I don't know about you, but I feel considerably better about the last few minutes of UC's win over DePaul after seeing the wild finish of Wednesday's Villanova/Rutgers game.
In case you missed it, the 10th-ranked Wildcats had an 8-point lead with 1:55 to go. But a team that might have the best guards in the country committed two turnovers and gave up 3-pointers after each one to cut the lead to two. After 'Nova pushed its lead back to five with 16 seconds left, Rutgers nailed another three to pull back within a deuce. Then after Corey Fisher - a 79% free throw shooter - missed one of two foul shots, he inexplicably committed a touch foul on a 3-point shooter with less than one second to go.
As Shaun Simpson put it on Twitter, "Bishop's pass wasn't even the worst decision in 25 hours."
That's not to say that we shouldn't be concerned about how the Bearcats played down the stretch in
"We scored three points in the last six minutes of the game," head coach Mick Cronin said. "We were 3-of-8 from the foul line including three front-ends of the bonus. We were up anywhere from 8 to 17 when we started missing free throws."
"We think that we let down our guard," Cashmere Wright told me. "We got lackadaisical and let things happen that usually don't happen. We have to make better decisions at the end of the game."
But just as the Bearcats need to learn from what they did poorly in the last six minutes, they also need to repeat what they did well in the first 34. Until the end of the game,
"I thought Cash and Dion both did a great job of running our offense and our big guys did a great job of setting screens," Coach Cronin told me. "We were able to be highly efficient. Our offensive execution was excellent, our ball movement was excellent, and our offensive rebounding continues to be excellent. We got 13 offensive rebounds and only missed 20 shots - that's pretty strong."
Nothing was more encouraging than the play of Ibrahima Thomas who abandoned his jumper and took shots that were close to the basket. Thomas hit 8 of 10 shots and finished with 16 points - his highest total in two years as a Bearcat.
"He has it in him," Dion Dixon said. "It's all mental for him and he came in focused. I knew he was going to play well because I saw his focus."
"Thomas is playing well and I'm really happy for him," Coach Cronin said. "He's a great kid and he's fought through a lot of tough things. He went to the bench for a few games and wasn't in the starting lineup and it's really been good to get him going over the last two games."
Yancy Gates, on the other hand, struggled in his first game back from a one-game suspension, finishing with 5 points and 3 rebounds before fouling out in 16 minutes of playing time. Gates was among the foul shooting culprits as he went 1-for-4 from the line and saw his FT% drop to 44% in Big East games (14-for-32).
"It doesn't make sense for a guy to be such an effective 15-foot jump shooter and then struggle at the foul line when you're allowed to stand there with 10 seconds to shoot the ball," Cronin said. "I think it's a mental thing with him. There are some technical things where he leans to the left that we've tried to work hard on, but that's an area that has to be shored up for us. If you're going to go inside to a guy, he's going to get fouled. When you play close games, those are big, big points."
Still, Yancy's teammates say they're happy to have him back for the critical final three weeks of the regular season.
"When (the suspension) happened and we left for
Gates had 13 points, 8 rebounds, and made a game-winning 3-point play with 8 seconds to go in UC's win at
"I look at this as a must-win," Dion Dixon said. "They've got some good wins, but if we sweep them that would really help us because we're fighting with them to get to the tournament."
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