Mick Cronin decided not to run any plays or use an offense against Louisville's confusing defense and it allowed Cashmere Wright to shine.
CINCINNATI - Cashmere Wright spent the last four years listening to Mick Cronin prepare for games. Wright endured screams and silence, sarcasm and strategy.
Thursday, Wright actually heard Cronin say something he's never said before.
"Before the game, Coach just told us there is no offense," Wright said.
In one of the most important games of the season, against the 11th most efficient defense in the nation, Cronin combated confusion by taking thought out of the equation. No plays, no sets. He allowed his players to do what they do best.
"Just play," Wright said after the 60-56 win. "If you open shoot. If you can drive, drive. I felt that was a very comfortable situation for me. Not worrying about mistakes, just going out there and just playing."
Wright not only felt comfortable, he looked as confident as at any point in his career at UC. Consequently, he dropped 22 points, his most in Big East play this season and only three shy of his career high. Toss in five assists to just one turnover and he put on tape one of his most complete, influential, well-rounded performances of his career. The way in which Wright dictated the tempo and made smart decisions against a defense dedicated to forcing poor ones made the difference in the game.
Draining 6 of 13 of 3-point range didn't hurt, either. Of course, Cronin saw this coming. He spent all week watching Wright swish 3 after 3 after 3 in practice. In honor of Louisville being in the building, he found a fitting analogy to extract a gameday replication out of his point guard.
"In horse racing, guys who make shots in practice, in horse racing, morning glory, you got to run in the afternoon when the gates open," Cronin said. "I was kidding him. It was kind of mental. I knew he was going to be open tonight."
Of course, most players are open when they stand on the 5/3 logo 28 feet from the basket. None of that mattered to Wright. In the no-offense offense he felt free to look for his shot - no matter where he stood on the court.
"When teams play zone he knows he can become a shooter instead of a facilitator," Cronin said. "When he's off the ball...you got to think shot on the catch. You can't catch it and hesitate. No matter if you are a point guard or not you got to be ready to shoot it."
To say the Bearcats didn't use an offense wouldn't be completely correct. Structure existed, but attempting to figure out what the Louisville defense was doing while it transitions from zone to man mid-possession would have forced Cincinnati to think rather than use instinct.
Cronin saw his team thinking too much when put in a similar spot in the second half against Seton Hall. He wasn't about to watch a repeat Thursday night. The no-offense offense wasn't as much about a strategy, rather a mentality.
"Just make sure you are ready to shoot when you catch, don't forget about Yancy (Gates) in the low post," Cronin said. "I didn't want them worrying about what defense Louisville was in."
His team shot a few too many 3-pointers - the 19 they jacked up in the first half were more than the total in four of the last five games.
"I thought we shot too many 3s," Cronin said. "We made some shots early, I thought we fell in love with it."
Ironically, during the decisive stretch in the game the Bearcats barely utilized the shot which had such a significant impact on the night. During the 14-0 run where the Cardinals stuck at 45 for six minutes and 17 seconds, the only 3-pointer came from from Sean Kilpatrick to close out the streak.
Kilpatrick drove for a fast break bucket, Wright spun through traffic for a layup with the shot clock running down and Dion Dixon posterized the crowd's favorite heel, former UC commit Chane Behanan.
By the time Wright pulled up from logo the 56-47 margin proved too much to overcome. The no-offense offense secured one of the most critical wins of the season for UC's tournament hopes. If they started to smell The Dance after beating Seton Hall, they opened the kitchen door on Thursday.
Because of Thursday it might not be long until Wright hears Cronin utter another sentence the junior has never heard before: We're going to the tournament for the second year in a row.