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Back against the wall

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The dominant theme coming out of Monday's media session revolved around these Bearcats feeling the pressure of the situation they've placed themselves in.

They are 17-8 overall and 7-5 in conference with six games to go. Four of those are at Fifth Third Arena. They need to go 4-2 in the final six to assure making the tournament. No Big East team to go 11-7 has EVER been left out of The Dance. It certainly won't happen this year with a soft bubble.

If they go 3-3 over the final six games (Providence, Seton Hall, Louisville, @USF, Marquette, @Villanova) they bring the Big East tournament and discretion of the NCAA committee into play.

yancy_gates_main-211x292.jpgThese are the facts of the case. They are undisputed.

By the KenPom computer, the Bearcats a heavily favored to beat Providence (82%) and Seton Hall (70%). Each of the last four are essentially coin flips.

This week, in these two games, the Bearcats backs are against the wall.

"This is it right here," senior Dion Dixon said. "Do or die right now. Our back is against the wall. We let a lot of games slip away from us that we know we could have won. We don't know what it is..we can't let it keep happening with our careers going down."

In the wake of the most lopsided loss of the season, a sense of stark reality officially infiltrated the UC locker room. All season, opportunities have been on the horizon. It was only a matter of time until their run to the tournament began. Now, with six games left, and wins a necessity, the undeniable fact of what could happen should the Bearcats not come through has sunk in.

Before the season started and UC was ranked among the 15 to 20 best teams in the country, this concept seemed unfathomable. The Bearcats might not make the NCAA Tournament.

"It could happen," Yancy Gates said. "It's not like it's impossible and it can't happen. It actually could happen. You try to use that to keep you going and keep your focus level up to have you ready to go out and do what we got to do in the last six games."

As the pressure-cooker boils over, the Bearcats calm down. Their ability to win as chaos surrounds them has been remarkable. Last year, with six games left coming off an ugly loss to St. John's they reeled off five wins in six games to close the regular season and secure their return to the tournament.

With everyone burying UC following the Crosstown Shootout brawl, UC played loose, inspired basketball and won seven in a row.

After suffering an ugly home defeat against St. John's, they earned their signature win to this point -- a 68-64 victory at Georgetown. It's the only loss the Hoyas suffered at home this year.

Now, with six games left, here they are again.

"We handle adversity well," Dixon said. "When our back is against the wall we play great. Right now, we know our backs against the wall so I figure everybody is going to be locked in and paying attention to everything to get wins."

Trying to find proper perspective among 20- and 21-year-old kids can be harder than finding a free Saturday night. Yet, Gates and Dixon -- enduring the final chapter of their college careers -- sounded like two players who found the urgent frame of mind.

They plan no speeches or motivational ploys. They feel this team understands what hangs in the balance.

"Me and (Dion) was talking in the locker room, we feel we still have a great opportunity," Gates said. "It's on us. We have to take it upon ourselves. It's nobody else but (this team)."

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