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Basketball look-ahead, part I

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With the season complete and with some much-needed momentum heading into the offseason, I've put together a two-part list of who will return to UC next season and what needs to happen in order for the Bearcats to complete their comeback by earning a berth to the NCAA tournament. I'll break it down player by player and I'll look into the future to see where this team will stand next year.


Here we go:


Mick Cronin: Let's start with the man most responsible for the turnaround and also the man with the most to lose. Cronin will enter his fifth year at UC next season, and let's just get this out in front: if he doesn't make the NCAA tournament, the heat he feels next year will be like nothing he encountered this season. If he falls short again, I think his job will be in jeopardy.


Cronin, I think, has done a phenomenal job getting this team, which had only one scholarship player returning when he picked up the pieces left by the destruction of the Bob Huggins era, from the cellar of the Big East to the middle of the pack. Yes, the Bearcats' conference record was 7-11, and yes, people are probably tired of Cronin referring to his team as young and that the Bearcats were close to winning so many games if only they had gotten some breaks.


But look at his win total: it's increased every season. Look at some of the teams UC has beaten: top-25 non-conference opponents and top-of-the-line Big East foes. At the very least, Cronin has brought UC back to the point of respectability. Now, I understand that's not enough for most fans, and yeah, I can agree with that. People don't want respectability; they want their teams to compete for conference titles. I think Cronin can take this program even higher, but it needs to be next year. Otherwise, all bets are off.


Senior class


Rashad Bishop: The first question obviously is this: will he be back? I'm not sure, and for now, Cronin isn't talking. I'm guessing he'll return (he was spotted hanging outside the team locker room following its NIT games), but if not, UC didn't seem to miss a beat without him. What Bishop brings to this team is his perimeter defense and the ability to hit an occasional 3-pointer. But if he's a distraction, perhaps his attributes aren't worth it.


Bishop, out of anybody in this junior class, has been the most consistent on the court, and although Bishop doesn't strike me as a typical senior leader - not in the same way that Deonta Vaughn tried to be this year - he would be instrumental to next year's team. He's just kind of there in the background, usually playing good defense and occasionally making an impact on offense. You don't base your team on him, but he's usually pretty good to keep around.


Larry Davis: What happened to Davis this year? He went from a player who was 15th in the Big East with a 37.9 3-point field goal percentage in conference-only games to a guy who couldn't make a shot if his team's life depended on it. At times, in fact, you wondered why Davis was even on the court. It's a fair question, considering he made only 2 of his final 22 three-point attempts in the last nine games. Cronin obviously had a long leash on him, but Davis needs to improve his shooting. Otherwise, I have to wonder if he'll have any kind of impact on the squad next year.


Ibrahima Thomas: He really seemed to hit his stride in the final few games of the season, and he showed some of the potential Cronin talked about last year as Thomas waited out his transfer season. He showed his rebounding ability, he showed he could shoot the ball a bit, and he showed he can bring a certain energy to the team. He only has one year of eligibility remaining, but I think he'll have a strong season next year. He might not be a star, but he'll be a solid starter for this squad.


Darnell Wilks: He was the player most helped by Bishop's absence. In the final five games of the season, he averaged 20.6 minutes and 6.8 points. This, after playing a total of 21 minutes the seven games before that. His athleticism can't be denied, and his dunking ability can be jaw-dropping. But the team will need more than that next year from Wilks. He showed he can be a strong contributor. Can he be more than that? If Bishop isn't around, he might need to be.


Anthony McClain: Maybe without Steve Toyloy around any more, McClain will have a chance to earn more playing time (he averaged 4.2 minutes per game this year). But at this point, we pretty much know what McClain is capable of giving this team. A little bit of rebounding against teams that aren't quite as big, and a guy who can make a layup if the ball caroms to him. Other than that, I'm not sure what else Cronin can get from him.


Part two: Analyzing the junior, sophomore and freshman classes

UC-Dayton Rock 'N Roll Party

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Well, the season is over. And for many, that's quite a relief. Though some people I talked to after the game said the team lost all the goodwill it's built up the past few weeks with a subpar performance against Dayton, I disagree.


By winning three of their final five games, I think the Bearcats will go into the offseason with some momentum and a sense of what they'll need to accomplish next year to make the NCAA tournament.


Said Mick Cronin, reflecting on his squad's season: "We continued to progress. We really relied on a lot of young players with the freshmen and Yancy. A lot of close calls. It's tough when you're so close in building a program where we had to build it from, but we've improved it every year. But getting close is not where we want to be. That's the frustrating part. If you're me, you have to stay focused on the positive. At times, we were close to getting over the hump, but we didn't, and that's were the frustration comes in.  For the most part (in the past few weeks), we put our egos in our pocket and tried to scrap together and do what we had to do to get wins."


The sad aspect of tonight's game was that UC, once again, underestimated its opponent. As Cronin said, the Bearcats didn't start respecting the Flyers until they were losing by 15.


"Kids are funny," Cronin said "They were preseason top 25. They had Xavier beat until they had a technical foul in the A-10 tournament and they beat them by 30 two weeks before that, and that's a team that's in the Sweet 16. Guys don't know Dayton. That's part of it."


"They made a lot of shots early. You expend a lot of energy coming back. When you're trying to get over the hump and it's such a large number to come back from, fatigue comes into play. You cut it to one, and you run out of gas. What lesson did we learn? Lance just said it. We have to take people more seriously. As a unit, we have to come back next year with the mentality of a team that shows up every night with our defense and our preparation and be mature enough to understand that anybody can beat you."


--Senior guard Deonta Vaughn, who passed Danny Fortson for third place on the all-time scoring list tonight, was touched by the standing ovation he received from the crowd when he left the 5/3 floor for the final time.


"My four years have been great," Vaughn said. "All four years, I learned a lot about basketball. I matured a lot. I did a lot of great things to get this program back to where we needed it to be. I just like the program and where it's headed in the future. It started with me, (Marcus) Sikes, John (Williamson), Jamual (Warren), and everybody else. I get calls from them, because they still love the program. What we did was help rebuild the program."


I asked him if he felt that people recognized him for that.


"I feel like a lot of people recognized that," he said. "I get a lot of Facebook messages from fans that know me, telling me that. It's still good to know that a lot of people recognize that, people that aren't even from Cincinnati that tell me I had a great career. Even from some of the other coaches. It's great to have recognition like that."


--Mick said freshman point guard Jaquon Parker hyper extended his knee but didn't do any ligament damage. The team felt his absence tonight, though.


"Jaquon Parker's injury hurt us," Cronin said. "They were running fresh guys in, and Cash(mere Wright) and Deonta got tired."


--Stephenson said once again after the game that his plan is to return to UC for his sophomore season. I guess you can't really count on that until he's there in October for the beginning of practice, but he was pretty believable.


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Live from 5/3:

We were just talking about how pumped that this contest was slated for 9 p.m. It's especially good for the newspaper people. But I digress.

Interested to see how this game turns out, especially because Mick has talked in the past about how his team would fare in the Atlantic 10 or how the top teams in the A-10 would fare in the Big East. Well, his squad gets to test itself against a team that finished seventh in the A-10.

Tonight's starters: Jaquon Parker, Deonta Vaughn, Ibrahima Thomas, Yancy Gates, Lance Stephenson.

For what it's worth, Dayton gets a bigger ovation from the crowd than UC initially. Bearcats fans step up their game for Bearcats starting lineups.

Big dunk by Chris Wright. He is pretty talented.

Jaquon Parker still doing a nice job on the offensive glass.

Gates not having a good night so far. He takes an ill-advised 3-pointer and then he picks up his second foul heading into the official timeout.

Dayton 9, UC 5 (15:53 to go)

UC taking bad 3-pointers; Dayton getting open 3s and nailing them. Paul Williams and Mickey Perry hit back-to-back triples to open an eight-point lead. Cronin has to call a timeout.

Dayton 15, UC 10 (11:47 to go)

Dayton hits yet another 3 to make it a 10-point game, but Parker counters with a 3 of his own.

Stephenson goes 1 on 4, makes a sweet finger roll and gets called for the offensive foul. The people aren't happy about it.

A few minutes later, Stephenson runs into a pick and roll and appears to hurt his ankle. He had to be helped off the court, and he didn't put his right foot to the ground.

Rob Lowery hits another trey, and Dayton is administering a butt-kicking. Leading by 14 and Cronin has to call another timeout.

Parker called for traveling, and now, he's in on the ground and in some pain. Dave Fluker is working on his left knee.

Dayton 31, UC 17 (7:27 to go)

Stephenson is back to the floor. He stands outside the UC huddle.

Jaquon Parker, according to my man Antonio Mazzaro who can see him, is under the stands, working on a stationary bike. And laboring.

Dayton, I've got to say, has looked awfully impressive.

Dayton 38, UC 23 (3:45 to go)

According to Antonio, Parker has gone to the locker room.

Keyed by two 3s by Vaughn and some strong Bearcats defense, UC is making a run at the end of the half.

London Warren with the hard foul on Stephenson. After watching the reviews, the officials are going to call that an intentional foul. I don't agree. I think Warren went for the block and just got him in the face. I don't like the intentional foul call at all.

Vaughn takes both free throws and hits them both. UC will get the ball. Stephenson is out of the game again.

Great job by the Bearcats to go on a 15-5 run to end the half and cut the lead to five.

Vaughn leads the way with 16 points. UC is shooting 34.5 percent from the floor and 29.4 percent from the 3. Dayton is 51.6 and 50, respectively.

Dayton 41, UC 36 (half)

Stephenson looks OK. He starts off the second half with a three-point play.

Ref almost tees up Cashmere Wright after he complains about another foul call. The ref had already formed the T and was about three inches away from putting his hands together.

The game has gone crazy.

Dayton 46, UC 43 (15:25 to go)

Dayton, so far, making just enough plays to keep UC at bay.

Gates with two points and three rebounds with 12:15 to go. I'm sure Cronin expected more.

Dayton 52, UC 47 (11:37 to go)

I'm sure the zone defense UC is playing was supposed to prevent Devin Searcy from throwing down that nasty slam.

And with those free throws, Vaughn surpasses his season high of 20 points.

Dayton 59, UC 53 (7:43 to go)

If it wasn't for Deonta Vaughn, UC would be down by 20. Or more. If this is the end for him, a nice way to finish off his career. Except for the loss, of course.

UC has made one field goal in the last 7 1/2 minutes.

Dayton 65, UC 55 (3:37 to go)

Well, Vaughn is giving it a good run, but he's not getting much help from anybody else.

The "We are UD" chants begin with 1:04 to play.

Before he's taken out with about 30 seconds to go, Deonta Vaughn gets some love from some of the Dayton players. Nice standing ovation from the crowd left. Hugs from London Warren and Mick Cronin. And then everybody else on the bench. Even one of the refs shakes his hand.

He finishes with 28 points.

Dayton 81, UC 66 (final)

Collaros, the favorite but not yet the starter

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Sometimes, junior quarterback Zach Collaros feels like the first-team quarterback. Like when he's taking those first-team snaps or when he's thinking back to his performance last season when he replaced an injured Tony Pike or when he's thinking ahead to the possibilities of next season.


But, in a flash, those thoughts filter away. Unlike Pike, who was entered last spring knowing he'd be the starting quarterback for the 2009 season, Collaros isn't assured of anything. Yes, his name is at the top of the depth chart right now. But that doesn't mean it will stay that way.


"We've talked about building our intensity each and every day," coach Butch Jones said. "Competition is great. Every day, they're going to have to compete. We compete in everything we do - in the classroom, in the community and on the field. The quarterback situation isn't any different.


"We probably won't know who the starter is until a week before our first game. Does (Collaros) have an advantage? Yeah, he has an advantage because he's played and he's done some things. But Fresno State doesn't care who made the plays last year. I like the quarterbacks' mentality. I see a great competition, but I also see them helping each other."


Going by last year's performances, Collaros would be the easiest pick to replace Pike. After all, he took over for Pike in the middle of the South Florida game and ran for a 75-yard touchdown and finished the game with 194 total yards while leading the Bearcats to the victory.


Overall, he started four games, completing 75 percent of his passes for 1,434 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also finished third on the team in rushing with 344 yards on 57 attempts (a 6.0 yards per carry average) and four touchdowns. He showed just how dangerous he can be in a spread formation.


Meanwhile, Chazz Anderson - who's No. 2 on the depth chart - played in just four games last season and threw only six passes. You might remember he quarterbacked the Rutgers win two years ago in place of Pike, but then again, that was two years ago. After Anderson, you've got redshirt sophomore Brendon Kay and some incoming recruits who would like to take a crack at the starting job (Travis Kelce, you might remember, has moved to tight end).


"I always try to approach practice the same way, being as prepared as I can be and working as hard as I can," Collaros said. "It's a little different getting the first snaps. It's exciting. You feel like you're the guy. But Chazz is a great quarterback, and we're going to be back out there battling for it."


Collaros knows he's built a small portfolio of work. But in a new system with new coaches watching, he also knows this: he's not going to be handed the quarterback job just because he had some success last year.


"It's kind of the same system with a little bit different terminology," Collaros said. "I'm anxious to get out there and show (the coaches) what I can do. They've seen some film, but I need to come out and perform. I never was the starter, so I'll just come out here and work as hard as I can."

UC opens spring practice

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Of course, there was plenty of over-the-top yelling and plenty of coaches whistling and plenty of players woofing and plenty of managers screwing everything up. Which led to even more over-the-top yelling.


This was the first day of spring football practice, so, of course, all of this was occurring, just like it does on every football campus about this time of year. At UC, it happened the same way under the reigns of Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly. With Butch Jones, it was more of the same.


At the same time, though, Wednesday's first of 15 spring practices was a bit different. There was the yelling and the woofing and the cheering. But there was also something else - there was also a little bit of sportsmanship.


Never was that more evident than at the end of the 2 ½ hour practice than when the players lined up and shook hands with each other before leaving the field.


"We talk about in our football family that we want to compete in everything we do," Jones said. "A lot of times during practice, especially in the spring, there's an offense vs. a defense mentality. But what they understand is once the double horn blows and practice is over, we're one. We're the Bearcats. That's just a very fitting way to end practice. Now we come together as one."


Said junior defensive lineman John Hughes: "That's just showing sportsmanship after everything we did today. We're showing that we still love each other. These coaches care a lot about team chemistry and how everybody gets along with each other. That makes it more of our team. These coaches are a lot more in tune with the brotherhood of the family."


The end of practice handshake line wasn't the only aspect of the practice that was a little different than what we've seen before. Music played over the loud speakers during warm-ups, and Jones chest-bumped players before chiding the managers for not spotting the ball correctly (though he apparently was a little less brutal with them than Kelly might have been; Kelly, after all, could curse you out with the best of them). And for some reason, and I'm sorry I forgot to ask for an explanation, there were two ladders in the middle of the field where the quarterbacks were throwing (my best guess was that maybe the ladders were acting as really, really tall defensive linemen).


Bill Koch had an even better line.


"Maybe," he said, "after practice, they're going to do some painting."


Either way, the mentality at practice was just slightly different.


"The intensity is a lot higher in everything we're doing," junior quarterback Zach Collaros said. "Even coach Jones is running around here chest-bumping before practice. We go a little bit longer. The receivers, when they catch the ball, everybody has to get to the ball, even the other receivers to get a block down field. It's just real high intensity."


Jones knows these players know how to be successful. Now, he has to mold them into the mindset that he wants to see from them.


"I like our kids' mentality, and the mindset is they expect to win," he said. "You wouldn't want that any other way. But we're also an extremely young football team. We have a lot of young guys. There's some teaching for them. They're eager, but we have to teach them what we want. But they're winners. We're not having to come in here and try to build a mentality of how to win. They already know how to win. They've proven that. But there are also some individuals who have already hit a triple without coming up to bat. They have to understand the work ethic that comes into it."

UC-Weber State Rock 'N Roll Party

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A nice night for the Bearcats, and a really, really nice night for senior guard Deonta Vaughn as he broke the school record for made 3-pointers (passing Darnell Burton) and assists (passing Eddie Lee). He knew he was getting close to those historic marks, but he didn't exactly know how far away he stood. He found out tonight. 


"It feels good to be among the greatest at shooting threes and dishing the ball to my teammates," said Vaughn, who finished with a team-high 16 points and seven assists to go with five rebounds in UC's 76-62 win against Weber State. "I knew I was chasing the record. I just never knew how far I had to go get it. I'm glad my family didn't tell me."


Then, during a second-half timeout, his record was announced to the crowd, and he received a standing ovation. He tried to ignore it, but eventually, Mick Cronin made him stand up and acknowledge the cheers.


"Coach was trying to be funny for a little bit and get me to stand up," Vaughn said. "I wanted to sit down and finish the first game of the NIT off right."


Before the season, Cronin heard the rumblings that, if Vaughn had another good year, he'd have a chance at climbing to No. 2 on the all-time scoring list. He wasn't sure that was possible, because he knew the scoring totals were going to be more balanced this season. But he was excited that Vaughn notched the two records tonight.


"The assist record is something that goes unnoticed," Cronin said. "For three years, he shouldered the burden of scoring, and he still distributed the ball. And no disrespect, but he was not playing with Kenyon Martin and Jason Maxiell. A lot of guys missed some layups where, when they were playing in the Big East, they were in over their heads."


--One reason the Bearcats shot 93.8 percent from the foul line - intense pressure during practice.


Cronin runs one drill where the team, beginning with the seniors and working its way to the freshman, has to make 21 free throws against a 5-minute running clock. If a free throw is missed, the entire team has to run a sprint up and down the floor as the clock continues to move. Fail to make 21, and the team has to run six more sprints.


Up and down the court?


"It depends," Cronin said, "on how tired I think they are."


Before Tuesday's practice, the Bearcats hadn't succeeded once this season. They finally reached their goal the day before the Weber State game.


"It's a true test of focus and toughness," Cronin said. "The NCAA tournament teams I coached made it all the time."


--Redshirt freshman guard Cashmere Wright hurt his hip after falling to the court following his made layup. Wright has a bit of a problem during practice falling on the court - probably because his speed gets the rest of his body out of control.


"He needs to stop falling down," said Cronin, who also said Wright should be fine for the second-round NIT game vs. the Flyers.


-- No word on the when the UC-Dayton game will occur. But there's a pretty good chance it would occur either Friday or Monday.

UC-Weber State LIVE blog

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Live from 5/3:

I said on the radio today that I thought UC would get a crowd of about 8,000, and I said I'd "be surprised" if only like 3,000 people showed up. Yeah, I might have been wrong about that.

There are about four Weber State students sitting behind the team bench, raising signs that read they drove 1,500 miles to be here for this game. I think that's pretty strong.

Starting five: Jaquon Parker, Deonta Vaughn, Lance Stephenson, Ibrahima Thomas, Yancy Gates.

Bearcats are putting on some full-court pressure in the early going.

UC 6, Weber State 0 (15:55 to go)

Weber State finally gets on the board with 15:35 to go on a 3-pointer from Damian Lillard.

Seven of UC's first eight shots are 3-pointers. Only two of them have gone in the basket. Make that eight of nine, but Wilks' hits his.

Weber State 10, UC 9 (11:52 to go)

After falling behind by a point, UC scores seven straight, topped off by a 3-point play by Parker.

It's clear the Bearcats full-court pressure is bothering the Wildcats.

But like usual, the offense has been rather uninspiring. UC is shooting 26 percent from the floor and 27 from the 3.

Just before the media timeout, it looks like Stephenson got hit in the face or something. He's slow to walk to the huddle.

UC 18, Weber State 16 (7:22 to go)

Stephenson, I guess, is fine. He's at the foul line.

That full-court pressure causes three straight turnovers. I've wondered all year why UC hasn't done more of this.

Make that, four straight turnovers.

After another turnover, Wilks with the reverse pump slam. Pretty cool.

UC on a 14-3 run.

UC 32, Weber State 19 (3:17 to go)

All of a sudden, UC is playing like a world beater. On a 17-0 run.

A couple 3-pointers by Lillard in the final 1:08 cuts the lead a little bit. But Larry Davis with the 3 from the corner at the buzzer.

Stephenson has 12 points, as UC shoots 40.6 percent from the floor and 41.2 from the 3.

Weber State has 15 turnovers.

UC 40, Weber State 25 (half)

Vaughn gets a standing O from the crowd after it's announced that he's the school's all-time leader in assists and 3-pointers. It's during a timeout, but Vaughn stands and waves to the crowd.

Wilks with the alley oop from Stephenson. With the foul. Then, he goes over and slaps his teammates' hands on the bench.

UC 50, Weber State 32 (15:41 to go)

UC getting a bit sloppy, but still maintaining its lead.

UC 56, Weber State 39 (11:46 to go)

And suddenly, the game draws closer. A three-point play by Hughey cuts the lead to 10 after McClain fouls him as he makes the layup.

UC has gone cold, cold, cold. Which, I guess, is pretty normal.

Perhaps Stephenson should refrain some shooting long distance for a while. First he badly misses a 20-footer off the side of the rim and then he air-balls a 3.

After a nice layup, Wright lands hard on the floor. He's in some pain. It's his lower body. Maybe his hip?

UC 61, Weber State 51 (6:58 to go)

Cashmere Wright is no longer on the floor or on the bench.

Randy Rahe gets called for the technical, and then he apologizes to his team. "My fault," he says.

UC 69, Weber State 55 (3:58 to go)

Time for some walk-on action - Eddie Tyree and Alex Eppensteiner. And the crowd goes wild.

Vaughn leads the way wih 16 points and seven assists. Stephenson with 14 points.

UC shooting 39.1 percent from the floor and 39.3 percent from the 3. And a whopping 93.8 percent from the foul line.

Dayton awaits.

UC 76, Weber State 62 (final)

UC-Weber State preview

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Remember a week ago when UC was in the middle of a drought in which it had dropped five of six games and was headed to the Big East tournament with zero momentum on its side.


Who thought the Bearcats could make any kind of run in New York? Who, at the time, thought a postseason berth of any kind was secure? Who thought they could save their season - and the wrath of the fans against Mick Cronin - in just three games?


Who thought they would have been excited with an NIT selection?


Not many, that's who. Not me, for sure. But after surviving Rutgers and, stunning Louisville and pushing West Virginia until the final second of the game, the outlook for UC is suddenly much more positive. It's two victories away from a 20-win season. It gets at least one more opportunity to play in front of a home crowd. It gets to continue to try to win in the month of March.


"It's about how to win in March and how to stay focused in March," Mick Cronin said. "We've played very few games in March. It was good for us to stay in New York as long as we could and it will be great to stay in this tournament as long as we can. It's good for us to go through the process of being in the postseason."


If anybody has impressed since the beginning of the Big East tournament, it's been freshman forward Lance Stephenson. After a solid freshman season in which he unanimously was voted onto the conference's all-rookie team - but still failed to live up to the expectations that were set for him before the season - Stephenson had big breakout games on national TV during UC's tournament run. What was most impressive was that he, for the first time in his college career, simply took over games.


He recorded 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists vs. Rutgers and then followed that with 12 points against Louisville and a 19-point, seven-rebound performance in the West Virginia loss.


"He's just a young player with talent finding his way," Cronin said. "They can't be who somebody wants them to be. They have to worry about getting better every day and giving their best effort. It's just a process they go through. Lance's biggest growth recently has been that his rebounding has gone up and his turnovers have gone down. That's been big. He's struggled when he's turned the ball over. It's hard to put the ball in his hands, if he's not getting shots off. There's no doubt he's been more aggressive lately, but it's all in the decisions he's been making lately."


And as for the thoughts of Deonta Vaughn, who will never play in the NCAA tournament?


"It's not the tournament that I wanted, but what can I say?" he said. "We lost a tough one (vs. West Virginia) that hurt us deep down. I've never been to the NIT either. It's better than the CBI."


--Cronin reiterated during his Monday news conference that Rashad Bishop is still suspended. Aside from that, he didn't have much to say about the junior forward who averaged 8.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and provided the team with its best perimeter defender.


To Cronin, the squad is deep enough to withstand the loss of just one player.


"I don't think we're that much different," Cronin said. "Our rebounding and our defense were excellent in New York. Those were two things he did really well. Jaquon (Parker) is capable of giving us toughness and Ibrahima (Thomas) and Darnell (Wilks) both rebounded the ball. They're the guys who took up most of those minutes."


--Cronin also discussed how sophomore guard Dion Dixon is handling the aftermath of his last-second turnover in the West Virginia game that ultimately led to the banked-in 3-pointer by De'Sean Butler that gave the Mountaineers the win.


"He's better," Cronin said. "It's just an unfortunate one of those things as a young player. You can't think about one play. We missed numerous tip-ins in the game. We missed free throws. We all had mistakes, including myself throughout the game. You can't put the blame on one player or one play at the end of the game."

UC officially in the NIT

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Just got off the conference call with Mick Cronin regarding UC's inclusion in this year's NIT. The Bearcats will play Big Sky opponent Weber State (20-10) Wednesday at 7 p.m. at 5/3, and Cronin said the team couldn't be happier about it.


"We have finals week, so playing a home game is something we were hoping for," said Cronin, whose squad could play Dayton in the second round. "If we can win, we'll have two home games. Just from an academic standpoint, we're thrilled about being at home. To get a chance to play again in front of our fans, it's something our guys will be excited about. We had a great run in New York, and our guys are looking forward to playing again this week."


Though on Sunday night, he didn't know much about Weber St - he hadn't seen the Wildcats play at all this season - Cronin knows how important a run in the NIT could be to this team to bring some momentum into the offseason.


"Whenever you can win games in March, it's a good habit to create for your program, starting in the conference tournament and then in your postseason, wherever it may be," Cronin said.  "Especially when you have lot of young players, you're creating habits. That's creating winning habits in March, which is what college basketball is all about. Now that we have this opportunity, we have to make the most of it."


As for Rashad Bishop, who was suspended for the Big East tournament because of the violation of team rules?


"I have no comment," Cronin said. "His status remains unchanged."


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Jaquon Parker gets the start at point guard. The reset of the starting lineup is predictable.

Jeez, I wonder if it will be one of those nights. Ebanks slips, falls into Gates for the foul, throws the ball over his head toward the basket sight and unseen, and gets the roll for the basket. It's a 3-point play.

Stephenson picks up his second foul just 2:57 into the game. Not a good foul.

Missed layups, offensive fouls, not a good start.

WVU 9, UC 3 (15:08 to go)

I wonder if UC will ever score a field goal in this game.

WVU 15, UC 4 (11:39 to go)

With 9:18 to play, Lance Stephenson's reverse layup was UC's first field goal. The Bearcats missed their first 10 shots.

I wonder if they're nervous with Bill Clinton in the stands.

And Vaughn hits a 3 to cut the lead to nine.

WVU 18, UC 9 (7:45 to go)

Lance Stephenson, instead of waiting until the second half, is taking over the game in the first half.

WVU 21, UC 16 (3:53 to go)

UC isn't doing much on the offensive glass, but Ibrahima Thomas' putback cut the lead to three, and then, Wilks' ridiculous dunk makes it 21-20.

UC playing a zone on defense. Not something you see every day.

UC has had four chances to take a lead. The Bearcats have not succeeded on any of them.

But Larry Davis' 3-pointer ties the game.

And little-used Jonnie West with the 3 at the buzzer to take the lead.

WVU 26, UC 23 (halftime)

That's not good. Stephenson takes a hard spill, and he takes a while to get up. He stays in the game.

UC scores its first second-half point 3:33 in on a free throw by Gates. Still no field goals this half.

Cashmere Wright has pretty much been terrible.

WVU 32, UC 25 (15:59 to go)

Man, Bill Clinton knows everything about everything, it seems. If he was asked about why Jaquon Parker should be playing more than Cashmere Wright, he could probably tell us.

Gates hits a short jumper with 12:38 to play. That's the first field goal for UC in the second half. The Bearcats missed their first seven shots.

WVU 36, UC 30 (11:27 to go)

Stephenson with the drive to the basket, and he's hurt again. Looks like he hit his head against Thomas' knee. But he's OK. He's shooting free throws.

UC is shooting 27.9 from the floor and 27.3 from the 3. Plus, WVU is barely ourebounding the Bearcats.

WVU builds the lead to nine, but a Lance Stephenson floater cuts it.

WVU 45, UC 38 (6:03 to go)

The Chuck Machock gag never gets old. ESPN points out that it's been 266 games since he's been ejected from a game.

The Bearcats showing more full-court pressure now as the game is winding down.

Vaughn's 3 with 3:31 to play cuts the lead to 47-45. Then Wilks with the ridiculous put-back to tie the game.

Huge shot by Kevin Jones.

Gates misses a layup and Vaughn then misses a 3.

WVU 49, UC 47 (1:45 to go)

Stephenson will take two free throws. He makes one.

Wow, lucky break for WVU as Ebanks scores the layup just before the shot-clock buzzer went off.

WVU 51, UC 48 (:53 to go)

Stephenson with the 3 with 42 seconds to play. Unreal shot ties the game.

WVU 51, UC 51 (0:30 to go)

Ebanks drives and airballs his layup attempt. Shotclock violation.

UC has the ball.

WVU 51, UC 51 (0:06 to go)

Dion Dixon loses the ball on the inbounds, and WVU will have the ball with 3.1 seconds to play in their half of the court. Looks like he just lost the handle on the ball. Poor guy, he looks like he's ready to vomit on the sidelines because of his mistake.

Ridiculous shot by Butler at the buzzer. A 3-pointer with Stephenson draped all over him. What a shot - banked in. Terrible way for the Bearcats to lose that game.

WVU 54, UC 51 (final)