Bearcats finally relax

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It took one of the most stressful few days in the program's history to allow the tense Bearcats offense to finally relax. 

FAIRBORN, Ohio - The basketball world tuned in to ESPN Wednesday night expecting to see a Cincinnati Bearcats team reeling from one of the most stressful four days in the program's history.

People wondered how the eight remaining scholarship players would react as they took the court for the first time since the ugly images of punches and punishments overtook televisions across the nation.

"Everybody was waiting on us to explode and have a mental breakdown," Cashmere Wright said. "We just came out and just played."

They just played their best offense of the season in a 78-58 rout of Wright State.

Ironically, it took a stress unlike any these players have seen to let them finally relax. UC racked up its most points this season with an offense that not only looked different in bodies, but in philosophy.

Freshmen attacked the basket without fear of turnover. Sean Kilpatrick shot from every corner of the Nutter Center without fear of his wrist falling off. An offense defined by nervous tension through eight games played like it was a mid-summer pickup game in the park.

The Bearcats had done enough worrying the last four days, there was no reason to do so on the basketball court.

"Whatever happens, happens," Wright said. "Everybody was free to play your game. And nobody cared. All we cared about is what you do on the defensive end. What happened on the offensive end was up to you."

That attitude was as far different in look and feel as the atmosphere Wednesday compared to Saturday in Cintas.

The change came as result of a conscious decision by Mick Cronin and his staff this week. Too often this season offensively the Bearcats looked to be offensive technicians. On Wednesday, they looked to be ball-players.

It made all the difference.

Kilpatrick knocked down a career-high six 3-pointers and shot 12 on his way to a game-high 20 points. Wright shot seven times from deep and hit two. JaQuon Paker, who made three 3-pointers all last season, hit 2 of 3. Freshman Jermaine Sanders not only made the first 3-pointer of his career, but added a two more without a miss for good measure.

And why not? In this shoot-first, don't-worry second offense, there were few restrictions. For Kilpatrick, the freedom was palpable.

"It's easy when all your teammates got confidence in you, especially with your coach he's looking at you like, if you are open shoot the ball," Kilpatrick said. "Don't hesitate, don't do nothing. Shoot the ball. Especially with guys like Cashmere Wright in my ear all day throughout practice and throughout the game, like, keep shooting, keep shooting - that's what I did."

Indeed, the high-pitched voice of Cashmere Wright lived inside ears of his teammates this week. At the end of the day, the junior point guard's voice is where this remarkable philosophical transformation originated and calls home.

With chaos surrounding them and the world judging its most prominent leader, left behind was a team in dire need of direction and leadership.

Wright provided it.

"As proud as I've ever been of him since he's been at Cincinnati the way he's taken control of the team and said look we're going to get this done," Cronin said. "He took ownership of the team from the moment this happened. It all started in Monday morning's first practice. Kelvin Gaines made a mistake, he ran over to him and said don't you worry about it. You just play hard. He kept doing that to all the freshman.

"He was a true leader. He was the difference mentally with all these guys."

Consequently, the Cats didn't worry. They just played.

"The offense is more free-flowing," Wright said of the forced four-guard attack. "We just got the go-ahead to play your game. If you were a scorer in high school, go be a scorer now. Don't question yourself. If you know you can do it, do it. And that's what (Cronin) told me to instill in all my teammates."

They all bought in. More precisely, they bought in to each other.

"We stuck together," Kilpatrick said. "Like a family. Times like this especially, you have to stick together."

 acked into a corner, they emerged united and focused.

 Wright State coach Billy Donlon knew it before the 19-4 UC run to open the game even began.

"You could see just a quiet confidence and quiet group of guys early that they were here with a purpose," Donlon said. "That purpose was fulfilled, no question."

The purpose began the process of changing the conversation surrounding UC. Step 1 turning the positive into a negative is in the books. From within that a new purpose arose.

"Our goal is to win six in a row and make it hard for guys to get playing time when they come back," Cronin said. "We are not going to let that define us. We said, look, this is going to be a watershed moment for us. Let's be honest. 

"We got to come together. We have really struggled to come together with our upperclassmen and our freshmen to get on the same page all year. This team, we really needed to come together. Unfortunately, it took a bad incident for that, but the guys really came together and we are going to turn it into a positive in a lot of ways."

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