"Cats" Ready to Rumble in Cincinnati

Jan. 11, 2008

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The Cincinnati Bearcats (7-8, 2-1 BIG EAST), winners of three of their last five and who are 2-1 in BIG EAST Conference play, entertain No. 17/No. 19 Villanova (11-2, 1-1 BIG EAST) on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 7 p.m. in Fifth Third Arena. The contest will be broadcast by ESPNU. Both teams come into the weekend, having won its last conference game as UC knocked off Syracuse Wednesday night, 74-66, while Villanova, who last played six days ago on Jan. 6, downed then-No. 13 Pittsburgh, 64-63. Villanova owns a 3-0 record in the series and is 2-0 vs. the Bearcats since they joined the BIG EAST in 2005-06.


REBOUNDING IN EVERY SENSE: After being out rebounded by Louisville and St. John's to open BIG EAST play, Cincinnati dominated the boards vs. Syracuse, posting a 39-32 advantage in the Bearcats' 74-66 win on Wednesday. UC built up most of its advantage during the final eight minutes of the first half, when it went on a 28-7 run and took a 35-23 lead into the intermission. From the 7:54 mark of the first half until 0:06, Cincinnati out-boarded Syracuse, 10-0. This season UC has out rebounded 10 of its 15 opponents.


Villanova at Cincinnati


SCOUTING THE WILDCATS: Villanova comes into Fifth Third Arena winner of seven of its last eight games, including a 64-63 win over No. 13 Pittsburgh its last time out on Jan. 6. The well-rested Wildcats are averaging 78.9 points per game offensively, ranking them seventh overall in the BIG EAST. They are led by four players averaging double-digits and four more scoring six points or more. Sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds leads the way, putting in 15.5 points per game, followed by freshman standout Corey Fisher (12.3 ppg), junior Shane Clark (11.2), and junior Dante Cunningham (11.0). The Wildcats are the BIG EAST's sixth-best 3-point shooting teams, converting .366 (101-of-276). Freshman guard Malcolm Grant, who is the team's top 3-point marksman, has come off the bench and knocked down 23-of-42 treys (.462) and averages 8.4 points. Defensively, Villanova has held its opponents to 69.1 points per game and has given up 70 points or more only four times.


RANKED OPPONENTS: The Bearcats are 0-2 vs. ranked opponents this season. Cincinnati lost on the road to then-No. 17 Xavier, 64-59, before dropping a 79-69 contest at home vs. No. 2 Memphis. In the history of Cincinnati basketball, Saturday's game vs. Villanova marks the 15th time UC has taken on a No. 19-ranked team. The Bearcats are 110-157 (.412) all-time against ranked opponents, and are 4-10 overall vs. teams ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press poll. The last time UC faced a No. 19 team was during their final season in Conference USA on Jan. 15, 2005, when Louisville knocked off Cincinnati, 69-66. The Bearcats have played Villanova just once when the Wildcats were ranked on Feb. 23, 2006. UC lost the 74-72 decision vs. the then-ranked No. 2 Wildcats as Dante Cunningham made a lay-up with 3.2 seconds left to hold off the Bearcats.


BIG TIME PLAY IN THE BIG EAST: After a record of 5-7 in non-conference play, head coach Mick Cronin needed the leaders on the team to step up and show the way as the Bearcats headed into BIG EAST Conference play. Sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn and senior forward John Williamson have picked up the pace offensively. Vaughn, who averaged 15.5 points per game during the non-conference schedule, has posted 22.0 points per night in the league, while Williamson has improved his scoring average from 10.5 in non-conference play to 11.7 in the BIG EAST. On the defensive side of the ball, freshman center Anthony McClain has given UC a new presence on the inside, pulling down a team-high 5.7 boards a game.


HELP OFF THE BENCH: For Cincinnati, team depth has provided Coach Cronin with a great deal of options as he has fine tuned a rotation of players that goes nine deep, playing 100 minutes or more. That depth played a big part in UC's 74-66 win over Syracuse as the bench out-scored the Orange, 23-2. On average, the Bearcats are getting 16.9 points per game from their reserves, led by freshman Larry Davis' 3.4 points per game and senior Marcus Sikes' 3.3.


FINDING CONSISTENCY: One thing that every young team has to develop as they mature is consistency and the Cincinnati Bearcats are no different. When you compare Cincinnati's stats in wins vs. losses you can see where a lack of consistency has made a difference. In UC's seven wins, the team is shooting .437 from the field compared to .401 in the losses.  The largest difference that is impacting whether UC comes out ahead or not is the team's overall defense. In wins, the Bearcats are holding their opponents to .383 shooting from the field and 59.6 points per game. Contrasting that to UC's eight losses, Cincinnati's defense is allowing its opponents to score on .470 of their shots, leading to 73.5 points per game - a difference of almost 14 points per game in wins vs. losses.


DEFENDING THE LINE: In UC's last four games, it has either defended the 3-pointer well or not. One key to the Bearcats' last three wins has been their 3-point shooting defense that held Miami (OH), Louisville, and Syracuse to a combined 9-of-50 (.180) from behind the arc. The RedHawks' 2-of-12 (.167) and the Cardinals' 2-of-23 (.130) are the two lowest 3-point shooting percentages allowed in Mick Cronin's tenure. In the Bearcats loss, St. John's was able to exploit the Bearcats from behind the line, connecting on .462 (6-of-13) of its 3-pointers. In BIG EAST games, UC has limited its opponents to a .255 shooting percentage behind the line and just 4.3 treys per game. That is almost three fewer 3-pointers allowed per contest, comparing non-conference (7.0 3-pointers per game) to conference (4.3).


HOLDING ON WITH A FIRM GRIP: In just over a season and a half, one characteristic of a Mick Cronin team has been its ability to hold on to leads late. When the Bearcats lead with five minutes remaining in the game, they are undefeated at 6-0 this season and are 15-3 in Cronin's time at Cincinnati.


TAKING OVER AT THE END: Since sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn joined the team last season, he has been given the ball and asked to take on the added pressure of being the go-to player down the stretch. Vaughn has responded to the challenge, especially this season, as he has averaged 6.9 points during the final 10 minutes of games. What is even more impressive are his shooting percentages in the final 10 minutes as he is converting .561 (32-of-57) from the field and .536 (15-of-28) from behind the 3-point arc.


IN THE LAST FIVE GAMES: Senior guard Deonta Vaughn has scored in double figures five times and leads the team with 20.4 points per game ... Vaughn is one of four players averaging five or more points per game ... UC is shooting 43.1 percent from the field (113-of-262), including 34.7 percent (33-of-95) from behind the 3-point line ... Vaughn has knocked down 15 treys and is shooting 41.7 percent from behind the line ... as a team, UC is shooting .744 from the free-throw line, led by Vaughn at .840 (21-of-25) ... point guard Jamual Warren leads the team with 23 assists (4.6 per game).


THE BIG MAN, A BIG HELP OFF THE BENCH: Freshman center Anthony "Biggie" McClain has started to live up to his nickname, providing the Bearcats a major spark off the bench with a combined 21 points, 24 rebounds, and eight blocked shots in the last four games. McClain, who was averaging just 7.1 minutes per contest in the first 11 games, has earned the extra playing time by working on his defensive rebounding. After pulling down 12 defensive rebounds in his first 10 games, McClain has 15 defensive boards in his last four outings.


TAKING THE POINT: Senior guard Jamual Warren has played key roles for the Bearcats in their last three wins. In the win over Miami (OH), he personally led an 8-0 run of his own with a jumper and back-to-back treys to break a 38-38 tie. Warren, a career 13.6 percent (9-of-66) 3-point shooter heading into the Miami game, knocked down 2-of-3 from behind the arc vs. the RedHawks and went on to score 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting -- one short of his career high of 16 points vs. West Virginia last season. He also added six rebounds, three assists, and a steal vs. MU. At Louisville, he was asked to take on a completely different role as a rebounder and to run the offense. Warren responded again, equaling his career highs with eight rebounds and seven assists. Warren, who was limited to 24 minutes at St. John's due to early foul troubles, rebounded vs. Syracuse and provided seven assists and three steals to go along with five points.


DEFENSIVE ASSISTANCE: The return of Jamual Warren to the line-up at UAB, after his hand injury, has paid dividends for UC defensively as he has already tallied 14 steals in nine games. Last season, Cincinnati ranked eighth in the BIG EAST in steals per game (7.67) and Warren averaged 1.83 of the total. Before Warren's return, the Bearcats were only making 4.85 steals per game -- last in the BIG EAST -- but the Bearcats have made 53 steals (5.9 per game) since his return.


A DIFFERENCE A MONTH MAKES: When the calendar flipped to 2008, the Bearcats were happy to turn the page on a difficult month. After going 4-2 in the month of November, Cincinnati went 1-5 in December, losing five straight, including a pair vs. nationally ranked opponents -- then-No. 17 Xavier and then-No. 2 Memphis -- before knocking off Miami (OH) on Dec. 29. The biggest problem area was UC's shooting. In the first six games of the season, the Bearcats were making .433 of their shots (46-of-135), but then connected on just .394 (132-of-335) in December. The shooting difference is highlighted when you examine the team's 3-point marksmanship, which dropped from .341 in the first six games to .303 in December.


BEHIND THE LINE: The Bearcats are shooting .330 from behind the 3-point line this season, ranking them 14th in the BIG EAST. Sophomore Deonta Vaughn and senior Marvin Gentry are carrying the load for Cincinnati, accounting for 62 percent of UC's 3-pointers (62-of-149) on .416 shooting. The rest of the team is 37-of-151 (.245).


BACK TO WORK: Senior guard Marvin Gentry, who was taken off the floor at the Xavier game on Dec. 12 after colliding with teammate Deonta Vaughn and suffering a head injury, missed the Memphis game but returned to the line-up at North Carolina State where he played 19 minutes and scored nine points. The team's fourth-leading scorer, averaging 7.9 points per game, Gentry has netted 60 of his 110 points this season from behind the 3-point line where he is converting 40.8 percent (20-of-49).


BACK ON TRACK: After scoring a combined 13 points vs. UAB and Illinois State, sophomore guard Deonta Vaughn has found his scoring touch again, notching 132 points (18.9 ppg) in his last seven starts. His 29 points vs. Syracuse were his seventh straight and 12th overall double-digit scoring performance of the season. Vaughn leads the team and is sixth in the BIG EAST with 16.8 points per game.


WILL-I-AM-SON: Senior forward John Williamson, who averaged 13.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season, has broken out of a slump in his last eight games, scoring 87 points (10.9 ppg) and pulling down 43 rebounds. In the four games prior to Illinois State, Williamson recorded 6.0 points per game on 10-of-32 shooting (.313). Williamson was "Mr. Consistent" for UC last season, scoring in double figures in 23 of the team's 30 games. He is currently second on the team scoring with 9.7 points per game.


EUROPEAN IMPACT: Senior center Adam Hrycaniuk (pronounced hu-RITZ-a-nyuk), a native of Poland, has made an immediate impact on the Bearcats. After having to sit out last year due to NCAA clearance issues, Hrycaniuk has jumped into the line-up for UC and become an offensive threat, scoring 9.1 points per game. The 6-foot-10 post player is also Cincinnati's second-leading rebounder with 5.3 rebounds per game.


BISHOP TAKES QUEEN (CITY): Freshman forward/guard Rashad Bishop has quickly become one of the Bearcats' top all-around newcomers. Appearing in all 15 games and starting eight for UC this season, Bishop has scored in double digits three times, including two games with a season-high 12 points (Bowling Green and Fairfield). After breaking out of a mini slump vs. Memphis with nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals, Bishop is averaging 5.2 points per game. Not only has he provided offensive punch, he has also added 3.7 rebounds and is third on the team with 26 assists.


30-MINUTE MAN ...: Through Cincinnati's first six games, sophomore point guard Deonta Vaughn was the Iron Man of UC basketball, logging an average of 36.5 minutes per game. In the season opener vs. Belmont, Vaughn played 39 minutes for the Bearcats, three short of his career high of 42, in a 70-67 overtime victory over Seton Hall, on Feb. 28 of last season. With the return of UC's other veteran point guard Jamual Warren to the line-up, Vaughn has been able to scale back, playing just 30.4 minutes per game. After Vaughn's season average of 32.9 minutes per game, the next closest player on the team is Warren, who is averaging 30.0 minutes per game since his return.


WHEN YOU NEED IT MOST: Senior center Adam Hrycaniuk has been clutch for the Bearcats late in games, converting 9-of-10 free throws (.900) in the last three minutes of games determined by 10 points or less. As a team, the Bearcats are shooting .774 (41-of-53) from the line down the stretch of close games.


PHYSICALLY FIT: Over the last 15 years, UC basketball has the reputation of being one the most physically fit teams in the country and developing players for the next level. That comes from the players' hard work in the weight room and conditioning. This season, Adam Hrycaniuk, John Williamson and Branden Miller each can bench press over 300 pounds, led by Hrycaniuk at 315 pounds. Even the guards have impressive stats with Deonta Vaughn squatting 500 pounds and Marvin Gentry, who weighs 180 pounds, bench pressing a max of 260 pounds. Freshman forward Darnell Wilks and senior guard Jamual Warren are the team's high flyers with 40- and 36.5-inch vertical jumps, respectively.


PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF: Head coach Mick Cronin, in just his second year at Cincinnati, has done the work of a coach in his fourth year on the job, having signed or transferred in 16 players in the last 18-plus months. This season's six-person freshman class is considered by the recruiting services as one of the Top 20 groups in the nation and the stats attest to that. Larry Davis and Rashad Bishop have combined for five double-digit scoring nights and center Anthony McClain has become a presence on the glass, pulling down 51 rebounds (24 offensive) and blocked 17 shots in just 150 minutes of action. Bishop and Davis have had the best offensive seasons to date, averaging 5.5 and 4.3 ppg, respectively.


WILLIAMS TO MISS SEASON WITH RUPTURED ACHILLES: Junior forward Mike Williams, who was preparing for his first season on the court for the University of Cincinnati, will miss the 2007-08 season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in preseason workouts. Williams, a 6-7, 230-pound native of Camden, Ala., sat out last season at UC after transferring from the University of Texas and was expected to start this season for Cincinnati. As a Longhorn, Williams played in 58 games over two years, averaging 2.7 points and 3.4 rebounds.


THE INK IS DRY: The University of Cincinnati men's basketball team signed two players to national letters of intent for the 2008-09 season, head coach Mick Cronin announced on the first day of the early signing period. Joining the Bearcats are forward Yancy Gates (Cincinnati, OH/Withrow) and guard Cashmere Wright (Savannah, GA/Urban Christian High School).

   Gates, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward, is one of the nation's top 50 players according to several recruiting sites. As a junior at Withrow High School playing for Walt McBride, Gates averaged 19.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game in 2006-07. He helped the Tigers to a 17-6 record and missed the state semifinals by one game. A second-team Ohio all-state selection, Gates is the first freshman player in Cronin's first three recruiting classes to come from the talent-rich Cincinnati area.

   Wright, another highly-regarded recruit, who is ranked among many of the recruiting services top 100 players, comes to Cincinnati from the Urban Christian Academy in Savannah, Ga., where he averaged 36.2 points, 10.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game in 2006-07. In his first two games this season, Wright posted 43 and 35 points, respectively, and is a McDonald's All-America candidate.


BEARCATS ADD TRANSFER FOR 2008-09: The Bearcats added 6-7 wing Nick Aldridge, a transfer from Western Carolina University, to the roster as a non-scholarship player following the holiday break. Aldridge joins the program as a sophomore after competing in five games at Western Carolina this season where he averaged 18.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Aldridge will sit out the remainder of this season and be eligible to play as a junior for the Bearcats after the 2008 fall quarter. Last year, he was the Catamounts' leading scorer putting up 18.3 points and pulling down 7.0 rebounds a game. In his college career, Aldridge has notched 10 20-plus point games including two 30-plus outings. Aldridge, a native of South Webster, which is located two hours from Cincinnati, led his high school to a 27-6 record and the Ohio Division IV state championship as a senior in 2005-06, putting up 34 points in the championship game. He finished his high school career with 2,011 points, making him one of 37 players in Ohio high school basketball history to score more than 2,000 points.


BEARCATS ON TV: This season, all 30 of Cincinnati's regular-season contests are being broadcast via its local package with FOX19 (WXIX-TV) or through the conference package with the ESPN family of networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, ESPN 360, or ESPN Regional). The BIG EAST's ESPN Regional package, which includes the BIG EAST Game of the Week, can be seen in Cincinnati on CinCW, the digital sister station of WKRC-TV (Channel 12). CinCW is available on most local cable systems as well as satellite providers.


LOOKING AHEAD: Next on the BIG EAST schedule for Cincinnati is a mid-week trip to South Bend, Ind., to take on Notre Dame on Tuesday, Jan. 15. The Irish, which has a 10-game winning streak heading into this weekend, is tied atop the BIG EAST standings with Georgetown at 2-0 in the league play and are 12-2 overall. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU. The Irish own a 4-1 lead in the series and have captured the last three in a row, including a 76-64 victory last season in Fifth Third Arena.