The Cincinnati Bearcats (14-4 4-1) moved into sole possession of 2nd place in the Big East with an 82-78 win over Villanova (8-10 1-5) on Saturday afternoon.
Cashmere Wright (photo by: Brian Baker/Lacking Focus Photography)
Protect The Rock
The victory came on the strength of a school record low 3 turnovers for the Bearcats, and they only gave it away once in the 2nd half.
While that is a remarkable stat any way you look at it, to do so against a Wildcat team that thrives on pressuring the ball and creating points off turnovers makes it even more impressive.
It has been a total reversal of fortune from early in the season when head coach Mick Cronin's team was not secure with the ball, but with a more spread out offense and better ball handlers on the floor the team has found its groove on the offensive end.
“Since we went to the smaller lineup and (and since have) gone back to playing big, we’ve found a rhythm offensively,” Cronin said. “It took us and me some time to make some adjustments and get into a comfort zone. We are finally in a comfort zone on offense.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright is well known for using a smaller lineup and spreading the floor like UC has gone to over the last month. He walked away from the loss with nothing but positive things to say about the high level of play UC got from their backcourt all afternoon.
“Their guards were outstanding,” said Wright. “The balance of their guards; they spread it out. And, it keeps them fresh. They isolate different guys. They share the ball with each other. They are very impressive.”
Senior guard Dion Dixon paved the way with his second 22-point performance in a row, and added 3 assists while not turning the ball over at all in 34 minutes of action. It was a win Dixon enjoyed even more as it was the first over the Wildcats in his career.
“I haven’t beat Villanova since I’ve been here so it feels good to finally beat them,” Dixon said. “They pressure the ball, but I think we just did a good job today, me and Cash, taking care of the ball.”
Rebounding A Problem
While there was a ton of good to take from the win, one thing that really hurt Cincinnati all afternoon was the inability to control the glass.
On the game Villanova out rebounded UC 46-30, including a 12-9 edge on offensive rebounds. It made winning the turnover battle 17-3 a necessity, and was a big problem in the 2nd half as the Wildcats won the battle on the boards 30-20 after the break.
“Second half, we struggled to get defensive rebounds,” Cronin said. “They had 11 offensive rebounds in the second half, which negates our turnover advantage.”
It is something Cronin knows that he needs to fix with a brutal 3 game stretch on deck against a trio of the best rebounding teams in the country.
“We have a stretch of our next three games (where) we play the three best rebounding teams,” said Cronin. “I know Connecticut’s the biggest team outside of Syracuse. The game in the middle (against West Virginia), we play against the best rebounding coach in the country.”
Given the emphasis Cronin puts on rebounding, look for Justin Jackson to continue starting at the 4 along side Yancy Gates to give the Bearcats a chance on the glass.
Today was also the first time since Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj returned from suspension that both were on the floor at the same time late in the game. Don’t be surprised if that happens more over the next 3 games.
Gates Getting Comfortable
While the focus continues to be on the guard play for Cincinnati in the last month, senior forward Yancy Gates is really starting to find his niche in the new offense.
He was praised for his defensive performance against Georgetown earlier in the week, and added an impressive 16-point showing on the offensive end against Villanova.
Wildcats lead man Jay Wright was impressed with what he saw from Gates as he learns to fit into the new system.
“He’s the perfect complement to those guys,” Wright said. “Every time you over extend those guys, you just go right inside. If Yancy’s man helps on one of the drives, if they miss, which doesn’t happen often, he goes up and taps it in or dunks it. It’s a great compliment.”
Now that Gates is starting to figure out where and how to be effective in the spread court look, he is enjoying the freedom he is afforded with less attention from the defense centered to stop him.
“Especially from early in the season and every time I touched the ball someone was digging or someone was coming over to double,” said Gates. “Now, I just sit back and play my position and they are so worried about the guards driving and making threes that once I do touch it down there, it is a one-on-one. It makes it easier to score.”