Once upon a time, games against UConn were brutal. Through the end of the Big East and the first couple years in the American, I always had to brace for these games because it was going to be the most physical, hard-fought game on the schedule. No more.
The Bearcats have won four consecutive games over the UConn Huskies and have led wire-to-wire in each of them. Seriously, UConn hasn't held a lead over Cincinnati in 160 minutes of basketball. That's unreal.
What's more, the Huskies haven't beaten the Bearcats in the regular season since January 2015, six games and more than three full years ago. Gary Clark was playing in his first UConn game and Larry Davis was the interim coach for UC.
All of this feels so long ago, and the dominant run over UConn stretches on. Here's what happened Saturday:
Jacob Evans continues to dominate, even without an efficient shooting streak. He had 19 points on 4-for-12 shooting to go with five rebounds and three assists. He shot 9-for-10 at the line and played 39 minutes after going the full 40 against Houston. Even more than Gary Clark, I think Mick Cronin is going to ride Jacob Evans down the stretch. More than any coach in the country, Mick believes that success in March is heavily based on guard play. You basically have to have a veteran (or supremely-talented) guard to win in the tournament. After nearly three full seasons of playing the small forward position, is it Jacob Evans that's gonna do it? (More on this later.)
Kyle Washington, again, deserves our praise. He had seven rebounds in the first nine minutes and finished the afternoon with 11 of them to go with 13 points. In his last two games, he's averaging 16 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks on 67% shooting. We've all known how good Kyle can be, but my primary gripe with him for the past year and a half has been his penchant for inconsistency and inefficiency. Is he the most efficient big man? No. But he's consistently bringing his A-game and we saw what can happen when he stretches the floor. He's 4-for-6 from outside in the last two. He's a huge part of this winning streak and he's not getting any credit because of how good Gary and Jacob have been.
Cane Broome had a nice little game. He shot just 4-for-10, but hit a couple big three-pointers and delivered his first double-digit scoring game of the conference slate. This was a notable game for Cane because he's from Hartford and was playing in front of his friends and family at UConn. I think he's going to play an important role down the stretch as the kind of guy who gets 25 minutes but is asked to break down the defense a little bit.
UConn took eight minutes to score a point. Haha.
The Bearcats finally started hot! Or at least relatively. They opened on 13-0 run fueled by outside shooting. Seriously, when was the last time the Bearcats came out knocking down threes? Feels like ages ago.
UConn finally figured out Gary Clark. Way back in his first game against UConn, Gary had a pedestrian two points and five rebounds. In the eight games since, he's averaging 15.1 points and 10.5 rebounds. He's had UConn's number. I guess they finally adjusted, because he had just five points and six rebounds in his final game in Connecticut. He wasn't taking shots, so he didn't hurt the team by any stretch, but it was weird to see Gary look neutralized against the Huskies.
What's up with the point guard situation? First, let me say that it's kind of unfair to put this under 'Lows,' because this is obviously not a problem that has doomed the Bearcats. That being said, I do have a stance now. I think Jacob Evans should be playing point guard, at least on a frequent basis. I know this isn't a unique stance, but if Jake is going to be running point at the next level, doesn't it stand to reason that the Bearcats should use him there this year? In a perfect world, I like a rotation that includes Jacob Evans, Trevor Moore, Jarron Cumberland, Gary Clark, and Kyle Washington.
Does that mean I think Broome and Jenifer bring nothing to the table? Of course not. If Jacob needs a rest, bring in Cane. If Cumberland needs a rest, move Evans back to the wing and bring in Jenifer. Things will obviously change based on situation. The lineup when a defensive stop is needed will be different than the lineup when a basket is needed. I just think Trevor Moore has earned minutes and a lineup that features both he and Evans is very big, athletic, defensively-sound and hard to play against. Plus, I can't shake the feeling that Evans is gone after this year. I think the Bearcats will kick themselves if they don't squeeze every drop out of him while he's in Cincy. He's spent some time running the offense already this season. I think we should see that some more.
On Tuesday night, the Bearcats take on UCF in a game in which KenPom gives them a 16-point edge. The Bearcats will have their highest ranking of the Mick Cronin era at noon today and they're one win shy of hitting the home stretch of the season at a dominant 22-2. Things are clicking at the right time. Just keep winning.