Let's start with the obvious: Mick Cronin did not want to play the #4 team in the country on its home floor without his best interior player.
For Yancy Gates to be suspended for a violation of team rules, you can safely assume that the Bearcat junior gave his head coach little choice.
"We don't have a lot of rules," Coach Cronin told me after the game. "Play hard, be a good guy, be committed to the team, and be coachable. It's really non-negotiable. I'm a big believer that in life, the squeaky wheel should not get the oil. So my energy and my efforts do not go to the squeaky wheel. They go to the guys that are doing the right things; that showed up and wanted to compete, and want to play hard for our fans, our university, and our city. If you're not one of those guys, you get no oil from me. I don't believe in the squeaky wheel gets the oil. I believe in the guys in that locker room and I'm proud to coach 'em and I'm looking forward to our next game."
That would be on Tuesday night at DePaul, and Coach Cronin would not discuss the likelihood of Gates being reinstated in time for the game. When I asked if he had plans to meet with Yancy in the next 24 to 48 hours, Cronin said, "I haven't thought about it."
The Bearcats lost at Pitt 71-59 on Saturday, and it's impossible to say if the outcome would have been much different if Gates had been there. Yancy averages roughly 11 points and 7 rebounds, and Biggie McClain nearly matched that production with 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 block in 23 minutes.
"Biggie did a great job and I thought we changed a lot of shots around the basket where we didn't get credit for blocks," Coach Cronin said. "He played probably as well as he can play."
The same can't be said of
"You've got to use the glass or dunk the ball and he got indecisive on that play," Cronin said. "The problem is that he missed another layup and he let that affect him. He's too self-conscious. That's just his personality. He lets that linger and then it affects his defense and his mannerisms. That's something that he's fought his whole career - he puts too much pressure on himself at times. He lets mistakes linger and he's got to show more fortitude."
Cashmere Wright was also scoreless until he made a layup in the last four minutes, but Coach Cronin was more concerned with how he ran UC's halfcourt offense.
"It's no different than football, when your quarterback takes care of the ball and distributes it to the right people, you're going to have good offense," Cronin said. "When your quarterback is forcing things that are not there, you're going to struggle. It's a process. We have to continue to coach him because he's got a lot of talent."
Wright finished with four turnovers and two of them came in the last 3:13 of the first half when Pitt went on an 11-3 run to take a 40-23 lead at intermission.
"When you're down, young people tend to panic," Coach Cronin said. "We had to have a talk in a timeout where I told them that, 'We don't need heroes, we need soliders.' That's the first thing they teach you in the military. Do what you're told and don't break rank and try to be a hero. Guys were doing it because they were trying to help the team. Cashmere Wright for example tried to force some plays that weren't there, but he was trying to help the team because we were struggling. He's got to believe in his teammates and believe in his offense. When we get good point guard play we're a good offense team - we really are."
A pair of 3-pointers by Pitt to begin the second half put the Bearcats in a 23-point hole, but they battled back to pull within 10 points and had the ball with 3:00 to go. Unfortunately,
"What I'm most proud of tonight was the competitiveness of the guys," Cronin said. "They never gave up, they stayed together, and they continued to compete. We learned a great lesson tonight that I think is going to help us going forward - you have to trust your offense. When we executed, we were getting good shots and layups. But when Pitt went on a run, we started to play too much one-on-one and didn't believe in our offense. When we ran our offense and moved people and moved the basketball, we scored."
He hopes that lesson was learned by the players that made the trip to
"I'm not concerned with that," Cronin told me. "I'm concerned with our basketball team right now and he's not part of it. I thought that the second half was great for us. Our program is at a point where for us to get over the hump and beat able to beat the Top 5 teams in the league, we've got to eliminate mistakes and our mental game has got to be better."
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