The Crosstown Shootout is always an emotionally charged atmosphere, but this year the Cincinnati Bearcats didn't let those emotions bubble over and cruised to a workman like 66-46 thumping of rival Xavier.
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin (photo credit: Brian Baker/Lacking Focus Photography)
Junior forward Yancy Gates was the star of the show, scoring 22 points and snatching 14 rebounds. After the game he talked a lot about what this team has learned from letting the big game environment get the best of them against X and how this year it was about staying calm and executing the game plan.
“We feel the last couple of years we have put too much into this game and overwhelmed us,” said Gates. “We’ve come out antsy and done stuff we don’t usually do. This time we concentrated more on what we needed to do. We played calm and just played basketball and as a team to get the win.”
Many have been quick to discount how this team has played because of the out of conference schedule, and while there is no doubt it left a lot to be desired in terms of competition, it has been clear if you have watched this team play that they are executing what the coaching staff is asking of them and disposing of opponents like it's their job.
Cronin and his team have talked about taking things one game at a time, but always doing so with an eye on the monster that is playing in the Big East on the horizon. Even though two conference games are in the book, the sledding gets a lot tougher in a hurry with a trip to Philly for Sunday's game against Villanova up next.
That focus was on full display tonight as the scouting report prepared by associate head coach Larry Davis had the rival Musketeers guessing at every turn, and Cronin thinks his team is ready to take the next step after watching them grind through a convincing victory.
“We did nothing different than any other game this year,” said Cronin. “We have tried to instill this all season. I try to make sure we are ready every game because we are in the Big East. If you aren’t ready to play on game night in the Big East, you won’t win. You can’t be rivalry tough. You have to compete every night or you won’t compete for the Championship.”
It was never more evident that the Bearcats weren't interested in seeing things get out of hand than when X lead guard Tu Holloway was hit with a technical for taking a swipe at senior forward Ibrahima Thomas while driving to the basket. In the recent past that would have ignited tempers and pushed things to the brink, but these Cats stayed calm and their coach took notice.
“Something happened at the other end that no one retaliated and we got the advantage,” Cronin said. “I told our guys in pre-game that everything we’ve talked about in maturity would be shown tonight.”
Gates noticed a change in Cronin leading up to the game, and that trickled down from the coach to his players. It wasn't about beating X like it had been, this time it was all about getting win #15 and moving on to Sunday.
“Previously, we were more worried that we wanted to be the best in the city,” said Gates. “This year he came in with more of a calm approach and it kept us calmer. I saw a difference in his approach to the game.”
Mission accomplished on all fronts as Cincinnati gets ready for 4 brutal road trips over the next 5 games. Beating Xavier always makes for an enjoyable night for Cincinnati Bearcat fans, but after a 20 point win it's much easier to look at the next game and realize it's even more important.