The Bearcats need JaQuon Parker to take over more of the offensive load for UC to make a run in the postseason and of late he's shown he could be the difference-maker needed.
CINCINNATI -- After games you won't find JaQuon Parker scouring the box score for his point totals or seeking out his highlight on SportsCenter. In an era dominated by a quest for stats and stardom, Parker represents a throwback in that respect.
Long dedicated to executing Mick Cronin's gameplan Parker will be defined by a toughness unparalleled in recent Bearcats history when honored on Senior Day in two weeks. He eschews points for small details, splash plays for gritty rebounds. It will be his legacy at UC.
Only, over the next month-plus, Parker knows he must drop the unselfish act and start worrying about his stat sheet. In many ways, fulfilling the expectations of UC's season depends up on it. The Bearcats need more points. Nobody fits the mold to supply them better than Parker.
"I got to help him with that and put him in situations to where he can be aggressive, he's thinking offense, he's thinking shot, he's thinking attack," Cronin said. "For us to win, let's just be honest, he's got to play that way. For us to be a high-level team he's got to be a double-figure guy."
Easier said than done for Parker. To flip from a mentality of attacking the offensive glass and making the extra pass to selfishly creating his own shot requires stepping out of the instinctual way he's always played basketball --- and the instinctual way he implanted his footprint on UC.
"Especially for me, I don't really care about that much (scoring) offense," he said, "but I think when I actually make a conscious effort to do it I can do it."
Such will be the key. Cronin began the latest push to force Parker to think about his offense more following a Pittsburgh game where he only took four shots where one or two buckets would have easily swung the tide to Cincinnati.
Although Parker's thought of as a third option behind Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick, he's actually become the most efficient of everyone.
He leads the team in shooting 42 percent from 3-point range. During conference play, he paces the bearcats in field goal percentage, also 42 percent.
Yet, he's taken 80 fewer shots than Kilpatrick and 43 fewer than Wright in 13 conference games.
The hesitancy to find shots stems from a number of reasons in Cronin's opinion. The most notable concept Parker's desire to follow through on what coach preaches in practice, much of which centered around making the extra pass. Also, a constant desire to pull down offensive rebounds often pulls him out of positions where he could spot up for a kickout from a teammate's offensive board. The coach showed Parker film of those situations specifically in an effort to create more looks. Of course, to tell Parker not to grind after every rebound would be like telling Cronin not to coach. It's what they do. It's who they are.
"I got to make sure I don't allow him to slip into a mode where he's just trying to go to offensive rebound; where he's looking to be an integral part of our offense," he said. "That's big for us as we go forward. It's going to have to continue to be that for him."
Somewhere along the course of the season, the aggression faded. During the toughest portions of the non-conference schedule Parker stayed involved offensively. Looking at the seven non-cupcake games prior to the Big East slate (Iowa State, Oregon, Alabama, Marshall, Xavier, Wright State, New Mexico), he took significantly more shots than during conference play.
- Time period: FG-FGA per game // Avg Points
- Legit non-conference: 4.4-11.7 // 12.1
- Big East play: 3.2-7.5 // 10.3
Prior to playing Villanova, Cronin placed a renewed effort to keep Parker thinking about attacking the basket. The difference has been noticeable. The last two games he's 10 of 19 from the floor, averaging 17 points. He earned a spot on the Big East Honor Roll for the first time this season.
It didn't come without a friendly reminder at halftime against Georgetown when he'd only taken two shots during another sluggish offensive half for UC.
"I don't know who they think is going to check in and get 20," Cronin said after the game. "I had to yell at him at halftime, he won't look at the rim. I love him but he's got the ball over his head. Sometimes it's everything I can do to get him to look at the rim."
The response showed exactly the type of impact Parker can have. He reeled off 11 consecutive points, the last of which closed a double-digit deficit to a 51-50 UC lead. Unfortunately, he would only be able to get off one more shot over the final 6:53 where the Bearcats went without a field goal until the game was already decided. This came one game after he poured in 19 points against Villanvoa, his highest point total since Dec. 22 against Wright State.
"I was coming into the game thinking I'm going to actually take more shots and try to get better shots and try to drive the ball more and get myself shots in the lane and get my teammates kickouts," Parker said.
Parker understands the importance of adding attack to toughness as his defining characteristic. As UC heads down the critical final five games of the regular season and into postseason play, he plans on continuing his crusade as difference-maker for a team only two baskets per game away from ranking among the elite in the Big East.
"I know my game is basically driving," he said. "On the 3-point if I'm set I can definitely hit that shot and so I just try to drive more and get more pull-ups. I definitely think I can (add more scoring) and from here on, I'm going to try to do that. Get the offense rolling and get it started."
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