Last season the Cincinnati Bearcats returned to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001. After a rebuilding process lasting the better part of six seasons, Mick Cronin and the Bearcats knocking at greatness’ door.
This season, a veteran Bearcat squad will embark on a journey in hopes to kick in that very same door, and take their seat at the table with college basketball’s elite – a journey that began on Sunday afternoon when the Bearcats welcomed Tennesse-Martin into Fifth Third Arena to kick off their regular season slate.
The result was a no-contest as the Bearcats, although sloppy at times, manhandled an out-gunned Skyhawk squad, winning by a score of 80-57.
“We were able to start fast and build a 34-point lead on them,” said Cronin. “We had them outmanned a little bit. The full court press was never going to be in effect today unless it needed to be. We wanted to work on our half court defense.”
“I thought we had some guys who played very well, and some guys who could get better, but it’s the beginning of the year and that’s to be expected. I was happy with our 19 assists, and colossally disappointed in our 19 turnovers.”
The Bearcats (1-0, 0-0 Big East) got off to slow start, scoring just six points in the game’s first five minutes before finally finding their stride.
With the Bearcats leading by six just seven minutes in, Bearcat forward Cheikh Modj blocked two shots on a single Skyhawk possession, the second started a fast break that ignited the crowd when Cashmere found Justin Jackson with a behind-the-back pass and Jackson slammed it home.
From there, the route was on.
Still, despite their quick start and overwhelming advantage, the Bearcats were less than thrilled with their performance. Point guard Cashmere Wright spoke to that disappointment after the game.
“It showed us that we need to keep working,” said Wright of his team’s effort. “The entire team, one through the last person who comes in the game, needs to play hard. We need to keep up the pace for the entire game. We noticed that once we brought different lineups in the intensity went down.”
“We didn’t come out focused. At least not to our expectations. We have a lot of work to do before Tuesday.”
The Bearcats used to swarming defense to open up a 33-6 lead on the Skyhawks, who shot just 20 percent from the floor in the opening half.
In total, nine different Bearcats recorded points in the first half on their way to 26-point halftime lead.
The lead allowed Mick Cronin to rest his veteran starters for the majority of the second half as the Bearcats played out the remainder of what was a mismatch from the start and pick up win number one.
The Bearcats were led in scoring by Cashmere Wright who finished with 16 points and 3 assists. In all, ten different Bearcats recorded points, with both Wright and Kilpatrick reaching double figures.
Kilpatrick, a preseason All-Big East selection, added 14 points for the Bearcats despite sitting for most of the second half with his team in charge.
The Bearcats’ next test comes in just two days when they welcome Mississippi Valley State to Fifth Third Arena on Tuesday night.
“We’re 1-0,” said Cashmere Wright. “We need to look forward to Tuesday. Coach Cronin told us its over, forget about it. We’ll watch the film tomorrow, look at the mistakes, and move forward to Tuesday.”
Junior shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick added his thoughts as well.
“We’ve worked so hard to get to where we are now,” he said. “But everyone on the team wants to be better. Myself and my teammates, we both feel that we can be ten times better than we are now.”