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UC-Cal State Bakersfield preview

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Tonight marks the third game in the past five days for UC, and you'd expect a variety of Bearcats to play so the top three scorers can get some time to rest on the bench.

 

Yes, freshman guard Lance Stephenson is averaging 13.1 points per game (and 15.3 in Big East play), senior guard Deonta Vaughn is averaging 11.7 (and 17.0) and sophomore forward Yancy Gates is averaging 11.0 (and 10.8). That's all fine. But the problem - and UC ran into this during the Pitt game - is that the Bearcats are susceptible to using their top three players too many minutes.

 

On the season, Stephenson, Vaughn and Gates are playing 29.6, 29.4 and 25.4 minutes per game, respectively (remember Gates' average dropped significantly because of the 4 minutes he logged against Lipscomb) Against the Panthers, though, those numbers were 32, 34 and 34.

 

That, for Cronin, is too much. The solution? Get a lead.

 

"We get behind and we have to play Lance, Deonta and Yancy too many minutes," he said. "Our defense isn't effective. Our defense has been good all year because we play fresh guys."

 

It showed vs. the Panthers. Gates, especially, looked tired as the game neared its end.

 

"He's playing well on offense," Cronin said. "But he's not in the (right) physical condition. He probably needs to play 29 minutes. He probably needs more than five minutes rest. Playing those extra minutes hurt us defensively."

 

An example of Gates' fatigue was evident as the game was nearing the end. With UC losing by two, Vaughn drove, trying to create a scoring opportunity. His first option was to shoot. His second option was to find Stephenson coming off a curl. His third option was to get the ball to Gates. Stephenson missed the layup, and a tired Gates fouled Jermaine Dixon - who then hit the two foul shots that gave the Panthers a four-point lead with 1:02 to play.

 

"For us to be the team we need to be defensively, we need to play our bench," Cronin said. "We did a lot of breaking down. We haven't played those guys that many minutes."

 

That should change tonight. So, look for freshman point guard Cashmere Wright, junior forward Ibrahima Thomas and junior forward Darnell Wilks to see more playing time. And whatever became of freshman guard Jaquon Parker - who has yet to make his Big East debut?

 

--If you don't know much about Cal State Bakersfield, you're not alone. The Roadrunners (yes, I had to look up their nickname) are in the final season of a five-year process that transitions them from Division II to Division I.

 

Don't know if you knew this - because I certainly didn't - but former Bearcats Charles Williams (1996-97) and Marcus Moss (1995-96) left UC and transferred to Cal State Bakersfield.

 

Those guys won't be playing tonight, though. So, who do you want to watch out for when the teams take the court at 7:30 p.m.? Senior forward Trent Blakley averages 14.9 points per game, and freshman guard Stephon Carter scores 12.3 per contest. The team's top rebounder is senior forward Santwon Latunde, who grabs 8.8 per game. But Latunde is only 6-6, and I expect him to have problems while trying to battle with Gates, Steve Toyloy and Ibrahima Thomas.

 

--Stephenson on how his Big East experience has been so far.

 

"The competition is great," he said. "Every team comes out tough, and they play defense. It's been a little bit harder for me to adjust."

Elston, others will join BK at ND

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It's looking more and more like Kerry Coombs will be the only holdover from Brian Kelly's staff to stay at UC with new coach Butch Jones.

 

Kelly announced today that Mike Elston - who's been with Kelly since his Central Michigan days and had handled the Bearcats special teams, tight ends and defensive line units in his time here - will join him at Notre Dame. Also, according to Brian Bennett at ESPN.com, former UC defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and receivers coach Charley Molnar are expected to be in South Bend as well.

 

All of that was expected.

 

What is slightly surprising is that apparently Tim Hinton, who was on Mark Dantonio's staff and was the only holdover to remain here for Kelly's tenure, is going to Notre Dame, as well. He's never coached outside of Ohio - he's stayed here for college and high school coaching - so there was some thought that he might stay.

 

The rest of Kelly's former staff, meanwhile, could follow Jeff Quinn to Buffalo. On Buffalo's web site, Ernest Jones - a former Bearcats assistant who left to be the head coach at Alcorn State for a season before returning to UC this season as the director of player services - is listed as an assistant coach along with former UC receiver Mike Daniels and former UC offensive lineman Adam Shorter.

 

Here's what Coombs told me last month about staying at UC to coach with Jones: "I really do mean that when I tell kids that this is the best place to go as a football player. It's not just that it's my home and where I'm from. That's too easy. The reality is it's the best place, it's got the greatest combination of all the things that are important to me and a lot of kids. Our players recognize that. You don't find a lot of guys coming down the hall and wanting to transfer. You don't find a lot of recruits jumping ship.

 

"This thing is going to continue to go forward in the same manner, because the foundation is built. What we have to offer is so special and we're going to continue to have great kids. That's what people forget. You win games with your players. Brian Kelly was a great football coach and he's going to be very successful at Notre Dame, but you win games with your players - how you recruit them or train them. Coaches know that. We have an exciting future at Cincinnati."

UC-Pitt Rock 'N Roll Party

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Considering he hadn't started since the Dec. 16 UAB game, it sure seemed like sophomore forward Yancy Gates was motivated by Mick Cronin's decision to have him begin the contest tonight for the Bearcats.

 

He managed 16 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and four blocks (which matches his career-best) in 34 minutes, and you had to wonder if his best game of the season - though the 17-point, 13-rebound, one-block performance against Maryland was pretty strong as well - was the result of Cronin's choice to insert him back into the starting lineup.

 

According to Gates, the answer to that is "No."

 

"It wasn't getting in the starting lineup," Gates said. "It was our pregame. We went over the situation, coach went over how evenly our guards were with theirs, and the difference in the game could come down to how the bigs played. That was kind of motivation to come out and get the job done."

 

Gates, though he wasn't as aggressive in going to the basket as I thought he should when matched up against Pitt's Gary McGhee and he settled for too many jumpers, played very well in the first half (12 points on 6 of 7 shooting to go with nine rebounds and three blocks), Pittsburgh adjusted in the second half.

 

But after performing in the 22nd Big East game of his career, Gates can appreciate what he went through in his freshman season while playing in this league. Going against Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair and Georgetown's Hasheem Thabeet on a regular basis has taught him how important it is to play physical on a consistent basis.

 

"It taught me that every night you have to be ready," Gates said. "You can't come in and be lackadaisical."

 

--One problem for UC tonight was that the Bearcats traded baskets with Pitt. Then, when UC would miss a shot, the Panthers took advantage with a small flurry to build a bigger lead. The Bearcats seemed to let one missed shot affect the next possession. That was what Cronin bemoaned the most in his postgame presser.

 

"Our biggest problem as a team when we're in a high level game like this, you're not going to score every time," Cronin said. "You have to get some stops. Our problem, we trade, we trade and we trade and we miss and they score. We can't compound the problem and go down and take a tough shot and then go down and give up a layup. You can't allow one possession to affect the next possession. We have to mature a little bit as a team in that area. You have to have a tough mettle about you. We have too much carryover. We have to let things go when things don't go our way."

 

--Freshman guard Lance Stephenson had such a big first half - he had 13 points - but Pitt coach Jamie Dixon didn't seem so concerned with it. In fact, he was happy with the way the Panthers played defense on Stephenson throughout the game.

 

"We felt pretty good because he took tough shots in the first half," Dixon said. "If you make tough shots, we can live with that. But we don't believe guys can make tough shots for 40 minutes."

 

Said Stephenson: "I was forcing some of the shots that I was taking. It happens. They played me hard and guarded me hard. I just tried to keep the game close. I didn't want them to pull away. At the end, they did that."

UC-Pitt LIVE blog

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Live from 5/3:

Starting lineup: Deonta Vaughn, Larry Davis, Ibrahima Thomas, Lance Stephenson and Yancy Gates. It's Gates' first start since the Dec. 16 UAB game.

First time down the court, Gates hits a short jumper over Pitt C Gary McGhee. Next time, McGhee strips Gates.

Play is stopped 2:12 in since McGhee is bleeding. He's out of the game for now. Looks like a nose bleed.

It's crazy in here. The Bearcats are running offense and getting the Gates touches on every possession.

Stephenson is hot so far. He's hit all three of his shots, and plus a free throw, that equals seven points in the first 4 minutes.

Nasir Robinson has hit his first three shots, and he's got seven of Pitt's nine points. Just before the break, Dante Taylor picks up his second foul of the game.

UC 11, Pitt 9 (14:57 to go)

Two poor shots back to back by Stephenson and Vaughn. Looks like neither of them knew what to do when they jumped in the air with the ball in their hands. Make that three in a row after Stephenson's nothing-but-backboard 3-point attempt with the shot clock at 2.

Ashton Gibbs with the nice pump-fake, getting Dixon in the air. Then he drains a long jumper to give Pitt a 15-13 lead. The Bearcats tie it up again on a tough jumper.

UC 15, Pitt 15 (11:44 to go)

Apparently, Gates enjoys this whole 'starting' thing. He rebounds a Cashmere Wright miss with a powerful dunk.

Bad transition defense there. Thomas misses an inadvisable 3-pointer, and nobody stops Travon Woodall as he drives all the way in for the easy layup to give the Panthers a four-point lead.

Pitt still on a 17-8 run.

Crowd is upset about the offensive foul called on Vaughn just before the break. He made a nice high layup off the glass for the points that would have tied the game.

Pitt 21, UC 19 (7:22 to go)

McGhee, with his nose plugged up, is rejected by Gates.

A little controvesy here. Gibbs' 3-pointer with 3 seconds on the shot clock missed the rim, and the whistle blew as McGhee was going up for the rebounded shot. Refs have to check the monitors to see if the inadvertent whistle affected anything. I thought there was one second left on the shot clock when McGhee went up for the shot. Refs say his layup was good. Crowd boos.

A couple turnovers from Pitt equals a layup from Dixon and Stephenson, and Jamie Dixon is forced to take a timeout with the score 23-23.

Man, Gibbs has a weird shot, but he's making them. He's got 12 points.

But Stephenson is on fire as well, making 6 of 9 shots for 13 points. Gates has 10 points and seven rebounds.

PItt 29, UC 27 (3:48 to go)

Pitt comes out in a 2-3 zone, and UC looks confused by it. After the ball goes out of bounds with 5 seconds on the shot clock and UC inbounds, Pitt goes back to man-to-man. Vaughn buries a 3 with 1 second on the clock.

UC had a chance to take the lead, but Vaughn's alley-oop attempt to Wilks is a little high, and Jermaine Dixon nails a 3 on the other end.

Pitt 38, UC 32 (half)

Some first half stats: Stephenson has 13 points, and Gates has 12 on 6 of 7 shooting. He's also got nine rebounds and three blocks. Shooting 51.7 percent from the floor and 16.7 from the 3.

PItt is shooting 48.3 percent from the floor and 60 percent from the 3. Gibbs has 14 points (5 of 5 from the floor; 4 of 4 from the FT line).

UC comes out fired up and goes on an 8-2 run to tie the game. Toyloy with a couple free throws and a layup forces Dixon to call timeout.

UC 40, Pitt 40 (16:41 to go)

Bad transition defense strikes again. After a miss by Toyloy, Jermaine Dixon goes end to end for the easy layup. Not good.

Pitt 44, UC 40 (15:31 to go)

Don't know why Gates isn't being more aggressive and taking the ball to the hoop. It's not like anybody from Pitt is stopping him. Instead, he's content to take these turnaround jumpers.

Nice play by Stephenson and Toyloy there. Stephenson with the baseline pass to Toyloy, who fake-pumps to get McGhee in the air. Then, after McGhee hacks him, Toyloy with the easy layup. Free throw upcoming.

UC 49, Pitt 49 (11:42 to go)

Bishop with a ridiculous put-back dunk on a Vaughn missed 3-pointer. Gilbert Brown follows that, though, with a huge dunk over Toyloy, who fouled him. Getting some good air here.

Pitt 57, UC 56 (7:24 to go)

Can't say Bishop's defense has been spectacular today. He just allowed Bron to drive through the middle of the paint for the fingertip. In the first half, Bishop was hurt by Biggs.

Gates with another missed 6-foot jumper. But he makes a nice interior pass to Bishop, who hits the layup and gets fouled.

Stephenson has a single point this half. Until he hits a mid-range jumper to make it 64-62 Pitt.

UC allowing a lot of open shots to Pitt. Including a 3-pointer from Brown - who's got 14B this half - to give Pitt the five-point lead. Brown, by the way, averages 7.7 points per game.

Pitt 67, UC 62 (3:38 to go)

Brown misses the layup and hustles to get back before possession before he's tied up. The entire student section wanted a travel, but nothing doing. Then, Brown misses another shot to give UC a chance to tie.

Vaughn loses the ball in the air as he tries to tie it in the lane.

Gibbs misses, and Bishop clanks a 3 at the other end. Pitt timeout.

Pitt 66, UC 64 (1:28 to go)

Wanamaker travels with about 1:25 to go. Stephenson misses a tough layup, and though it appeared Gates tied up Jermaine Dixon, he's called for the foul. He hits both for the four-point lead.

Pitt 68, UC 64 (:59 to go)

Vaughn misses a tough shot in the lane and then fouls Wanamaker, who misses the front end. UC timeout.

Pitt 68, UC 64 (:41 to go)

Bishop with the airball in the lane. Vaughn has to foul, and Jermaine Dixon hits two FTs w/ 26 seconds to go. Yep, this game is just about over.

Well, that wasn't the smartest play ever. Vaughn drives, hits the layup and gets fouled by Brown. Three-point play cuts the lead to 3 with 19 seconds to go.

Davis fouls Dixon with 15 seconds to go. Two foul shots. He makes 1.

Vaughn drives the lane again and tries to get fouled. No call, but he makes the layup. UC timeout.

Pitt 71, UC 69 (:09 to go)

Davis fouls Gibbs, and he'll take 2 shots. UC needs at least one miss. Thing is, Gibbs has hit 44 straight FTs. Not surprisingly, he makes both.

Vaughn with another layup. And again Gibbs is fouled. After 46-straight, Gibbs misses the first. Hits the second.

Pitt takes the timeout. I wonder if the Panthers will foul.

Pitt 74, UC 71 (:02.9 left)

Bishop inbounds to Davis, who turns and shoots from just short of half-court. It looked on target but way short.

Vaughn finishes with 17 points, Stephenson with 15 and Gates had 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Pitt 74, UC 71 (final)

UC-Florida LIVE blog

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Live from Madison Place on Jeremy's couch:

So, white helmets, eh? 

First Quarter

Two quick passes from Pike, one to Gilyard and one to Guidugli. Personal foul penalty takes it into Florida territory. Second and 20, and a Ramsey rush attempt yields another holding penalty. It's declined, though. Pike rolls and his pass is about two first downs away from the first down. UC punts.

The first time Tebow tries to run, Alex Daniels is there to stop him from two yards. John Hughes stops Hernandez on the shuffle pass, and though it looked like a facemask, the officials pick up the flag. On third and seven, Tebow hits Hernandez for the first down. Alex Daniels with the nice sack, and the Bearcats only rushed three times. Another third and (sort of) long conversion for the Gators. Thought there was whistle there and apparently the Bearcats did as well. Tebow runs for 17 yards. On first and goal from the 4, Demps loses a couple and then as he's falling, he hurts his elbow. Tebow to Hernandez, who fights his way through three Bearcats for the 7-yard TD. Could be a long night for UC. Walter Stewart blocks the PAT.

Florida 6, UC 0 (6:13 to go)

Nice, long return for Gilyard. About 41 yards to the UC 45. Trickery. Pitch to Pead, lateral across the field, Pike catches it and tries for the HR to Guidugli. The pass is broken up. Third and 2. Pike with the sneak, and he's nowhere close.

This looks pretty easy so far the Gators. Tebow to David Nelson, who beats Battle, for a first down. A completion to Hernandez, but a block in the back penalty brings it to the Florida 29. So far, who's looked good on defense? Daniels and Stewart. And that's about it. Another sack for Daniels. It'll be third and 16 from the Florida 36. A completion, but short of the first down. Sturgis with the 40-yard FG. I guess you have to count that as a win for UC.

Florida 9, UC 0 (1:20 to go)

A couple of plays that do nothing make it third and 10 from the 23. Pike sacked by about three Gators. Three and out as the quarter ends.

Second Quarter

Tebow has hit his first 12 passes. It'll be third and 1 from the UC 33. Tebow up the middle, and he's met by Schaffer. It'll be fourth and one, and a similar play is called. Revels had a chance at him, but Tebow just got around him for the first down. My wife says, "I don't know much about football, but don't you have to have the ball to score?" Yep. Florida converts another third down. I'll tell you what, the talent disparity between these two teams looks enormous right now. Florida on UC's 7. Wow, Tebow to Thompson for a great catch in the corner of the end zone for the 7-yard TD. Drew Frey was close, but the pass was perfect.

Florida 16, UC 0 (9:07 to go)

Alli has a chance to make a nice catch and get the ball near the first down mark. But he can't hang on. Then, Binns can't hang on. That's a catch he needs to make. Another three and out for UC.

Long pass play and a horsecollar penalty on Revels. The amount of missed tackles for UC is staggering. Major Wright with the easy 6-yard TD run. Yikes.

Florida 23, UC 0 (7:05 to go)

Hey, a first down for the Bearcats. Pike to Gilyard. Temper, temper. Pead cited for unnecessary roughness. Pike to Ramsey on third down, and after a great block by Gilyard, Florida called for a personal foul. It doesn't look like Ramsey was down, though. First down on the Florida 29. On third and 10, Pike overthrows Guidugli. Rogers in for the 47-yard FG. And it's good.

Florida 23, UC 23 (3:11 to go)

Tebow to Riley Cooper for the 80-yard TD. He just burned Battle, and safety Wes Richardson had no shot. This is not good.

Florida 30, UC 3 (3:02 to go)

I'm putting down my pen. I think I'm done keeping play by play.

Can't make tackles. Can't catch passes. Can't block the defensive line.

A missed 39-yard FG basically ends the second quarter.

Thank god the first half is over.

Third Quarter

Looks like the peptalk at halftime worked well. Jake Rogers makes the tackle at mid-field to delay the TD (joke courtesy of CTR). Tebow's passing accuracy has been pretty amazing today. Even when UC is dropping eight men into coverage. Curtis Young tackles Tebow for a loss. And then he celebrates like his team is actually in this game. Yep, Hernandez is a pretty good TE. Third and seven from deep inside UC territory. Tebow has to scramble, and he's inches short. It's fourth and one, and Tebow with the option pitch to Wright for the easy TD. So, how many will Florida score?

Florida 37, UC 3 (11:13 to go)

Pike to Woods for the first down, and that's UC first third-down conversion of the game. Now, UC back in Florida territory. Pike, on third and five, runs for another first down. Ball on the Florida 11. Third and goal. Pike to Woods about a yard short of the first down. I assume UC will go for it on fouth and 1. Pike to Marcus Waugh for the 2-yard TD. And he goes crazy with his celebration. Good for him.

Florida 37, UC 10 (4:46 to go)

Poor Dominique Battle. He's getting toasted in the secondary. Then, Tebow with the easy scramble for the score.

Florida 44, UC 10 (2:06 to go)

Pike just seems a little off his game. Bearcats to punt.

Fourth Quarter

Florida will have to punt from its own end zone. Victory for UC.

UC putting together a drive. Pike rolling out and completing passes. It'll be fourth and two from the Florida 19. Pike up the middle. The pitch to Pead brings up third and 1. An offsides gives UC the first and goal. Third and goal from the 3. Heck of a catch from Pike to Binns for the TD.

Florida 44, UC 17 (10:07 to go)

I wonder if UC had made he national title game vs. Alabama, if the Bearcats would have had a better chance to win.

Chris Rainey jumps over Battle like he's running the high hurdles.

Florida 51, UC 17 (7:06 to go)

Wildcat and whatnot. I like the Travis Kelce handoff to Pead, pitch to Tony Pike, throw to Gilyard, even if it was incomplete. Bearcats get a facemask penalty out of it. Gilyard also is struggling out there. Fourth and nine from the Florida 23. Pike to Woods all the way down to the 1. Darrin Williams takes the carry and fumbles and loses five yards. Pike has to scramble, and he finds a wide-open Alli in the end zone.

Florida 51, UC 24 (3:43 to go)

Without Tim Tebow in there, things go to hell for Florida. Two false start penalties in a row. And that'll do it.

Florida 51, UC 24 (final)

UC-Florida Sugar Bowl preview

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After weeks of build-up, after Brian Kelly left and was replaced by Jeff Quinn who will be replaced by Butch Jones once the Sugar Bowl is over, after Urban Meyer resigned and then changed his mind, after Tim Tebow continued to inspire the masses and after Mardy Gilyard put himself on the national media map, UC finally will get its chance to compete against Florida.

 

But what kind of chance do the Bearcats have to pull off an upset - and let's be clear: although UC is ranked ahead of the Gators, this would be a pretty big upset - and finish the season 13-0?

 

Well, it's going to be tough, real tough. The Florida offense isn't just all-world QB Tim Tebow. It's also Aaron Hernandez - the Mackey Award winner for the top tight end in the country. It's also WR Riley Cooper. It's also C Maurkice Pouncey, the Rimington Trophy winner.

 

Remember, this is also a team that averages 34.7 points per game (while allowing only 11.5), 5.6 yards per rush and 442.4 total yards per game.

 

But yeah, it kinda always comes back to Tebow, eh?

 

"They have a tremendous amount of weapons," defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs said. "He's one of the best college football players in the history of the game - if not the best. We've been honest with our kids. Twenty years from now, when they talk about the Sugar Bowl of 2010, they may be talking about the greatest player in college football history being on that field. That's a reality. It'd be foolish not to acknowledge that.

 

"At the same time, our players don't feel like that it's an insurmountable task. He's a remarkable leader and a great young man. But our job is to do everything we can to control and contain - whatever word you want to use - him as best we can. They've got such an awesome sponsoring cast with a great offensive line, the most athletic and physical."

 

Said senior linebacker Andre Revels: "Tebow's game is his leadership, the effort he puts forth and the way he rallies his teammates around him. That seems to be his biggest thing. I don't think we're specifically saying we need to beat Tim Tebow in his last game to make him feel bad about life. We're just here to get wins, to strive for perfection. The rest of their offense is amazing. It's not about one guy. Their whole offense is electric. We need to show up and be electric with them."

 

--Conventional wisdom says the Gators likely will be quicker than the Bearcats today, and that's most likely true, especially Florida's defense facing UC's offense. But, as sophomore running back Isaiah Pead attests, the Bearcats aren't exactly slow.

 

"They do a lot of things for a reason that other teams wouldn't do," he said. "They blitz to cause confusion; they don't just blitz to make the play. That's a well-coached team. But they're not superhumans. They can be beat. They've got speed. We've got speed."

 

--By all accounts, this year's trip to New Orleans has been different from the one last year to Miami for the Orange Bowl. Which makes sense. The first time the Bearcats played in a BCS bowl game, they were bound to be blinded by all the flashing lights and attention that comes by playing in a game of that caliber.

 

The hotel and the guests that stayed there last year would be enough to distract anybody. This year apparently has been different. In part, it's because of what the Bearcats learned last season.

 

"Just the preparation it takes," senior QB Tony Pike said before the team left for New Orleans. "Obviously, it was a great honor to go to the Orange Bowl, and I think we went overboard and enjoyed the experience a little too much. We know we're going to enjoy the Sugar Bowl and New Orleans, but we know we're going to go down there to get a win."

 

--<b>Prediction</b>: The question, though, is this: will you, as a Bearcats fan, enjoying watching the tilt tonight? I'm not sure. For every game I've picked, I've chosen the Bearcats to win, and of course, I'm also undefeated. As Michael Buffer likes to say, somebody's O has got to go, because I'm going the other way. Florida will be too much for UC. Too much speed. Too much physicality. Too much talent. The Bearcats will make it respectable, but I'd be really surprised if they win. Say, Florida 38, UC 24.

UC-UConn Rock 'N Roll Party

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Was it a foul? Did the officials have it right when they whistled UConn's Gavin Edwards for fouling UC freshman forward Lance Stephenson with 0.7 seconds remaining, allowing Stephenson to hit the game-winning free throws?

 

Me, I couldn't tell - neither live, sitting 30 feet away, nor on the monitor replays.

 

Lance, what do you think?

 

"(Jerome Dyson) forced me left, I spun, and the big man ran into me."

 

Mick Cronin, your thoughts?

"I saw a lot of contact early, before he got in the lane. Once he got in the lane, I thought it was pretty obvious. But obviously, I'm biased."

 

I bet UConn coach Jim Calhoun might have another opinion.

 

"You can look at the replays, too," he said. "I haven't seen a good replay. With 0.7 on the clock?"

 

Then, Calhoun shrugged.

 

Well, whichever the case, Stephenson, a freshman playing in a big game on national TV, had two chances to hit what turned out to be the game-winning free throws. Cronin said he wasn't nervous, that Stephenson shows up on gameday. Stephenson, meanwhile, only had one thought in his head.

 

"All I was thinking was to let me get to the free throw line, because I knew I was going to knock them down," he said.

 

And knock them down he did.

 

"It's a tough situation to be in as a freshman," senior guard Deonta Vaughn said. "But we shoot those types of shots in practice where it's a pressure shot. We've been shooting a lot of free throws. He's been excellent in practice. I knew he was going to make at least one of them."

 

Stephenson's free throws obviously were huge, but equally as important was the way UC played the Huskies. After the game, Cronin said his program is to the point where it looks like a UConn-type program, because the Bearcats have the physicality and the talent to compete with the top-tier teams on a daily basis. The big question, though, is what happens Saturday at Rutgers?

 

Do the Bearcats play like they did against UConn, or do they revert back to the disinterested form they showed vs. UAB on Dec. 16?

 

"The one danger in playing those preconference games - when you play a UAB who has a very good coach and who has veteran guys who don't lose at home - your players don't have the same respect," Cronin said. "Our guys understand Rutgers. They saw Rutgers play North Carolina, and they saw it was close (a four-point game in the second half). They know Rutgers is in the Big East. The mature team that's able to hang in all year game-to-game-to-game is the team that's going to come out with the most wins."

 

Said Vaughn: "We need to play every team like they're a top-25 team. We have to think every team is a top-10 team and play up to our level, because we're a top-25 team in our eyes."

 

--Vaughn continues to play better after a tough start to the season. Entering last week's Winthrop game, he averaged 9.7 points per contest while shooting 34 percent from the floor and 25.8 percent from the 3. In the past two games, he's averaging 14 points and shooting 60 and 75 percent, respectively. He also passed Jack Twyman for eighth on the school all-time scoring list tonight. He's got 1,601 points.

 

"It's like I've been trying to tell him," Cronin said. "Although we played well in Maui and were a couple overtimes away from having one loss, we're not going to do what we want to do in the Big East if he doesn't get back to being the type of player he is. The way to do that is to get back in the gym and push himself in practice and get his rhythm back. It's pretty simple."

 

Tonight, though, the Bearcats also discovered they can win when Vaughn isn't in the game down the stretch. Although he fouled out with 1:30 to go, UC still managed to take the win. Stephenson would prefer not to try that again.

 

"He has to always be in the game," Stephenson said. "I hope he doesn't have to come out of the game again."

 

I also found it interesting that Cronin tapped sophomore Dion Dixon to run the point guard spot in Vaughn's absence, rather than redshirt freshman Cashmere Wright - who only played six minutes tonight.

 

"I was worried about Cash in that situation because he didn't have a lot of minutes in the second half," Cronin said. "Dion Dixon, I have a lot of confidence in. He's a confident ball-handler. He's a guy who could probably play the point for us."

 

--UConn entered the game as the nation's leader in blocked shots with 10.1 per game. UC held the Huskies to zero.

 

"If we didn't block a shot and won the game, I wouldn't care," Calhoun said. "I'm sure when we go to the video tape we'll see blocked shots. Give Cincinnati the credit. They muscled their way inside."

UC-UConn LIVE blog

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Live from 5/3:

An interesting question: how many people show up to see the No. 10 in the nation play the Bearcats in their conference home opener? I'd say the over-under would be 7,000. Twenty-five minutes before the game, you'd have to take the under on that.

UConn, BTW, only has nine scholarship players tonight. According to the Hartford Courant, junior center Charles Okwandu and freshman guard Darius Smith stayed behind on campus to attend intersession classes. Also, Jonathan Mandeldove is out with academic problems.

UC starting five: Deonta Vaughn, Larry Davis, Ibrahima Thomas, Lance Stephenson, and Steve Toyloy. Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright coming off the bench.

Thomas opens the game by missing a layup. But he looked good going to the rim.

I wonder how aggressive Vaughn is going to be tonight. He dribbled through a double-team and then swished a floater high over a Huskies outstretched hand.

Larry Davis and Lance Stephenson with the break, but Davis gives one too many passes, and it goes out of bounds for a turnover.

UC playing good defense so far, particularly on the interior with Gates and Toyloy.

UC 6, UConn 6 (15:12 to go)

Bad stretch for Darnell Wilks. He airballs a 3-pointer, then fouls Gavin Edwards as he's making a layup. He's pulled from the game.

This is quickly becoming a physical game.

UC continues not to shoot well. It's 30.8 percent from the floor. UConn, meanwhile, is 26.7 percent and has missed all four of its 3-pointers.

Cashmere Wright buries a 3 to give UC the lead. 

UC 13, UConn 10 (11:49 to go)

Vaughn has found his shot in the first half. He hits back-to-back 3s to give UC an eight point lead and force a timeout from Jim Calhoun.

Stephenson with the rebounds off a Walker miss, goes coast to coast for the layup and the foul. And this place is getting loud.

UConn with seven turnovers, but the Huskies are out-rebounding UC 18-14.

Vaughn has 10 points. Stephenson with nine. Jerome Dyson has eight for UConn.

UC 30, UConn 20 (7:46 to go)

And just like that, UConn quiets the crowd with a quick 7-0 run.

Man, Kemba Walker is quick, quick, quick.

Haven't seen much of Cashmere Wright tonight. Vaughn has mostly handled the point guard role.

Ibrahima Thomas adds energy when he's in the game, but he's 0 for 5 from the floor, mostly from inside the paint.

Joe Kay makes a good observation. UConn has 0 blocks so far.

UC 34, UConn 31 (3:22 to go)

Stephenson with a nifty move. The outlet pass was going over his head, and though he caught it, he was going out of bounds. No problem. He wings it off a UConn player out of bounds to retain possession. The crowd liked that.

UConn ends the half on a 15-6 run, but still trail by one.

Dyson has 14 points, and UConn is shooting 32.4 percent. The Huskies have missed all six of their 3-pointers.

Stephenson has 13 points, and Vaughn has 10 (also tied for the team lead with four rebounds).

Both teams have nine turnovers, but UConn is outrebounding the Bearcats 25-19. The two teams have combined to make 19 of 22 FTs.

UC 36, UConn 35 (half)

Just noticed this, but UC only has three offensive rebounds. UConn has 10. But surprisingly, both teams only have two second-chance points.

Thomas misses shot No. 5, but he is 4-6 from the line.

Both teams have to run up and down the court like 3 times in a row. Everybody is gassed. Toyloy is bailed out when the officials call a foul on UConn.

Vaughn with another big 3.

UC 45, UConn 37 (15:54 to go)

Bearcats seem to be overpassing it in the paint. It creates problems for them.

Bishop hits hits second 3 of the game, but then fouls Robinson when he's making his own 3. Robinson misses the FT and UC still leads by 5.

UConn goes to a zone. It just so happens that the Bearcats are shooting 54.5 percent from the 3.

UC 50, UConn 45 (11:57 to go)

Dixon manages to be called for two fouls in the span of 0 seconds, and he's out of the game with four. Then, Gates picks up foul No. 4. He's got six points and three rebounds so far.

Oriakhi, who's got eight rebounds, picks up his fourth with 10:41 to go.

Amazing dribbling from Stephenson to completely school Robinson and then hit the fadeaway 12-footer. Then, Walker schools Vaughn on his way to an easy layup.

UConn, thanks to Robinson (20 points) and Dyson (20) are still hanging around.

UC rebounding better this half, 16-11 over the Huskies

UC 63, UC 58 (6:13 to go)

With two FTs, Vaughn has a season-high 17 points.

About 6 minutes left in the game, UC up by 5, you know what time it is? Anthony McClain time. He makes his first appearance in the game.

Fans displeased about an offensive foul call on Vaughn. Of course, Vaughn totally pushed off. It's his fourth with 4:27 to play.

Not good when Vaughn and Gates have four fouls apiece. And Dixon for that matter.

Bishop strips the ball from Walker, but Dixon misses the layup on the 3-on-1 break. Lot of upset people in here.

UC 67, UConn 61 (3:26 to go)

In crunch time, Dixon handling the point, not Wright. Stephenson runs into Dixon, causing a turnover, and Dyson all alone for the easy dunk.

UC 67, UConn 63 (2:27 to go)

Vaughn back in the game. Then fouls out with 1:30 to go. Two free throws for Edwards. He hits 1 of 2. Three-point game.

Dixon turns it over with about 4 seconds on the shot clock. But give him credit. He hustles and gets the ball back after the shot clock resets. Calls timeout.

UC 67, UConn 64 (:55 to go)

It's unclear if UConn actually had possession of the ball when the shot clock reset. Looks like perhaps UC had a shot-clock violation. No, 1 second is put back on the clock. Gates got off a shot, but misses.

Crowd is loud with UC up by 3 and UConn ball.

Dyson just threw up a crazy shot, and it bounced off about eight players. Finally, the ball is in Robinson's hands, who lays it in with 26 seconds to play. Timeout.

I assume Toyloy won't be on the floor for FTs.

UC 67, UConn 66 (:26 to go)

Full court press, broken by UC. Thomas dunk with 17 seconds to go. Walker on the other end nails a 3 to tie the game with 9 seconds to go.

Then, Stephenson with the ball against Dyson. Stephenson beats him and the foul is called on Edwards. It's unclear if there was time left on the clock when the whistle blew.

UC 69, UConn 69 (?)

It appears to me on the replay that there might have been 0.2 or 0.3 seconds on the clock when the play ended.

Yep, Stephenson will take two shots with 0.7 seconds left.

Hits the first, and UC clears the lane for the second. Mick is screaming at Lance to miss it. He makes it. Don't think he heard Mick.

UC 71, UConn 69 (0.7 seconds)

Dixon, Bishop, Stephenson, Toyloy, Thomas on the floor. Thomas guarding the in-bounds. Dyson gets off a shot from half court but it hits about halfway up the backboard.

Stephenson finishes with 21, Vaughn with 17. UC shoots 41 percent from the floor, 46.7 percent from the 3.

UConn is led by Dyson's 24 points and Robinson's 22. UConn shoots 37.5 percent from the floor, 30.8 percent from the 3.

UC 71, UConn 69 (final)

UC-UConn preview

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The Connecticut squad you'll see tonight should look awfully familiar. Yes, Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien and A.J. Price no longer are with the Huskies, but that's not what I mean. Instead, what should jog your memory is how this year's UConn team, ranked 10th in the country, plays: big and strong, physical, a team that will block its opponents' shots while out-rebounding them for missed buckets.

 

It's how the Huskies, no matter their personnel, usually play.

 

No Thabeet, Adrien or Price. Instead, there's Stanley Robinson (who's coming off a season-high 29-point performance vs. Iona), there are guards Kemba Walker (who leads the Big East with 6.4 assists per game) and Kevin Dyson, and there's forward Gavin Edwards (who's shooting a league-best 71.4 percent from the floor and seventh in the country with 3.7 blocks per game).

 

Not only that, the Huskies play outstanding defense, as they lead the country in blocked shots per game (9.8) and rank 11th in field goal defense (36.5 percent).

 

But here's one reason why UC will have a good chance to pull the upset tonight at 5/3. Unlike last season, when the Bearcats took an 81-72 loss and were dominated in the paint and on the glass, UC has played well defensively in the post. So, UConn shouldn't see quite as many easy buckets from inside the paint.

 

"Defensively, I'm very comfortable with where we're at," Mick Cronin said. "We can put big bodies out there, and they understand how not to give up easy baskets. There's one thing that Yancy (Gates) and Steve (Toyloy) and Biggie (McClain) and Ibrahima Thomas can do, they can defend. We don't have to double-team the low post against anybody in America. That's an advantage. You don't have to worry about getting destroyed inside. Last year, A.J. Price was great and when he didn't shoot the ball in, they destroyed us from five feet in. That hasn't been a problem for us this year."

 

Cronin knows that because the Bearcats have faced a pretty tough non-conference schedule. Teams like Gonzaga, Xavier, Maryland and Vanderbilt have allowed UC to see where it needs to improve - and where it's pretty good.

 

I asked Cronin on Monday if he thought he got what he needed out of the non-conference schedule, and, though he decried the fact he had no choice in scheduling Xavier and UAB (which turned into two road losses), it seems like he feels pretty good about it.

 

"I have a philosophy (about non-conference scheduling), but I inherit a lot of games," he said. "I had a choice with Maui. I thought that would be great for us. You have to have balance (in the schedule). You've got to develop your team early, but you can't play 30 wars. It's ridiculous to think you can do that. I hear suggestions that you have to play better home games if you want the arena to fill up. Nobody does that. You have to have some home games to build confidence and gain a rhythm. But you have to get yourself ready for conference play. The last thing you want to do is have false hope. You have to get a dose of reality. Going on the road, it doesn't matter who it's against, you have to be careful going on the road before you're ready."

 

Cronin points to the fact host Cleveland State nearly upended West Virginia earlier this season and that Villanova lost its first true road game of the season at Temple. For the record, the Huskies haven't played a true road game, though they faced LSU, Duke and Kentucky at Madison Square Garden in two different events (UConn beat LSU and lost the other two).

 

Sophomore forward Yancy Gates, for one, thinks UC's non-conference schedule was helpful.

 

"In Maui, we played Gonzaga, and Gonzaga is actually bigger than UConn," said Gates, whose squad was outrebounded 40-35 by the Zags and allowed Gonzaga center Robert Sacre to score a team-high 14 points. "We played Xavier; they're big. We played a lot of teams that have prepared us for the Big East."

 

--Senior Steve Toyloy made his first appearance in the media room Monday, and though I only caught part of it, he made a funny when somebody asked him if he had been refreshed by the team's recent break (it's been eight days since the Bearcats last played)

 

"Do what? The break?" he said. "We got two days off."

 

Eh, it was funnier, I suppose, in person.

A Big Ten expansion, a Big East exodus?

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The Big Ten has said it has begun to explore expanding its conference - maybe adding one more program to make it an even 12. And with that, fans and officials of the Big East - which, as you know, lost Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC this decade, a move that former commissioner Mike Tranghese said nearly killed the Big East - began to worry.

 

I bring this up today, because Mick Cronin mentioned it Monday during media availability in preparation for Wednesday's game vs. UConn. Somebody asked him about the old Big East coaches of yore* - guys like John Thompson (the second) and Jim Boeheim and Phil Carnesecca - and how much those coaches meant to the Big East of today.

 

*Is it 'yore' or 'lore'?

 

Cronin responded - sort of - and then, unsolicited, brought up the Big Ten expansion and whether that conference will try to pilfer some teams away from the Big East.

 

"Let's hope the Big Ten isn't about to raid our conference," Cronin said. "We have the best conference. Right now, everybody looks around and sees that. When you have the Big Ten talking about that, there's a reason. They look at the Big East, and they see a great conference. They want what we have. I don't see a need for any teams in our conference to entertain any offers from them. What would you get there that you don't have in the Big East? We have all the media markets. We have the best exposure. We have the best conference, and in basketball, the deepest conference. We have the best TV package."

 

If any program in the Big East was approached about heading to the Big Ten, I think Rutgers would have to think about it. The Big Ten, I'm sure, would love to get into the New York City market, and Rutgers provides that. For Rutgers basketball, it probably would have a better chance to compete for a conference title in the Big Ten than in the Big East. Maybe in football as well.

 

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno also has said Pittsburgh and Syracuse could be considered as well (though, I'm not sure why either would want to leave the Big East). Perhaps, the Big Ten also would take another run at Notre Dame - which rejected an offer 10 years ago and which almost surely would do the same today.

 

Missouri, from the Big 12, also has been mentioned as a possible candidate.

 

Cronin, though, was adamant about keeping the current Big East conference intact.

 

"I wouldn't see why any team would consider abandoning ship for the Big Ten, with all due respect to the Big Ten," Cronin said. "I understand their issue. You look at what we have. Our eight football teams have the perfect schedule - it gives them flexibility in scheduling. We have the BCS bid. In basketball, we have the deepest, best conference in the country. We have the best ESPN deal. We have all the media markets east of the Mississippi. I don't see where you're going to get more exposure for your university. You would only hurt yourself by leaving our conference. But what do I know? I'm trying to figure out to how use a pick and roll and get a basket against UConn."