I have to start off by giving a second run for one of the quotes of the year that came out of last night. We see a string of the usual suspects typically after games. Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker are all old pros at the game. They are typically pretty relaxed talking to us cranky scribes and will go on and on if the question begs it of them.
Justin Jackson is a quieter guy in general, at least around most of us. He's delightful, just not as loquacious as others. Never has been. And that's absolutely fine. That's why when I asked him last night about how getting a block energizes him and he started by saying he just can't explain the feeling, I couldn't have seen the next line coming.
"It's like getting a new pair of shoes."
Just a great line. And considering the source, was even greater. Jack is such an interesting character on the court and really embraced by this fan base for how he plays the game. To see him let some of his personality out with us and deliver a gold line like that made me smile. Hard not to like the young man.
Oh, by the way, Jackson played his best game of the season. Reminded me of the way he played regularly at the end of the last year when UC made its run to the Sweet 16. He clearly turned a corner in the eyes of Mick Cronin, who gave him his first start since he sat him down for the Notre Dame game and gave his starting spot to Titus Rubles. If we're seeing the return of the old Justin Jackson, it could be a huge development for the Bearcats already stingy defense.
That's what I wrote about in my postgame column, you can read it here.
Many other topics to plow through coming out of last nights games, let's run through a few:
--- First off, here are the highlights of the game from BearcatsTV, ICYMI.
--- Zach Collaros wants us to hold a best #JustinJacksonMeanFace impression. This is an idea I can get behind.
--- The theory of why the Bearcats have struggled at home some this year came out from Mick during his presser. It's been an interesting phenomenon we explored deeper a few weeks back as the Cats were coming off a three-game home losing streak. They've since beat Marquette and Rutgers, but the sluggish first half brought out some analysis from Mick. At least, the best he can come up with. Certainly from fans to media to coaches to players, we've all taken our shots at it.
"Stop worrying about the scoreboard and just play the game," Cronin said. "We have a tendency to do that at home. That's my theory, whether it is right or not we could all flip a coin, your theory might be better. Mine is, we play with stress at home like we are supposed to win by 30. It takes us a while to just get lost in the game and just play. We think we are supposed to be perfect at home. It's not realistic, for anybody. You got to just play the game. You don't get the win because you are at home. It's going to be a close game, all these games are going to be that way. I think that's a big factor, we play with way too much pressure on us at home. In the second half you could tell the guys forgot where the game was at, what was going on, what the score was and they were just playing. Shots start falling, guys were on the attack."
The numbers for the Big East have evened out a bit, but home teams still struggling to win as much as they typically do. The home team is now 30-25.
--- Cronin at one point had words with Cashmere Wright on the bench Wednesday. It came after a turnover that led to Cronin pulling Cash for Ge'Lawn Guyn early in the second half and Wright eventually moved down the bench after the altercation.
Something that happens occasionally in games, but I found it newsworthy since Cronin delved so in-depth to the incident and how it reflects on his coaching theory. I think it's a big part of what has made him an effective coach and mentor. The disciplinarian always mixes with the guy looking out for the players best interest, both on the court and in life.
"You talk back, you bring that on yourself," Cronin said. "I wasn't really in the mood to hear anyone's answers. Whether it was him or (assistant coach) Larry Davis, whoever said whatever they said. Today's player is no different than 20 years ago. The only difference is people let the kid talk back too much. That's not acceptable. My job is to help these guys understand how to handle themselves and deal with a boss and hold a job and be a productive member of society. Your opinion doesn't matter in the workplace. The bosses opinion matters. I try to talk to guys about that stuff every day. If Whit calls me in or President Ono, they got an opinion on something, I have two choices: deal with it or get another job. Talking back is not going to work. I try to teach my guys that all the time."
Always refreshing when a coach talks about basketball being about more than the games and practices, rather preparing kids for the real world as college students.
As for Wright's play, he endured a tough night. Though even in a tough night he hit the 3-pointer that gave UC the lead.
"He was frustrated with the way he was playing," Cronin said. "I would have been frustrated if I was him as well. He mentally did some things tonight that he knows better. He had a couple of passes that were beyond my comprehension, and a couple fouls where I thought an alien abducted his body."
--- Kilpatrick continues be on a nice roll. He went on a run early in the second half where he threw the team on his back on their move from 10 down to taking the lead. Not that we haven't seen this movie before.
When UC needs scoring, there's no secret where they turn.
"That was something we were lacking in the first half and scoring," Kilpatrick said. "It was very hard to score because they were in every gap that we were trying to punch through, and coach kept telling me, 'don't force anything just let game come to you and everything will work out,' and that's what I did in the second half."
Over the last four games, SK's numbers are spectacular: 23.5 points, 17 of 41 from 3-point range (41.4 percent), 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
From the angle of Mike Rice, Kilpatrick played up to his reputation Wednesday.
"He showed what an All-Conference Big East player looks like," Rice said. "When they needed it, they kind of looked to him. There were a couple of shots that he hit that I thought we had the shot challenged and we were there, but he was just better."
--- Looking forward to Saturday, Seton Hall is in a bad way right now, Brendon Prunty of the Star-Ledger makes that clear in his gamer of their ugly loss last night vs. Georgetown.
--- Speaking of looking forward, even in the moments following the win against Rutgers, Cronin already moved on to Seton Hall in his mind. With an 11 a.m. tip in New Jersey facing him, there's no time to relish in the latest win. They guy has mastered the day-to-day focus.
"All I care about now is Seton Hall," he said. "That's all that matters. Our position in the league, where we are ranked, where we're at this time of year, is all irrelevant to me. We got to make sure we get rest and get ready to come out playing on Saturday at 11, if you're not, you will lose."
--- Remember when the St. John's defeat was looked at as a bad loss? Not anymore. The Johnnies have run off five in a row and a half game up in third place of the conference. Looking more and more like UC, Notre Dame, St. John's, Pittsburgh, Marquette and Georgetown will all be battling for the third and fourth spots in the BE tourney. I expect MU to drop back and Louisville to rise up.
Those games down the stretch: ND2, Pitt2 and Georgetown will hold added weight for the Cats.
--- In case you haven't seen this, props to UC for this well-done video from Shane Harrison addressing the open, excepting culture at UC athletics. Would be cool to see more programs taking a proactive approach like this.