Is It Saturday Night at 9:40 Yet?

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Yancy Gates made one three-point basket as a freshman and did not hit a single trey last year.


Of the two he made during the regular season this year, one was a desperation bank shot just before the halftime buzzer in the home finale against Georgetown.


So what does he do in the NCAA Tournament?  Knock down both of his three-point attempts with Reggie Miller-like swishes in the Bearcats 78-63 win over Missouri.


Welcome to March Madness.


"Coach (George) Jackson told me, 'If you're comfortable - just shoot it.  Don't worry about it,'" Yancy said.  "My man never put his hand up, so I just let it go."


Gates vs Mizzou.jpg 

Alright, we'll admit it - that was lucky.  But the Bearcats victory was anything but a matter of good fortune.


Given three days to prepare for the so-called "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball," the Bearcats had little trouble with Missouri's swarming defense.  Cincinnati only turned the ball over 11 times against a team that forces an average of 18 turnovers a game.  That prevented Missouri from getting a slew of easy buckets in transition, and allowed the Bearcats to play most of the game at their pace.


"We did a good job of simulating their scrambling and gambling defense at practice by playing 5-on-6 or 5-on-7," Coach Cronin told me.  "The guys got used to securing the basketball and not over-dribbling.  Fortunately, we had some time to prepare.  The way to slow a team like that down is to score on them.  If they have to take the ball out of the basket, they have to deal with your 5-on-5 defense."


Missouri wound up with just 63 points.  That's four more than Cincinnati averages on defense, but it was 18 fewer than the Tigers average on offense.  The Bearcats even forced a 35-second shot clock violation - only the third committed by Mizzou all season.


"Their low point total was accomplished as much on the offensive end as the defensive end," said assistant coach Larry Davis.  "They thrive on stealing the ball and laying it in.  They have a hard time scoring a high number if you don't turn the ball over and for most of the game we did a great job against the press."


While Gates was the obvious star with 18 points (7-8 FG) and 11 rebounds, Cincinnati also got a heroic performance from point guard Cashmere Wright.  His surgically-repaired left knee is clearly giving him trouble, and the sophomore could be seen wincing in pain throughout the game.  But Wright stayed on the court for 32 minutes and finished with 11 points, 7 assists, and only 3 turnovers.


"Cash came in focused," Yancy Gates said.  "His knee has been bothering him and he's been getting treatment to try to keep the pain to a minimum.  The way he came out and showed toughness when we needed him to handle the ball - our point guard really stepped up for us.  He only made three turnovers and that was big."


"I was concerned on Monday because he had a rough day at practice," Coach Cronin said.  "His knee has been giving him trouble over the last month of the season.  We don't talk about it a lot, but it's probably something that he'll have to get fixed after the season.  He's had it drained a few times this year, but fortunately over the last few days, he's been better."


The win over Missouri came six years to the day after Cincinnati's last NCAA tournament victory - a 76-64 win over Iowa in 2005.  After spending five years out of the tournament, the Bearcats are in no hurry to go home.


"You don't realize how much you miss it," Coach Cronin told me.  "I was spoiled as an assistant and in my first few years as a head coach.  You don't realize how hard it is to get here.  I never had to go through a rebuilding project quite like I have at Cincinnati and I never plan on doing it again.  You realize what a privilege it is to be a part of the tournament and how exciting it is.  You don't realize how much you miss something until you get a taste of it again."


Up next, a rematch against the UConn Huskies who beat the Bearcats 67-59 a little less than three weeks ago at Fifth Third Arena.  Cincinnati held Kemba Walker to 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting in the game, but his teammates hit 9-of-15 three point shots (60%).


"I had the scouting report for that game and I look back on it and I'm going to take some of the blame because we emphasized stopping Kemba Walker so hard that maybe we didn't emphasize enough that you can't let their young guys have wide-open shots," said assistant coach Larry Davis.  "We'll approach the game a little bit differently this time around and make sure that our guys know that we have to get to their perimeter guys a little bit tougher.  We can't give them rhythm shots.  Their freshman are playing like veteran guys now.  They've played in the Big East and they know what they're doing.  We have to have a more solid effort against their younger guys and still duplicate what we did against Kemba." 


Saturday night at 9:40 can't get here soon enough.


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