Don't look now, but the Cincinnati women's basketball team has won five of six and takes the court tonight on the brink of the most conference wins since 2007.
By Chris Gundrum
Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- There have been nights when Jamelle Elliott left Fifth Third Arena frustrated. Many of them.
No longer was she coaching a team with unwavering expectations to win a national championship every year.
She knew upon her arrival as the head coach of the women's basketball team at Cincinnati the culture would be vastly different from what she left behind as an assistant under Geno Auriemma at Connecticut. She didn't need much time to realize exactly she inherited.
"Obviously it's a huge difference going from a place that you not only expect to win every game but you do win every game to a place that's totally opposite of that where you're on a losing streak, you're lucky to win one or two games in the conference every year," said Elliot, who went 21-38 overall and 6-26 in conference her first two seasons. "Obviously, it was an adjustment, but I knew what I was getting myself into."
If there's one thing Elliott knows how to do, it's win basketball games.
She spent 12 seasons as an assistant at Connecticut where she helped lead the Huskies to six national championships including an undefeated season in 2009.
When Elliott was hired as the head coach at Cincinnati, the expectation was that she would bring a piece of that winning culture along with her.
Although they haven't gone undefeated or won a national championship, Elliott has seen her team improve and believes they are on the path to success. With a victory tonight UC (14-12, 5-8) will own its most Big East victories since the 2006-07 season, when it won six.
"I think that's what good coaches strive to do is exceed, not only other people's expectations but your own," said Elliott. "Obviously it was a struggle for us and it's still sometimes a struggle for us to win games, but I think we're moving in the right direction."The Bearcats took a step in the right direction when they defeated Pittsburgh on February 11.
Not only did that gave the Bearcats 13 wins on the year, but that was most wins for Elliott since she's arriving at Cincinnati.
"That's your goal as a coach, you want to continue to improve game to game, year to year," said Elliott. "And I'm just glad for my players because of the effort they put in, how hard they work in practice, how hard they work in preseason that their hard work is starting to pay off."
Evidence of that hard work can be found in recent games where the Bearcats have won four out of their last five including a three-game win streak on the road.
Previous to this stretch, the Bearcats had lost six in a row and were ecstatic to finally defeat
a conference rival in Syracuse on January 28. Little did they know the momentum which would follow.
"I think because we had such a long stretch of losses that we really did celebrate the Syracuse win because it was a while before we had won a game before that," said Chanel Chisholm. "But now that we're starting to win games we can expect it and we get really upset when we lose now."One reason for their success against Syracuse is the fact that multiple players contributed. Earlier in the year, the Bearcats relied on one or two players to carry the load. That day four players finished in double figures.
"We got away from one player possibly two players going into double figures to three or four guys not only scoring in double figures but doing other things to fill up the stat sheet that would allow us to win games," Elliott said
Defeating a conference opponent on the road would have been a major accomplishment and maybe even a surprise before Elliott arrived. For her, that's a mentality that needs to change.
"I don't want us, every time we win a game, to act like we've won the Big East Championship," said Elliott. "We need to start to expect that. And that just goes with me trying to change the culture of this program."
Since the win at Syracuse, it appears as though the Bearcats are starting to react to winning a little differently.
Rather than be surprised, they're starting to expect it.
"Before we won at Syracuse we hadn't tasted victory since the last year," said Elliott. "So, once we won those two games then all of a sudden it's like, OK, if we do some things on the basketball court, individually and as a team there's no reason why we can stay in games, if not stay in games for 40 minutes, definitely win them."
As long as they continue to build on the success of this year, they will be in good position to make even more improvements next year.
"There are still a lot of building blocks that need to be put in place," said Elliott. "I feel confident that the foundation in there now it's time to continue to build and get better."