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March 16, 2012

Bearcats win, but make it interesting

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Condensed into an eight minute stretch was a highly-competitive, invigorating game.

Outside of those minutes resided a sloppy, unappealing blowout.

When advancing in March, it's hard to complain. A win is a win is a win, so they say. And Cincinnati defeated Texas 65-59 in its opening game of the NCAA Tournament.

Instead of comfortably cruising though, the Cats did their best to instill fear and worry into their fan base.

Like Dion Dixon said after the recent Georgetown win, 'We always give our fans heart attacks.'

Friday's disintegration sprouted out of weakening defense and stagnating offense.

"Our game plan was evident," coach Mick Cronin said. "We were trying to come out and pressure the ball. I thought we came out sleepwalking against Louisville. I wanted to deny early. Get some easy baskets. Take the game to them early on with our intensity, physicality."

Cincinnati played phenomenal defense early - combined with a inept shooting effort by the Longhorns - limiting Texas to just 2 points for the first 12:30 minutes of the game

Finally a game

Though Cincinnati led by laughable margins for the first hour (real-time), Texas found a way to matter. It cut the lead to nine points midway through the second half.

When Julien Lewis hit a three-pointer, Texas slashed the margin to seven points. The Longhorns found life and intended to keep breathing.

A pro-style pick-and-roll from Brown and Clint Chapman resurrected a fan base. Even the impartial attendee invested in Texas' fate simply for the story. Quite a comeback.

"At the end of the day, they are a good team," point guard Cashmere Wright said. "Their confidence level started to rise. It was up to us to defend them."

Two bombs from Sheldon McClellan multiplied into two successful hoists from fellow freshman, Lewis. A game of 36-17 quickly became 40-27. Then 49-44. Only the lengthy television timeout barricaded the ensuing waterfall, keeping it a worrisome leak.

Squared at 52 all, Cincinnati's veteran players made veteran plays. First Cashmere Wright knifed into the paint for a gorgeous finger roll.

"They opened the lane," said Wright. "I think they face-guarded Yancy. I just beat my man."

It was only the second field goal made during a 4:28 stretch. Cashmere fed Yancy for the other.

"I got to be the one out there that thinks everything is going to be alright," said Wright. "You have to weather the storm. If the point guard freaks out he has the ball, everyone starts to panic."

Poised until the end, Wright guided his team to victory. He finished with 11 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds. Nine of his points came in the decisive half.

Bench production

When Wright reached in for his second foul, Cronin looked to his bench. Jermaine Sanders was checking in. Cronin shrunk his bench in Big East Tournament play, often using a six-man rotation.

A breakaway bounce pass at 6:56 to senior Yancy Gates gave Sanders his first meaningful contribution in weeks.

Both Jermaine and Cronin acknowledged a promising week of practice preceded the contest.

"I think the way I have been practicing lately, Coach said he was going to play me," Sanders said afterward. "The nervousness went away when I passed to (Yancy) Gates and he dunked it. He didn't really score that much until I have him the pass. He started to look for his shot more after that."

Yancy Gates finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds.

"This was crazy, being in NCAA tournament," Sanders said. "Playing with large crowd. It was fun. Yesterday was a fun day. Media Day. Open practice for the fans."

The crowds, the TV audience, the media crush. It only gets bigger from here.

"There was no celebrating in the locker room," Cronin said. "You have to have a workmanlike approach. Whatever happens in the (Florida State vs. St. Bonaventure) game, we have to come out to play Sunday. When you are rebuilding a program you have to take steps. We have taken every step. Advancing in the NCAA Tournament is what it is about. I am trying to keep my guys focused. I believe in them. Especially Cashmere Wright. He is the key for us."



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