| The News Record)
Exhale, Bearcats. The winning streak is in tact. First place is in tact. The undefeated AAC mark is in tact. My soul is in tact.
Despite trailing by 11 points with 5:58 remaining, the Bearcats left Tulsa with a win. I have no idea how they did it. Frankly, if I weren’t listening to it on the radio, I’m not sure I’d believe it.
For 34 minutes, last night’s Bearcats played completely unlike this season’s Bearcats. The offense was disjointed and one-dimensional, on top of being ice cold. The defense was sloppy and sluggish, getting baited into fouls because of poor fundamentals and bad positioning. Even the free throws were unlike this season’s team. They were actually going in.
Late in the first half, the ‘Cats strung together a run to take a lead before the Golden Hurricane equalized to deadlock the game at 30–30 at the break. At this point, I thought the game was over. Tulsa had their run and miraculously kept the lid on guys like Jacob Evans and Kyle Washington. Despite their efforts, the game was now tied. Tulsa was staring down a 30 minute contest with a far more talented team and they’d already played their hand.
The second half started and all of the mistakes of the first returned, perhaps even intensified. A flurry of three-point shots refused to fall. Inside offense was nonexistent. Poor defense lead to panic fouls. The Bearcats let themselves get buried until the last possible moment.
With 6:01 remaining in the second half, Tulsa’s Sterling Taplin made a layup to push the lead to 11. Three seconds later, Mick Cronin calls timeout. Cincinnati’s win probability was 2.7%.
What happened over the next six minutes was a huge step forward for this team. The defense woke up, which sparked the offense. The Golden Hurricane would finish the game with just three more points, zero more field goals, and five more turnovers.
The Bearcats would score sixteen points in that final six minutes, shooting 6-for-8 from the field and 3-for-3 at the line. It’s as if Mick called that 5:58 timeout and the whole team realized Hey, we’re one of the 15 best teams in America. Let’s win this thing.
In a weird way, the best thing this team could’ve done on Wednesday is exactly what they did. They faced a ton of adversity, realized what they have to avoid, and then suddenly were reaffirmed of everything that makes them great. We’re getting to the point where this team is playing downhill. The toughest battles are behind them and they’re working out the kinks. Execution is still important, but I don’t think this group has much left to learn about themselves. It’s February. You know how to win. Go do it.
Wednesday night felt like the AAC slip-up. We’ve all quietly wondered if this team could run the table in the conference, and now it feels possible. If they can lay an egg for 34 minutes on the road and still find a way to win, I’m not sure how this team is going to lose to a lesser opponent.
(The game at SMU is a different story. We could lose that game without playing poorly. I just don’t see this bunch getting upset by a team like UCF or Memphis.)
As always, the goal this year is simple, and we’ve got the talent to do it.
Nine games left. Just keep winning.