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Bench play fuels drive to 102

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The Bearcats scored the most points in the Mick Cronin era Tuesday in a 102-60 victory against Mississippi Valley State, but the most encouraging aspect wasn't tripping 100, rather who pushed the score that high.

[Also: Bearcats beginning to find their pace]

By Joe Gryniewski/Special to GoBearcats.com

As the UC Bearcats approached 100 points Tuesday night, the bench, filled with starters Mick Cronin began pulling midway through the second half, was riled up as ever. Justin Jackson was cheering on his teammates as Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright waved towels over their heads while jumping around.

On the verge of scoring what would be the most points since Dec. 30, 2005, and with the high-flying plays taking place, one might assume the excitement from the bench stemmed from the drive to score 100.

MVSU.jpgNot quite. Instead, the celebration came from a theme that's grown inside this Bearcats team.

After last year, the Bearcats expected to be good, but a year later they simply aren't satisfied with being just a good team. The scores no longer seem to concern the players as their focus turned from trying to be a good basketball team to learning how to become a great one.

The difference between good, great and elite with this year's team begins with the play of their reserves. Tuesday's wild bench scene was a celebration of that progress.

"We were more so happy that they were making the right plays," Sean Kilpatrick said about the team topping 100 points. "We don't quite worry about the score, we are just worried about our players becoming more developed against other teams.

"They are starters as well. If they don't play to the level they are capable of then it can hurt us in the end. They need to expect that we are going to be looking for them to be playing just as well as we are."

They certainly played well. Jeremiah Davis led the bench with nine points while Jermaine Sanders and David Nyarsuk each had eight. The stat line of the night came from first off the bench and the guy playing through sickness Tuesday, Titus Rubles. He finished with eight points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks and zero turnovers.  

"We have a style and a system that we have been building since last spring to have a great team this year, and our guys know depth is an issue," said Mick Cronin, "It hurt us in the Ohio State game and it hurt us in the Big East Championship Game. Our veteran guys understand you are going to have to have quality play off of the bench if you are going to be an elite team."

While scoring 100 points is fun, and the behind-the-back passes and ally-oops are cool, Cronin says, "They don't pay me for cool; I'm here to win games."

The idea is quickly spreading from the veterans of the team down to the bench. You no longer hear them talking about plays and individual efforts. Their focus is set on the big picture.

With 45 points from Tuesday night's 102-point scoring effort coming off the bench, the Bearcats are showing that they have heard the message. The new. uptempo offense has caused some turnovers and mental errors at times, but it has also lit a spark under the team, and more importantly, the bench.

The Bearcats understand that it's time to take that next step and become an elite team, and after Tuesday's game, it was clear the coach and his team are focused on getting that done. In fact, Cronin expected to crack triple digits.

"I told them we should," he said. "If we execute and our mental state is focused for 40 minutes with our talent we should."

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