Prior the first exhibition game, Cashmere Wright balked when asked if he felt excited about showcasing his team's fresh uptempo style for the fan base.
Seemingly a softball answer, he shook off the concept. He needed to make sure they were ready before excitement took over in showing off this product.
Following Monday night's 86-51 thrashing of Division II Bellarmine, Wright changed his tune.
"I feel a little more comfortable," said Wright, who knocked down 3 of 5 3-pointers on his way to 13 points. "Even after the first game I was still a little bit skeptical of the whole situation, knowing that we still have to get better. I see we are making a lot of steps at being a better team."
Forget steps, Monday more resembled a James White free-throw line leap. The Sparta Speedway mentality blurred up and down Fifth Third Arena as UC pulled off a 19-0 advantage in fast break points against the Knights.
Defensive pressure forced 17 turnovers and Mick Cronin saw a young Bellarmine team "get rattled." This represented the style of play the coach promised for this anticipated season. If effort and energy resembling what was put forth Monday continues, the Knights won't be the last rattled in this building.
"Hopefully we rewarded the fans that came tonight with our effort," Cronin said. "If we commit to playing with toughness and doing the little things we can have a special season with this group that we have. I was really pleased with our effort, we had tremendous effort."
Effort only goes so far. It hasn't taken long for the veteran talent to show the polish in their game.
JaQuon Parker spun off his defender at the perimeter and lofted a soft runner in the lane for two of his team-high 16 points.
Sean Kilpatrick drove to the basket and instead of utilizing the head down, bulldog philosophy often associated with his attack of the basket, he kicked to Wright for a wide open 3.
Then, of course, there was Cash, leaping in the lane to snag a steal and push the ball up the court with one pass and an easy transition layup for Parker.
When Wright, Kilpatrick and Parker wanted to reach the basket, for the most part they did. When they wanted to manufacture a 3-pointer, for the most part they did.
The three combined for 32 of the Bearcats 45 halftime points.
"We have three really good guards that can really play," Cronin said in the understatement of the evening.
None of the team's nine 3-pointers, 42 points in the paint or 13 steals told the true story of this group's maturity quite like the 19-0 flash that blinded Bellarmine to open the second half.
The run meant more than a meaningless spurt to sap any drama out of an exhibition. In a situation custom made for a lackadaisical stroll to the final buzzer, UC held the Knights without a point for the first 6:32 of the half and posted a 40-point advantage.
Cronin bemoaned in past year the Bearcats tendency to lead by 20 at halftime and lead by 15. With a group who the coach says never practices at a level other than the highest possilbe on a daily basis, even a meaningless exhibition elicited a charge coming out of the locker room. And with this group, those charges arrive swift and powerful.
"I didn't even know we had a 19-0 run," Cronin said. "I looked up and said, 'Wow.' I didn't expect that.'
Perhaps he will start to. To judge the potential and expectations from one exhibition would silly. They will be judged by what occurs starting against Tennessee-Martin. All we know from these two exhibitions is that they are certainly ready for Sunday. That's abundantly clear.
"Takes a lot of to adjust and everybody to get on the same page," Wright said. "We understand exactly what (Cronin) wants. At first we were just out there moving the ball trying to find our spacing. Now we seemed to actually find our identity and know what we are doing."
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