I was scared to death before last night's game. On December 16th, the Bearcats went to Westwood and breezed by the Bruins of UCLA. As soon as the game ended, I looked at the schedule and thought to myself, "Alright. We should be okay until that UCF game." I'd been fretting for a month.
The game was the rock fight to end all rock fights, just as we suspected. Before tipoff, I nearly joked that "The first to 55 wins." Nobody hit 55. Nobody hit 50. The Bearcats won 49-38 in the most beautifully ugly and physical game of the season. Here's how it happened:
Gary Clark is a problem. One of the best games of his career. The Bearcats (and especially Gary) got punked in last year's game in Orlando. They scored 49 points (same as this year), but the defense couldn't slow down BJ Taylor and Clark had three points and three rebounds in arguably the worst outing of his time in Cincy. UCF fans stormed the court. Gary said he wasn't having that again and backed it up with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Incredible. Most importantly, you could sense him going for the jugular in the second half. He attacked Tacko Fall and scored 10 points after the break to help put the game away.
Jacob Evans is blossoming. The box score won't tell you this. It'll tell you he struggled to reach double-digits, scoring just 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting. Those who watched the game saw Jake turn in arguably the best defensive game of his career. On the offensive end, he found his spots despite his cold shooting. Mid-range pick-and-pops. Taking his man to the hoop. Pulling the trigger on an open three. Evans is maturing quickly this year, and it's evident even on nights like Tuesday.
Kyle Washington smelled blood and attacked. He scored just seven points on the night, but they were almost entirely in the closing minutes. UCF was on the ropes and Kyle and Gary teamed up to bury them.
Cane Broome earns the hustle award. Three points, five assists, and two rebounds to go with two cracked teeth and a few stitches.
The defense was good. I mean, UCF scored 38 points in 40 minutes. They had 0.86 points per possession. They shot 30%. Their leading scorer had seven points. That's pretty good.
The Bearcats are passing well, still. 15 assists on 19 field goals is the kind of ratio that'll win you some games, especially in this conference.
The game was... fun? I was expecting to be dead by the end of this one. At halftime, with UC trailing 19-15, that seemed accurate. The second half was relatively smooth. UC won by double digits and I actually enjoyed most of this game. The refs were letting the teams slug it out, and it made for an Old Big East-style boxing match between two teams who really wanted the win.
Any criticisms of a double-digit road win over a top-100 team with an elite defense would be nitpicky. Start faster, make good shots, get to the line and make your free throws, whatever. If the team wins, I don't care how it happens.
The Bearcats are rolling downhill now. They're home for a two-game stretch against ECU (which figures to be a bloodbath) and Temple (which will likely be similar). They hit the road to play Memphis in a game that shouldn't be too difficult before coming back to Cincinnati to face Houston. A road game against floundering UConn and a return trip from this UCF team close out the next six-game stretch that UC needs to sweep.
After that, we hit the storm: A road game at SMU in a building UC has been terrible at, a road game against top-50 Houston, and a home game against top-5 Wichita State. The Bearcats need to enter that three-game stretch at 22-2 so they can get to work on really building their resume for the first time since December.
Just keep winning.