Thursday, June 3, 2010

Memorable Bearcat Games: Cincinnati 67 St Louis 65

This week's Memorable Bearcat Game involves a history lesson. For those of you who forgot, or didn't know, Cincinnati used to play in a conference called the Great Midwest. The conference started after the old Metro dissolved. The Metro consisted of Cincinnati, Louisville, Georgia Tech from 75-78, Memphis, St Louis, Tulane, Florida State (starting in 76), Virginia Tech (starting in 79), and Southern Miss (starting in 82). Cincinnati and Memphis joined the Great Midwest, while Florida State and South Carolina went to the Big East and SEC respectively. Cincinnati was joined in the GM by Memphis, UAB, DePaul, Marquette, St Louis, and in 1993, Dayton. Yeah a 6 team basketball conference was weird, and then they made it weirder with 7. It was so weird that the conference didn't have an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. That would never happen now. Now we are in the era of superconferences, with soon to be 20 team leagues. Just look at the Metro, Florida State and South Carolina didn't join their conferences until 1991 full time. Florida State football was independent. South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992. Conferences weren't a big deal 20 years ago like they are now. Virginia Tech was in the Metro and then joined the A-10 for basketball until 2000. How weird is that now? That's just 10 years ago when V. Tech was no one in basketball, and now we get to see Seth Greenberg bitch about not making the tournament every season. It's one of the rites of March. You know the NCAA tournament is coming when Virginia Tech starts getting talked about as a bubble team. Especially when they beat North Carolina or Duke or NC State and people say "This is the signature victory." I put NC State in as a historical nod.

The Great Midwest Conference, now referred to as the GM, lasted from 1991-1995. It would reunite with the Metro, minus the Virginia teams (V. Tech, VCU yeah VCU) to form Conference USA. TCU joined after the SWC broke up. If you ever wondered how South Florida ended up as a big program, it's because they were in the Metro and were in the right place at the right time twice. Same with Southern Miss and Charlotte. But enough about how C USA was formed. The GM was owned by Cincinnati when it came to tournament play. The Bearcats shared the first season championship with DePaul before winning the tournament title. The second year, Cincinnati swept both. In year three, Marquette won the regular season before Cincinnati bounced them out of the GMT, and won the tournament.

The final season of the GM was won by Memphis. Cincinnati had a down year, finishing 4th, and entering the tournament with a 17-10 record. That was the year UC lost to Canisius. Cincinnati came into the tournament having lost 6 of 9. UC was matched up in the first round with DePaul. The game went into overtime. LaZelle Durden made a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left to give the Bearcats a 96-95 victory. Durden had memorably nailed 3 free throws with no time on the clock earlier in the season to beat Wyoming. Cincinnati was matched up with top seed Memphis in the semi finals. The Bearcats got 22 from Durden to upset the Tigers, who had beaten them twice. On the other half of the bracket, St Louis was dominating. They whooped Dayton, well everyone whooped Dayton that season. UD won 7 games, 0 in the GM. St Louis also beat down Marquette, who was hosting the tournament. In the regular season, the teams split, both winning at home.

The game was both ugly and tough. The teams shot terribly in the first half. Cincinnati was 10-29, 34%, while St. Louis was 10-32, 31%. The Bearcats led by a point at the half, 27-26. The game was close through the second half as well. Cincinnati was powered by a herculean effort by Danny Fortson. The power forward scored 31 points and had 6 rebounds. The Billikens trailed much of the second half, including down 64-63 with 16 seconds left. Erwin Claggett took the ball from the top of the key and drove on Durden. He got all the way into the lane, making a runner with 7.5 seconds left to give St. Louis the lead. Durden raced the inbound pass up the court. He got the left wing, turned, which in turn backed off his defender, which allowed Durden to drill a 3 with 1.2 seconds left. The celebration ensued on the UC sideline. It almost was all for naught, as Carl Turner threw up a 60 footer that hit the rim. Luckily, Durden's 14th point was another game winner for UC. The Bearcats finished the Great Midwest going 10-0 in the conference tournament. A streak that carried over to Conference USA.

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