| The News Record)
The Bearcats started 2017 with a bang, rocking and rolling over the hapless Tulane Green Wave for a decisive 92–56 win. UC is cruising with a 12–2 record this season, but they haven’t always looked great while doing it. Tonight, that was not the issue. The ‘Cats started slow but things clicked at the tail end of the first half before the doors blew off in the second. Before a crucial trip to Houston on Saturday, here’s what happened against Tulane:
- The offense looked fantastic. 57% shooting. 13 three-pointers. 77% at the line. 25 assists on 33 buckets. Tulane is nobody, but this was an offensive work of art, especially in the second half.
- Jarron Cumberland is getting there. He poured out a career-best 19 points on 6-for-8 shooting. The kid looks good, and not just in a “he got hot against NC Central” kind of way. His shot, despite being pretty ugly, tends to fall. His insticts are beyond his years. He’s bulky, and he doesn’t mind some contact. He got himself six free throws tonight in 26 minutes. Freshman generally don’t do that at UC, especially off the bench. (Although Jacob Evans managed the feat three times last season.)
- The Bearcats scored 36 points in 10 minutes to start the second half. That’s better than 10 full halves this season.
- Kevin Johnson is playing confident, and it shows. After 15 points tonight, he’s hit double-digits in four of his last five games and seven of his last 10. He has more 10-point games in his last 10 outings than he had all of last season.
- How can you not love Tre Scott? It says a lot about a freshman when he can record six points and ten rebounds and it already feels like a pretty quiet game for him.
- The crowd was nice. 10,328 fans for a Sunday night game against one of the worst teams in America. Hopefully that’s a sign of good things to come for the Bearcats. It’s likely UC will be ranked for the remainder of the year, especially if they can win the next couple. It would be nice if the fan base stepped up and packed the house while the ‘Cats knife through the conference like they did in the Huggins era.
- Free throw shooting is better. The team shot 13-for-17 at the line, including 10-for-12 in the second half. I’ll wait to see if they can do it consistently, but it’s good to see.
- Three-point shooting is better. Time will tell if tonight was just a hot spell or if the team genuinely learned something about ball movement and finding players in rhythm. I’m praying the 13-for-24 mark is something we see again.
- The Bearcats worry me with their tendency to sleepwalk. Without a 10 minute lull to close the first half, this game is an absolute bloodbath. Instead, the Bearcats got complacent after a hot start and allowed Tulane to kind of stay in the game until just before halftime. There’s no need for that.
- The Bearcats worry me with their reluctance to put games away. Tulane is not the first bad team the Bearcats will play in the AAC. It would be nice if they would learn to smell blood in the water and put games away. We don’t need to play with fire or have heart palpitations against the likes of Tulsa, ECU, USF, or Tulane. Turn a 12-point lead into a 25-point lead early, or at the very least, don’t allow a 15-point lead to dwindle to an 8-point lead.
- Kyle Washington can be incredibly frustrating. When he’s not throwing down dunks or tossing in baskets over bewildered centers, it seems like he’s falling asleep on defense or standing out of position on rebounds. Even his size and raw athleticism can’t help in certain scenarios. It seems like he gets beat on rebounds too often, frequently because he has poor hands. Time will tell how Cronin handles Kyle going forward, because I’m not sure he’s had such a talented player so prone to mistakes on the defensive end.
The Bearcats essentially have an off week prior to their crucial road game against Houston on Saturday. It’s pretty early, but the Cougars (11–3, 41 in KenPom) appear to be the AAC’s third-best team behind the ‘Cats and SMU Ponies. We’re at a crucial stage in the season. The Bearcats have fought off a challenger in Temple and took care of a basement dweller in Tulane.
If they can beat Houston and SMU in their next two meetings, they’ll have created some breathing room above the rest of the conference out of the gate and enter an easy three-game stint leading to the Crosstown Shootout.