The Bearcats played chicken with disaster on Saturday, getting hammered in the first half, taking a 13-point deficit into the break and coming into the second half looking like this:
The 'Cats live to fight another day, and the Houston Cougars are the only thing standing between Cincinnati and another trophy. As with the SMU game, I'm not going to go very deep on this on since we've got bigger fish to fry on Sunday. Regardless, here's what happened Saturday.
Jarron Cumberland dazzled. When he has his jumper working, I'd argue his physicality and aggressiveness makes him even more dangerous than Jacob Evans. He had the jumper working on Saturday, reeling off 18 points with the help of 4-for-6 shooting from deep. He also added three rebounds and five assists, further proving himself as the best passing wing the Bearcats have had in... who knows how long.
Gary Clark continues to feast on Memphis. When the Bearcats struggled in that first half, Gary was the only one getting anything done. It was a throwback to old times. Gary is now 2-for-2 on recording double-doubles this postseason. He's only guaranteed two more games as a Bearcat. It's a thought that makes me shudder, but I'm happy he's going out strong.
That second half was one of the best things of the season. The Bearcats appeared dead to rights going into the break. Nobody was mustering much effort, Memphis was running up and down the floor, and even Jacob's jumper looked totally deflated. The Bearcats had played 20 minutes with no signs of life, which doesn't instill much confidence going into the second half of a game against a 21-win team that's playing for their season. However, things were immediately different in the opening seconds of the second half. It took exactly 60 seconds for me to declare that something had changed, and the 'Cats were off and running, erasing a 13-point deficit in seven minutes and winning by double-digits after half of Twitter (fans and media) was reading a eulogy at halftime. It was actually great, to me.
Some of the highlights in that second half were insane.
The Bearcats got downright nasty in the second half. If you'd come to me at halftime and asked me to write the script for the second half, I would've written it exactly like it played out. After a listless 20 minutes, the Bearcats were setting hard screens, forcing turnovers, splashing threes, and forcing Memphis to look absolutely silly. It was a complete 180 from the first half and had a very Vintage Bearcats Basketball feel to it.
When do we start worrying about Jacob Evans? Serious question. I'm not worried yet, but he's now played two games in a row where he looked fairly lost on the offensive end. His jumper in the first half was clearly broken. I'm far from an expert on mechanics, but his legs seem dead. The 'Cats will need him more than ever on Sunday, and I'm worried he's getting burnt out. To be clear, I'm judging him by Jacob Evans standards, so it's not like he shot himself out of the game on Saturday. He had just seven points on 3-for-13 shooting but did a ton for UC with his seven rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. Hopefully he can find himself again on Sunday.
The championship celebration last Sunday after the 'Cats won the regular season title was pretty great. I'd love to have one of those again, and a win today would also calm my nerves before what will be a very interesting bracket reveal. I'm pretty confident in where the Bearcats stand, but I can't shake the feeling that a loss will drop them to the top 3-seed. Win today and avoid drama.