Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Memorable Bearcats: D'Juan Baker

The second installment of Memorable Bearcats focuses on a basketball player. His heroics have been overshadowed, but this man was clutch. This Bearcat is D'Juan Baker.

D'Juan Baker was a 2 year player at Cincinnati, but he was a solid one. As you can see, he was the captain of the 1997-98 Bearcats. That team won 27 games, and was a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament. His career numbers are kind of underwhelming because he didn't play a whole lot his junior year. He averaged 8.6 on 45% shooting, 37.8% from 3 and 83.6% at the line. He grabbed 1.8 boards a game. His junior year he had 4.2 and 1.1 rebounds. He put buckets on people's faces when he got in the line up, mainly in blowouts. He had 14 in a 40 point win over Rutgers, 15 in a 44 point win over Howard, and 19 in a 29 point win over DePaul. He had one of his highest rebounding games of his career against Rutgers, with 6.

Baker took off his senior year. He started 27 of the 30 games. He had 13.4 points a game, which was third on the team. He hit 37% of threes, and 86.7% of his free throws. He also pulled down 2.6 rebounds per game. When Baker sucked, UC lost. In 4 of his 5 games of 3 points or less, UC went down. They lost 6 times that season. Baker had some big time games to counter the bad ones. He had a career high 34 in a win over Alcorn State. He had 33 in a win over Morehead State. Baker scored 26 with 5 threes in a win over UAB. He also had 26 in a loss to Arizona State, and a win over Wright State. He scored 25 in the loss to West Virginia, and 20 in a win over Tulane. Baker matched his career high 6 rebounds in the Arizona State game, and the Morehead win. He had 5 assists in a dominating win over DePaul.

Baker's heroics that season came when it mattered most, the NCAA Tournament. Cincinnati rolled into the Tournament having won 9 games in a row. They got a 2 seed as mentioned, and travelled all the way out to Boise, Idaho. Their first round match up was with Northern Arizona. The Bearcats admittedly took NAU lightly, allowing the Lumberjacks to shoot 50% in the first half. They were Lumberjacks, and they were ok. They pushed the Bearcats all the way down to the wire. NAU lead by 6 with 9 minutes left, and 3 with 6 minutes left. Baker helped the UC deficit. He forced up a terrible shot, and had a silly turnover late. The Bearcats had a 2 point lead however, with 24 seconds left. Bobby Brannen missed 1 of 2 free throws, allowing Michael McNair to drill a 24 footer with 8 seconds left to tie. Cincinnati didn't panic. They had been in a couple late game close ones a couple weeks back. In the game that gave UC the outright Conference USA championship, D'Juan Baker drilled a shot from the corner to give UC a 2 point lead over St Louis. The Bearcats won that game by 3. Fast forward to this one. Shawn Myrick couldn't get the ball inside to Bobby Brannen. Baker came off a Kenyon Martin screen, and did this.

Of course, that shot went down. An NAU prayer actually hit rim, but luckily for all of us, UC avoided the dreaded 15 over 2 upset. Baker had 13 in that game.

Baker's heroics weren't done with his game winner over NAU. Cincinnati ended up playing West Virginia in the next round. The teams went back and forth. UC had a 55-51 lead late, but turned the ball over on 4 of the next 6 possessions, half by Daniel Horton. WVU turned that into a 4 point lead of their own with 1:27 left. That's when D'Juan Baker took over. Baker drilled a 3 pointer to cut the lead to 1. Punk ass Jarrod West bricked a shot, leading into UC's next possession. The Bearcats worked the clock down to 7 seconds. They ran the same play that they did against NAU. Just like that game, Baker did this.

Those are great pictures, you can see the score and time and everything. Of course, West would race down and hit a freak bank 3 to break our hearts. Baker had 25 on 8-14 shooting, including 5-8 from 3. He did all he could.

D'Juan Baker didn't have the greatest career at Cincinnati. He was one of my favorites though, mainly because he wore #5. Baker came through when it mattered most for the Bearcats. Had the team advanced to the Sweet 16, D'Juan Baker would have taken on a 'legend' status. Unfortunately, that wasn't meant to be. That's why we have this though.

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