After getting a much needed road win at St John's on Saturday the Cincinnati Bearcats return home to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at 9 pm Wednesday.
The 53-51 victory over the Red Storm isn't going to win any beauty pageants, but it was a game the team really needed and it snapped a 3 game road losing streak. The Bearcats gave up an average of 68 points in the loses to Villanova, Syracuse and Notre Dame so a renewed focus on the defensive end was in order. Head coach Mick Cronin was pleased with how his team battled to pull out a close game down the stretch.
“The thing I'm most pleased with is the grit that we've shown, the toughness, the fight,” Cronin said. “A lot of teams would fall apart in the midst of that 3 game road trip our guys came closer together. That's why we won Saturday because we did not play well by any stretch of the imagination.”
Sophomore point guard Cashmere Wright struggled at times with 8 turnovers, but when the team needed a lift on the offensive end in the 2nd half he responded with 8 points. He felt the team learned from the previous road tests against top 15 teams and got back to their bread and butter lock down defense.
“I think once you play a lot of good teams you realize the room for errors is very small,” said Wright. “On defense that's what got us here, we've got to focus in more on their offense and make us better.”
The focus for Cronin and his team now turns to Rutgers who enters the contest on a 2 game conference win streak after defeating USF at home 72-61 and Seton Hall on the road 66-60 last week. The Scarlet Knights sit one game behind UC in the conference standings at 3-4 and are starting to get more comfortable with the new system implemented at first year head coach Mike Rice. Cronin knows they are far from an easy out as they play a very disciplined brand of ball.
“Rutgers is playing extremely confident,” Cronin said. “I go back to the Villanova game where they're winning at Villanova at half time. If you were to ask me what team have I seen this year that's the most committed to details and little things, hustle, defensive position, screening, things a team with no ego would do, it's Rutgers.”
Rutgers relies on mostly an 8 man rotation led by wing forwards Jonathan Mitchell and Dane Miller and supported by PG James Beatty, SG Mike Coburn and true freshman big man Gilvydas Biruta. As a team they do a good job protecting the ball with only 12 turnovers per game. Cronin has been watching tape since the end of the St John's win and is impressed with how well his next opponent forces you to beat them instead of giving things away.
“They play with absolutely no ego, total humility,” said Cronin. “They may not have the most talent in the league, but of the teams I've seen they play with as big a heart as anybody in the league. You're going to have to beat them, they are not giving you the game. They are not going to give you the ball, they are not going to rush their offense unless you make them.”
The key for Rice in his first season at Rutgers was to come in and get a senior class tired of losing to buy in, and Cronin thinks they have done just that when breaking them down on tape.
“Jonathan Mitchell, James Beatty and Mike Coburn are seniors and those guys have totally bought in to what Mike Rice is preaching to give them a chance to win every game they step on the floor,” Cronin said. “They may not have a 1st round draft pick or some of the players other teams in our league have, but they sure compete.”