The Bearcats continued to steer clear of their annual late-season stumble, and on Thursday they did it on the back of a dominating first half. Memphis is a solid team, and Cincinnati made them look foolish for 30 or so minutes.
There are three games remaining in the regular season, and UC is just two wins shy of tying the best win total of the Cronin era and three wins shy of reaching a 15-year high. The 25–3 record through 28 games is the best by a UC team since 2001–02.
Cincinnati is on fire, and now Memphis knows it. Here’s what happened:
- The first half gave us a taste of what this team is capable of. Memphis played well offensively, shooting 13-for-26 from the field. Despite their success, the Tigers entered the half down 19 points. The Bearcats hung 51 points before the break. Unless they’re playing historically bad defense, that kind of work on the offensive end is enough to win every single time.
- The Bearcats did the flashy things… by throwing down the kinds of dunks, alley oops, and big plays the fans like to see. It makes the game more fun and gets the crowd into it. Thursday’s high-flying performance was Huggins-style basketball.
- …and the dirty work. The Bearcats shot 23-for-28 at the line, led Memphis 24–3 in bench points, 19–3 in second chance points, and 15–5 in points off turnovers. Frankly, it’s incredible that Memphis made it a two-possession game at one point in the second half. The Tigers had some hot shooting right as the Bearcats let up on defense, but UC was just about as dominant as you’ll ever see them against an 18–9 conference opponent.
- Troy Caupain is masterful. I got to bragging about him yesterday on Twitter (a topic that will become a full post here in the near future). Against Memphis he popped off 12 points, seven assists, three rebounds, three steals, and one turnover in 33 minutes. The turnover was such a rarity, and on such an ill-advised pass, that the announcers on ESPN stopped to gawk at it. That’s where Troy is at this point.
- Quadri Moore had a good game. Six minutes, five points, and one rebound. He also knocked home the three-pointer that pushed the UC lead to 24 — their largest of the game. He also hit both of his free throws, bringing his season average to 82%, best on the team (albeit in a small sample size).
- The Bearcats have a Big Four. No offense to Kevin Johnson, as I’ve defended him here on numerous occasions, but it’s the end of February and there are four guys with a legitimate Team MVP case. When’s the last time that happened? Last night, Troy, Kyle, Gary, and Jacob combined for 56 points — enough to singlehandedly win 11 games the Bearcats have played this year, and force overtime in two more. It’s incredible to have this range of top-tier talent. The challenge in March, as it has been all season, will be getting all of the horses running in the same direction.
- You never like to see a team let off the gas, but the Bearcats always seem to do it. They won by 13, so I can’t complain too much. With 11:20 left in the game, a Nysier Brooks dunk stretched the UC lead back to 19. By 5:18, the lead had been cut to six. I can’t decide if that’s natural — the Bearcats inevitably sense a win and can’t help but pull up while Memphis realized they have to start chucking if they want an outside shot at victory — or, if it’s a troubling sign of things to come. The halftime lead was 19 and the final margin of victory was 13. It is what it is. I’m not going to search for a reason to panic. Others will do that for me.
The end is in sight, and it’s starting to feel like the Bearcats really might close the season at 28–3 with a 17–1 conference mark in the AAC. Sunday afternoon’s game at UCF may be challenging, although Cincinnati out-gutted the Knights in their last meeting. Next Thursday is Senior Night against Houston. The Cougars are a solid team, but I don’t see them ending a 25-game home winning streak with a sold-out crowd at full throat to send off the seniors. The season’s final contest comes a week from Sunday as the ‘Cats travel to UConn to take on a middling Huskies team. I’m not sure what to expect there. It’s never the easiest place to win, but the Bearcats did it last season — when UConn was much better and they themselves weren’t as deadly.
This has the ingredients to be a special March. Let’s get there unscathed. Just keep winning.