with three wins against teams ranked in the Top 25 of the RPI. What were the predictions saying in the preseason? To claim he hasn't done a great job of coaching this year would be an absolute falsehood.  

--- Hard not to feel great for the Bearcats watching them celebrate after the game. Justin Jackson, Sean Kilpatrick and others were standing on the baseline media table in front of the student section cheering and high-5ing fans all around the arena.

Never to be upstaged in taking it to the next level, Justin Jackson jumped into the student section and ran to the middle of it.

I asked Kilpatrick why he didn't follow Jackson in there.

"Nah, I would have probably gotten mugged or something," he said.

--- Cashmere Wright looked like one of the top three point guards in the Big East last night. His final stat line was 20 points on 7 of 15 shooting, 2 of 6 from 3-point range. He had two assists, two turnovers and two steals.

Wright rarely has a problem driving to the rim, one of his major bugaboos has been finishing there. He didn't just finish there Wednesday, but finished with flair. His drive and wraparound, reverse layin as the shot clock expired was one of the most professional moves I've seen at Fifth Third all year.

Bill Koch touched on Cash quite a bit in his gamer, but the message to him was to attack the Cards and not worry so much about the play-calling. It clearly worked.

When asked if he thought he could do whatever he wanted on the floor, Cash had one of the great non-responses I've seen lately. He just nodded his head over and over again.

Last year, Cash had what amounted to a breakout offensive game at Louisville. He hadn't been playing much prior to that game (only double digit minutes twice in the previous seven) but scored 12 points as UC made a late run in an eventual loss.

The next game? Against Providence. How did he do? He poured in a career high 24 points.

---  Rich Bozich of the Louisville Courier-Journal wrote about this being a mid-February burp for the Cardinals and how they were outhustled and out-toughed in about every capacity imaginable.

--- Rashad Bishop takes some heat from fans for some of his uneven offensive showings. But he continues to prove his defensive prowess far overshadows any missed 3-pointers.

Last night, the plan was to put him on Cardinals point guard Peyton Siva, because Cronin thought a key for Louisville would be Siva penetrating the lane. So much of their offensive bases off his dribble-drive and kick or finish.

Then Bishop did what Bishop does. He shut him down.

Chad Brendel wrote about Bishop playing the role of unsung hero.

In the first half as UC built what turned out to be an insurmountable lead Siva contributed 0 points, 0 assists and 1 turnover.

Siva would finish with eight points and two assists in 22 minutes, but Bishop clamping down on a quick point guard like Siva should be recognized.

"This kid is the best defensive player in our conference," Cronin said."You guys that watch us know that. He can guard 1-4. He's unbelievable, his defense. We made a decision to put him on Siva to keep Siva out of the lane. We have our guys that can chase Knowles, but when Siva came out we put him on Knowles. That is a luxury to have as a coach. We are going to miss that big time next year."

Contributing 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals, including a monster 3-pointer late, with that type of defense makes about a perfect contribution from Bishop.

"That's his job, though," Yancy Gates said. "He's the best defender on the team and he accepts that. He locks into it and goes out there and guards everybody. He really sets the tone for us on defense in games like this."

--- Next home game, Sunday the 27th against UConn. Watching Bishop vs Kemba Walker (who went for 31 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds last night vs Georgetown) will be one of the matchups of the year in the Big East.

--- The Courier-Journal's C.L. Brown wrote about the officiating in his postgame report. In particular, he wrote about how despite a 24-7 advantage in free throws attempted for UC, Pitino thought it was well-officiated.

The key was when the Cardinals did drive the lane, the Bearcats were disciplined enough not to foul.

That provided another underrated aspect of Yancy Gates' big comeback game last night.

"Hard to describe, but that doesn't show up in the stat sheet," Cronin said. "When you got guys driving at you and you're able to make them take tough shots without fouling."

--- Larry Davis started in place of Dion Dixon on Wednesday night in an attempt to bring more energy from the opening tip on. That, along with 20 frighteningly intense minutes from Justin Jackson (who started the second half), provided the necessary jolt.

--- How focused were the Bearcats on the Louisville game? When asked a question about playing the next two games on the road, Wright didn't even know who they play in two games. (@Georgetown) 

--- Ballin' is a Habit asks who was that team that played Louisville last night and places UC back in the NCAA tournament picture.

--- As an aside to all the strength of schedule haters out there -- did you know that in the last eight years (since OOC strength was calculated) only Duke posted a non-conference strength of schedule higher than 93? Did you know that half of the national champions the past eight years posted an OOC strength lower than 150?

Seth Davis did and wrote a mailbag about it.  

--- Reason No. 4,438 I hold a love/hate relationship with Twitter. Moments after the game concluded last night I received a tweet stating that the only reason UC won last night was because Rick Pitino played terrible lineups, throwing the game for his friend Mick Cronin who really needed a win.

Ugh.

--- Stat of the night: Louisville goes 4 of 17 from 3-point range. Kyle Kuric 1 of 4. Kuric was 17 of 28 from behind the arc in his last five games.

The four 3-point field goals tied for a low in Big East play for the Cardinals who lead the conference in 3-pointers by an average of two per game (8.4).

--- Quote of the night: Mick Cronin on Louisville living off of steals and 3-pointers:

"Like I told our team, they're like Batman with his armor and Superman with his cape. Steals and the 3-point shot. If you don't let them steal the ball and get on runs and you don't let them bang on 3s and get on runs you really take away what makes them who they are. They are just Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne.

 

"My guys had no idea who either of those guys were."

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