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Bearcats leave no doubt

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For anybody wondering if the Bearcats had enough left in them to solidify a spot in the NCAA Tournament field, after a 72-61 win against No. 8 Marquette, there remains no doubt.

CINCINNATI - Bury the bubble watch. Crumple up the blind resumes. Forget the RPI formula.

None of those will be necessary. To reach the NCAA tournament, teams need to win games. They need to beat quality opponents.

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With a resounding exclamation point that shook Fifth Third Arena and the outskirts of Clifton Wednesday night, the Bearcats emphatically stamped their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

In the aftermath of 72-61, Mick Cronin grabbed the public address microphone, thanked the crowd for their support and made the first public announcement of his thoughts on the matter.

"We will see you all in New York and then the NCAA tournament," he said.

To be sure, his team left no doubt.

Watching the Bearcats beat the eighth-ranked team in the country with a few lucky calls or a night shooting the lights out would open to question the validity of even the strongest of wins. Yet, to throttle a team who won 12 of the last 13 games all while missing nearly every 3-pointer tossed up extracts luck from the building.

"We were up 19, I said, well, if we ever make one we'll win by 30," Cronin said. "Whenever you can dominate a game and your best shooters can't throw it in the ocean speaks to how well you played on the defensive end."

For the most part, at 4 of 24 on the night, they never did. It didn't matter.

The memories of watching Marquette run up and down the floor in Milwaukee seemed a distant memory as UC flipped the point margin 28 points.

In the locker room before the game, Cronin wrote one sentence on the board. No need existed for complex theories or Xs and Os.

"Take care of the ball and we will win."

UC committed just seven turnovers. Not only was that the lowest number against Marquette all season, but no opponent managed less than 11 against them.

The Golden Eagles may be the best team in the country in transition. Cronin thought they were the best at scoring off their defense he'd seen since he's been coaching. Somehow, here were the Cincinnati Bearcats outscoring Marquette 19-5 in fast break points and 14-3 off turnovers.

"I think that was the most points we have given up in transition in our tenure here - not just this year," said Buzz Williams, who discarded of his jacket in frustration only five minutes into the defeat.

The Bearcats saw Yancy Gates - after playing four of the best minutes of his career - earn two quick fouls and spend the rest of the first half watching his Senior Night pass by. Still, in his absence the lead grew.

Two. Eight. Fourteen.

By the time JaQuon Parker buried a 3-pointer from the corner as time expired before halftime, the Bearcats led by 16 points.

Still, five times during Marquette's string of 12 wins in 13 games, they had trailed at halftime. In those five wins, they won the second half by a combined total of 81 points. Only, a Bearcats team notorious for watching second-half leads dissolve never let the best second-half team in the league sniff a comeback.

After Gates chased down a fast break pass for the final home dunk of his career, he swung around the rim back toward a Marquette bench waving the figurative white towel.

The Bearcats traded a climatic final minutes for a coronation.

Dixon, the senior who spent countless hours alone in the gym putting up shots in silence, earned every decibel of the rousing standing ovation he received exiting with a minute remaining. His 21 points and four steals capped a home career of growth from project to polished.

Gates' final home game provided a fitting insight into his maturity. He could have headed to the bench exasperated at the two quick fouls he received. He could have let a lack of points affect his night. A younger Gates absolutely would have.

Instead, he pulled down 13 rebounds in just 23 minutes, adding a block and a steal.

The roar of the 11,316 as he left the game was as deafening as it was telling.

"You couldn't ask for more," he said. "The team came out we all played great. Everybody did what they had to do to get a win. It's just something that I will remember for ever."

This was supposed to be the team that couldn't win if they didn't hit 3-pointers. This was supposed to be the team that couldn't win without Gates gobbling up minutes in the lane. This was supposed to be a team that couldn't win if Cashmere Wright was held scoreless.

The Bearcats proved everyone wrong. Consequently, they're impossible to keep out of the dance now.

"In my mind (this solidified it)," Cronin said. "We've got wins over Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut, Notre Dame. You guys understand we lost five games at the buzzer or we're 26-4 right now."

The people that point to their lousy RPI. The people that repeatedly bring up Presbyterian and Marshall. And most importantly, the people that placed them on the bubble of the NCAA tournament.

After Wednesday night, it's clear. They were all wrong.

The Bearcats left no doubt.

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