The Morning After: UC 56, Oklahoma 55

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I have to imagine everyone wakes up this morning like myself, still wondering how the heck UC ended up beating Oklahoma last night.

For all the ugly and unsightly aspects of Thursday's game, the refusal to lose and will to win were something to behold. UC needs to figure out how this offense will work against quality competition. And they badly need some reinforcements back on the interior. But, there is a part of me that thinks winning a game against a Big Six school when you play that poorly may go a longer way than beating them when you shoot the lights out.

That's partially what my column was about postgame. Here's the link.

So much more to touch on from last night, let's dive in.

--- I had the pleasure of watching the game last night next to a Hall of Famer in Mike DeCourcy from The Sporting News. Always amplifies the experience. And, of course, a great piece from the victory.

--- Here was a summary with some notes and quotes from Bill Koch.

--- As I mentioned before the game,
it seems hard to imagine this team where everyone had been shooting so well to end up having a truly horrendous night from beyond the arc. Everybody couldn't go cold, could they?

Apparently, yes.

Maybe it was the rims, maybe it was the shooting background, likely it was the opponent, but 3-point shooting went bone dry.

It took 9:05 for UC to hit its first 3-pointer, they missed all but one of their first 12 shots from the field -- a fast break dunk by Dion Dixon.

This offense will not work if guys shoot like this. Of course, no offense will work if a team shoots 28 percent from the floor and misses 44 (!) shots.

The offense predicated on the dribble-drive had plenty of dribble but no drive. UC couldn't penetrate the lane. Oklahoma switched off, helped and UC froze. While the Cats started to figure it out as the game went along, then they missed layups and couldn't finish against athletic big men guarding the lane.

"We took some bad shots, we didn't get the ball moving," Cronin said. "I don't know how we were only down five at half. It was too easy for us the last four games offensively. Shots were going in. And when shots weren't going in we panicked a little bit."

For the majority of the night, it amounted to four players standing outside the arc, watching the other dribble. That's a good recipe for scoring a season-low 19 points in the first half.
"We were doing dribble-drive, person who pass the ball got to cut we were just standing there watching the other person dribble the ball," Cashmere Wright said. "It was kind of throwing off the process of what we do."

--- Really, nobody could shoot from deep.

Oklahoma entered shooting 41 percent from 3 on the season. They were 5 of 16 for 31 percent.

Of course, UC entered 40 percent on the season and hit 7 of 30 for 23 percent.

--- How much of the falloff stems from playing a legitimate team and how can be attributed to a poor night shooting?

Oklahoma challenged more shots than has been the case the last four games when the Cats buried 47 percent from 3-point range and averaged 93 points a night.

That said, UC lined up a ton of open looks. These were looks they hadn't missed since the Crosstown Shootout. And they couldn't make any. The offense needs work. It must find some kind of way to attack the lane consistently, but I'd be willing to bet UC doesn't have another game this season where it shoots less than 23 percent from 3-point range.

--- There may have only been 4,439 people at US Bank, but it sure sounded like more down the stretch. The joint was rocking. There was no doubt about it, the crowd made a significant difference in not only urging on the Cats, but rattling the Sooners.

The momentum was palpable.

Mick Cronin and the players stood at midcourt after the game and saluted the crowd -- Wright even jumped into it for a bit -- they weren't huge, but they made a huge difference.

"Our crowd was huge tonight, was a big, big factor," Cronin said. "Seemed to me, felt like 15,000. Was a great feeling to be honest with you, something I would love to continue to see, that kind of energy from our fans spurring on our team. True homecourt advantage and our kids really fed off of it."

--- Jermaine Sanders reverted to the spooked, nervous freshman we'd seen the first eight games of the season. He was 0 for 5 from the floor and 0 for 2 from the stripe. And they were ugly. At some point he'll learn to relax out there. When he does, he'll be a strong player. He'll be the guy everyone saw the last four games.

That said, I'm pretty sure when Cronin recruited Sanders, he didn't look at him in the New York HS championships and say, "That kid is going to play 5-man for me in a close high-major conference game."

Sanders did very well in the middle defensively, actually, considering he has no business playing there.

Cronin said he'd been practicing him there the last few days just in case of a situation like the one that occurred where Justin Jackson fouled out and Kelvin Gaines found foul trouble and wasn't contributing much.

--- Speaking of Sanders being nervous -- did any of you notice with 1:22 left and UC down by two, who ended up shooting the two free throws to tie the game?

Sanders went up for a rebound, was elbowed in the side. Whistle blows. Himself and JaQuon Parker are near each other when Sanders lands. Only, Parker steps up to the free throw line instead of Sanders. The officials never noticed.

Parker (80 percent on the season) drained them both.

Anybody in the building think Sanders was making those two?

They pulled the old switcheroo. (Which, of course, leads to this classic Seinfeld clip)

--- I asked Mick after if it's easy enough just to say the reason they won this game was heart and grit.

He responded back with another oft-overlooked aspect.

"And making free throws helps," he said.

Free-throw hater guy loves to point out when the team misses their free throws and the difference it would have made in the game. Mick Cronin -- and every coach, really -- hears from them all the time. And UC hasn't been particularly good from the stripe all season (61 percent) and were bad in the first half (1 of 4).

Yet, they made 13 of their final 14 on Thursday including 7 of 7 in the final three minutes.

Meanwhile, the other OU missed the front end of two 1-and-1s. Ballgame.

--- For this team, getting to 40 deflections is the defensive equivalent of touching 100 points. If that happens, they will win most of their games.

Thursday, they finished with 33 or 34 deflections (Cronin wasn't exactly sure the number, which is charted by the assistants). More importantly, they racked up 16 deflections in the final eight minutes.

That is insane hustle put into numerical form. Considering if that pace extrapolated out would equal 80 deflections -- double the ideal -- needless to say the defense was suffocating down the stretch. 

--- Some people have a chip in their brain that changes the mindset in crunchtime. I admire the heck out of those people. It may seem easy, but that is far from it. When you are 1 for 12 on the game and seemingly haven't done a thing right offensively and you attack the bucket twice in the final minute to put your team ahead, that takes a special mental makeup. Cashmere Wright showed a little extra we hadn't seen from him before Thursday.

He couldn't remember the last time he hit a game-winner like that and put it up there with his tops all time.

"Right now it's got to be No. 1 for me, especially with the game on the line, "he said. "I actually came through for my teammates, that is the biggest deal for me right there. I actually came through and helped my teammates I ain't left them out there. They held on for me and I actually came through and made the right play at the end of the game."

--- Even though Wright struggled from the floor, I should point out he had five assists (damn good when a team shots 27 percent from the floor) to just one turnover. That now gives him 31 assists to five turnovers since moving to the four-guard attack. 

--- For as small as the Bearcats were, shrinking to essentially five guards the final 10 minutes and giving up four to five inches on the interior at times, they fared pretty well on the glass.

Remember, the other OU was tied for second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage at 44.4%.

They grabbed 14 of 37 misses at 38 percent. Those numbers skyrocketed in the final 5-10 minutes when UC really struggled to keep them off the glass without any height inside, but that number is manageable.

UC ended up with 13 of 44 misses for 30 percent. Those 13 all seemed to come at the most opportune moments, as well.

My goal numbers before the game were for UC to hold Oklahoma under 40% and UC to grab at least 30. They did. And give serious credit to SK (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Parker (11 points, 9 rebounds) who scrapped against 6-8 and 6-10 athletes all night and came away with more than their fair share. 

"They say that we are the smallest team in the country, but if you got heart than you can rebound with anybody," Kilpatrick said.

Pittsburgh is the best offensive rebounding team in the country, so they'll need a repeat performance Sunday night.

--- Stat of the night: When was the last time a team missed 44 shots against a high-major opponent and won? That's not rhetorical, if you can find the answer I'd love to know. 

Somebody get Elias on the line.

--- Quote of the night: Not a ton of jokes or one-liners this game, most that came up there were pretty serious after what they had just witnessed. I thought just a summation from Mick really told the story of how remarkable the comeback was:

"Just trying to get them to believe in each other and keep digging and keep fighting. That's what you have to do in the Big East. That's just life in our conference. I just couldn't be more proud of the guys right now to be honest with you. Played nine minutes with five guards to finish the game and come from 10 down to win against a team with good players and a great coach."

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