The Bearcats are your American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament champions for 2018. It feels good.
I really liked UC's chances headed into this one, but I expected a close game. I did not expect an all-out battle culminating Cincinnati's second one-point escape in a week. Regardless of how it happened, it's bringing another trophy back to Clifton and it's earned the 'Cats a two seed. Here's what happened:
Kyle Washington. Wow. I'm gonna start with him because he deserves some attention. With Gary Clark collecting awards like they're going out of style, Cincinnati's second senior has been hardly more than an afterthought. On Sunday he willed his way into the conversation, hitting the biggest shot of the season to bring UC back from what I thought was the end. With 59 seconds left and UC trailing by three, Washington caught a gorgeous pass from Cumberland and catapulted a three-pointer to tie the game at 55. It was the most improbable shot of the season and it may have preserved UC's two seed.
Gary Clark is so, so, so good. He won the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award on the back of a 20 and 12 performance. With the help of the aforementioned Kyle Washington play, Gary won the Bearcats this game. With 30 seconds left and the Cougars trailing by one, Rob Gray was poised to win the whole thing on one shot. With eight seconds left, he heaved up a deep three pointer and Gary Clark rose up to collect the rebound. He sank one of two, and the rest is history. Quintessential Gary to win the conference title with a rebound and a free throw.
Jacob Evans is working his way back into it. He's still off, and there were a few moments in this one where you had to wonder if he was hurt. (After the game, a hand injury was seemingly confirmed.) Regardless of the funk, Jake still made a difference in this one, giving the 'Cats 12 points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block while playing all 40 minutes. He shot just 5-for-17, but it was also just that kind of game. Cougar hero Rob Gray went just 6-for-22. I'm worried about Jake's hand, but that can wait until later this week. For now I'm happy he was able to give us enough to win a trophy.
This season is literally payback for 2015-16. It's too obvious not to be. Two years ago, the Bearcats were on the receiving end of nearly every bad break in the country, constantly losing one-possession games and overtime games due to freak plays and circus shots. Over the past week, things have quickly swung the other way. First with Wichita failing to get a decent look to do anything more than graze the rim. Then with Houston throwing the ball away before even getting an attempt at a game-winner. Finally, with UC's bracket, which isn't a cake walk (nothing is in March) but still probably the most favorable path for a 2-seed to make the Elite Eight there is.
Players cooled off, again. For the second day in a row, the opposing team had a kid shooting the lights out. For the second day in a row, that kid looked lost in the second half. For Memphis it was Jamal Johnson. For Houston it was Corey Davis Jr. Thank god those two didn't keep going.
I'm worried about Jacob Evans. Whether it's his hand, confidence, or late-season fatigue, the 'Cats will need him. He has time to rest up and even gets a semi-relaxing opening game to re-discover himself. Ultimately I think he'll be okay, but it's something I'm going to spend time worrying about.
We've officially made it to the NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats tip things off at 2 p.m. on Friday in Nashville against Georgia State. Should they win, they'll face the winner of Nevada and Texas.
Get yourself prepared for potential matchups by checking out the latest podcast with BearcatJournal.com's Justin Berg.
If you haven't yet, JOIN THE BRACKET PARTY. Brackets are now open for submission, so get yours in before the deadline.