(Joseph Fuqua II | GoBearcats.com)
The Huskies are not a great team this year. That’s not a secret. UConn entered Saturday’s game with a 10–11 record and a seat in sixth place in the hapless AAC. Despite these facts, many fans––myself included––were probably a tad nervous. Matches between these two teams are notoriously physical and emotional, and the Huskies always have a player (or two or three) with the ability to reel off 25 points. Cincinnati was favored by 12.5 points, but many expected a cage match.
Instead, the Bearcats proved their mettle. Here’s what happened:
- UConn can’t win in Cincinnati. The Huskies haven’t left Clifton with a victory since February 2011. They’re losers of five straight. They haven’t even had the lead in Cincinnati since February 2014. The Bearcats have won the last three games wire-to-wire.
- The uniforms were great. As a known sucker for anything throwback, retro, and history-oriented, they were right up my alley. Any uniforms worn by the team in the ’90s are enduring classics, and I hope this is a thing Under Armour shoehorns into every season. Give them to me every year. If I had one critique, it’s that they didn’t go all in. I want black versions, I want the offset numbers, and I want the narrow shoulders. Give me something as close to the authentic ones as possible, and call it a home alternate. They should wear them for each Saturday home game, much like MLB teams do with alternate uniforms.
- Jarron Cumberland was remarkable. I was talking to my cousin (an Ohio State fan) during the game, and we were both commenting on how confident this kid plays. He’s just a freshman, but he was out there casually throwing them in from 30 feet. The nature of Mick Cronin and his system means the average UC freshman is a raw, athletic freak who’s unsure of himself, especially on the offensive end. Rarely do freshman in a Cronin offense make an impact. Cumberland gloriously bucks that trend. He finished with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, and looked calm and collected while doing so. Remind yourself that this kid was playing high schoolers a year ago.
- Kyle Washington gave us a glimpse of what he can be. I know that sounds like a weird statement, but it’s the truth. He finished with a career-best 27 points 11-for-18 shooting, including 3-for-5 from outside. In my opinion, Saturday was Washington’s first standout game in about three weeks. It was also his first 20-point game in two months. Against AAC opponents, Kyle can (and probably should) be having these kinds of games more often. He hasn’t had a poor game yet in 2017, so I’m not calling him out. I just think he’s a gifted offensive player who should be doing this more often against AAC teams that simply can’t contain him. Saturday was a great peek at the kind of game-changing impact he can have down the home stretch and into March.
- Gary Clark is a problem. 20 points. 11 rebounds. Three assists. Two blocks. PROBLEM. Gary feasts on UConn. In his first game against the Huskies in January 2015, he finished with just two points on 1-for-2 shooting. In the six games since, he’s averaging 13.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks.
- Quadri Moore was a nice wrinkle. I like to point out when he has a good game, because it does happen, and people almost never notice. He sparked his team with five points in nine minutes, which is exactly what his role is. He confidently stepped into a three-pointer and then followed it up by calmly sinking two free-throws. Dirty work.
(Shoutout to the cheerleader for knowing that was money.)
- The three-point shooting was refreshing. The Bearcats finished 12-for-26 from deep, including a blazing 8-for-11 in the second half. The lead quickly went from “Hey, winning by 11 points” to “WE’RE UP 26 LET’S GO” in a matter of minutes when the Bearcats hit their first seven threes after halftime. That was great to see, and — while it shouldn’t be the expectation — it’s nice to be reassured that this team can get hot in a hurry and destroy anybody.
- The free throw shooting is back, for now. This team is an absolute rollercoaster from the line. Remember when they shot 18-for-37 in the Shootout and we all wanted to die? They followed that with a shaky 18-for-30 effort against USF. In the two games since, they’re a combined 25-for-31. I don’t get it. I think anything higher than 75% constitutes a good game, and I think anything below 60% constitutes a bad game. This team has seven good games and seven bad games. The stats shouldn’t be this polarizing. As a whole, this is not a good free-throw shooting team. I get that. But they’ve also shown us fairly frequently that they can be.
- This offense is for real. The Bearcats scored 82 points on UConn. They didn’t get a single point from their leading scorer. The AAC Preseason Player of the Year added just seven points. They had just two fast break points. This is the most touted UC team since 2013–14. If that team got zero points from Sean Kilpatrick and two points in transition, they wouldn’t have even won, much less put up 82 in an easy victory. This year’s team is unlike anything we’ve seen in Clifton in 12 or 13 years.
- Okay, what is Jacob Evans doing? I applaud him for not forcing up shots in an effort to light up the scoreboard, but c’mon kid. He had no points on 0-for-3 shooting in 30 minutes. I can’t complain, because the team won and he didn’t play poorly, but it’s weird to see the team’s MVP just disappear. Thankfully, he chipped in five rebounds and four assists while making virtually no mistakes. Weird, quiet game for Jacob.
- The crowd seemed quiet. Perhaps it’s because 13,428 people showed up for a boxing match and only got to see a couple punches, but the packed house seemed awfully sleepy on TV. (I’m reaching for negatives here, if you haven’t noticed.)
The Bearcat train continues its run downhill with just one game this week — at home against a spunky UCF bunch. Because the Knights bring some unique things to the table, I’m not sure what to expect. That said, this is a game the Bearcats should win without too much trouble. Cincinnati is hoping to move to 22–2, matching the best start of the Cronin era.
The win streak sits at 14 games, including 22 in Clifton. Just keep winning.