Thursday, January 14, 2010

St John's 52 Cincinnati 50

(New York Times, I think)
I have been a UC fan for as long as I can remember, and I don't recall more than 5 losses that stung as badly as the one the Cats were dealt Wednesday night. The Bearcats fell to 11-6, 2-3 in the Big East by giving away the game to the St John's Red Storm 11-5, 1-3. Style wise, this was one of the worst Cincinnati games I laid eyes on. Cincinnati turned the ball over 21 times, were 0-12 from 3, were 10-18 at the free throw line and shot 42% overall. St John's shot 35%, were 5-18 from 3, were 11-20 at the free throw line, and turned the ball over 11 times. There were only 2 players in double digits, Dwight Hardy of the Red Storm, and Yancy Gates for the Cats. Neither team got in any kind of rhythm, and played generally ugly basketball down to the wire. Unfortunately, the Bearcats played ugly basketball to the wire and it cost them greatly.

After forcing a St John's shot clock violation (another ugly example) the Bearcats called time out with the ball up 3 with 25 seconds left. The inbound play was either poorly drawn up, or poorly executed or both, because the ball ended up with Gates who was trapped. He flipped the ball to Rashad Bishop, who had it poked away. Dion Dixon recovered the ball and threw up a quick shot that was blocked by, I think, DJ Kennedy. The Storm drove down to the other end where Justin Brownlee was fouled by Rashad Bishop. Brownlee made 1 of the 2 to make it a 50-48 game. In a completely insane move, Bishop threw the inbound pass full court where St John's had Deonta Vaughn double teamed. Hardy drove into the lane where he was fouled. I have no idea what the hell Rashad Bishop was thinking. In that spot, you take a time out, you throw it off a defender, you do anything but throw the ball away. Hardy made both foul shots to tie the score. Mick Cronin decided to call timeout after the first free throw. I wrote interesting in my notes, and little did I know how interesting it would be. Then the play that made Bearcat fans everywhere sick. Lance Stephenson, who had a horrible game back in NYC proper, tried throwing the inbound pass to Dixon, but threw it right to Hardy, who was fouled. It looked like Lance was trying to throw it in to Dixon and get it back quickly, but he threw it right to Hardy. Not having a timeout here was gigantic. The team was in disarray, and no one knew what to do. I thought Mick called time to draw up an inbound play, and to say who to give the ball to on a miss by Hardy. Instead, no one had any idea of what the hell to do. That said, Lance Stephenson can not be so careless with the basketball. I don't really know what he or Bishop were thinking.  Deonta Vaughn used the last 7 seconds to drive to the 3 point line and miss. It was a gigantic tank job by the Bearcats down the stretch. This team has faded down the stretch before, like the UConn game, but not to this extent. Mick said this was the worst loss he has had. It was a terrible one to take because the Cats gave it away. The ultimate snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The loss to Seton Hall was bad, but this loss was much worse. Not just because of how it ended, but because of where it leaves UC. 2-3 in the Big East is not where you want to  be. Especially since the team could be 4-1 if breaks go right against Pitt and they close out tonight. Then again, they could have lost to UConn if that game went to OT and could be 1-4. Sorry, I had to play the opposite of the 'they could be this' game. This is the type of loss that puts teams in the NIT. This is the type of loss that makes you play 5 games in 5 days in the Big East tournament. And we all know how well that worked out last year when the Bearcats lost day 1 to winless DePaul. I'm not going to be so dramatic to say that this loss can ruin a season, but it really puts pressure on the Bearcats to beat Notre Dame. 2-4 is unacceptable. That 2 game ditch is a tough one to pull out of, and I don't know if the Bearcats can do it. The bar has been raised this season, and the fans have tournament expectations. Not CBI, or NIT. NCAA. It's been 6 years and Cat fans are getting restless. Emotions were riding high after the UConn win, and UC has failed to deliver on the high hopes. This loss is really hard to take. Is it a sign the team is falling apart? Is it a fluke? Is it a sign of coaching? Who's to say. We'll get answers though, starting Saturday. Let's look back at this one and find out how it ended like it ended.

The first half was poorly played. The UC highlight was an alley oop from Deonta Vaughn to Yancy Gates right on Dele Coker's head. That would be the only 2 for Gates in the half, as he would get in foul trouble. Ibrahima Thomas was unusually aggressive getting most of his 5 shots and 6 free throws in the half. Lance Stephenson wasn't comfortable and turned the ball over 3 times in the half. He would turn the ball over 3 times in the second half for 6 total. He only had 7-5-3 assists. The Cats had an early lead, but a 7-0 St John's run gave them a lead with about 5 minutes to go in the half. Jaquon Parker got 3 minutes and had 3 boards and 2 points. The points came on free throws that gave UC a 24-23 lead with 3 minutes left in the half that would extend to the break. Rashad Bishop, Lance Stephenson, Steve Toyloy and Ibrahima Thomas all had 4 for UC, with Ibby chipping in 6 boards. Justin Brownlee had 7 and DJ Kennedy had 6 for St John's. UC was 9-27, 0-9, and 6-11 at the stripe. St John's was 10-24, 2-8, and 1-6. Horrible.

The second half started off Yancy Gates returning from foul trouble and scoring 4 quick. A Lance Stephenson  lay up gave UC a 30-26 lead. Dwight Hardy hit a pair of 3s to tie the score at 32. UC took a lead off a Cashmere Wright jumper, but turned the ball over 3 times in a row to give it up on a Malik Stith jumper. UC tied the score on a Gates dunk, and built a 3 point lead. Deonta Vaughn made his only field goal after St John's pulled within 1. UC would throw the ball away after a rebound, and Lance would travel, leading to a Hardy 3 to give the Storm the lead 43-41 with 5:25 left. The lead would turn back UC's way when a Rashad Bishop shot was goaltended by Coker. Bishop made 1 of 2 free throws with 2:10 left to give UC a 48-45 lead. After a Justin Burrell hook shot, Yancy Gates would score UC's last basket after a great pass by Steve Toyloy out of a double team with 1:13 on the clock. Toyloy played great. He had 8 points and 7 rebounds, 4 offensive. That lead to the shot clock violation and everything you read above.

The big question is where does UC go from here? The game Saturday afternoon vs. Notre Dame is huge for the Bearcats. It's early to say games are big, but this one is. It's important for UC to not get too down, and to make things happen. It's also important to stop being so fucking terrible on offense. The offensive woes are pathetic this late in the year. The Cats didn't make a 3 for the first time since 2002. The defense was stellar, but that won't win games if you are anemic on offense. Deonta Vaughn was 1-7, and had 2 free throws. My best friend Dion Dixon was 0-5. Stephenson was 3-9. Thomas 1-5. Gotta get it together boys, we don't have much choice not to.

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