This felt like one Cincinnati needed—not just for the resume, but for the mojo.
UCF came into Clifton prepared to out-scrap the Bearcats. They rebounded like madmen, played gutty defense without fouling, made timely outside shots, and held Jarron Cumberland to his lowest point total since the first of December.
For a moment—say, during the late stages of UCF's 18-2 second-half run—it felt like a game the Bearcats might lose. Missing its biggest star's most potent weapon, Cincinnati found a way to come out on top, beating the Knights 60-55. I sat down earlier this week and tried to glean notes from the past to predict this team's future. The next month has yet to be written for the 'Cats, but Thursday night provided a convincing opening chapter if nothing else.
The Cincinnati Bearcats have won a 22nd game for the ninth season in a row. It's a streak that won't inspire the awe it should. And for as much as the Bearcats have been able to come out on top, especially recently, many were fair to doubt how they'd do it when the opposition found a way to stifle the Herculean efforts of their junior wing.
Jarron Cumberland had averaged 24.1 points in the nine games leading up to Thursday's tilt. Against one of the league's more dangerous teams, the Bearcats were able to get by with a mere 11 points (two in the second half) on 3-for-13 shooting from Teddy. How'd they do it? By turning this season's complimentary pieces into stars.
Keith Williams scored consecutive baskets on pretty drives. Nysier Brooks rose to the occasion against 7'6" Tacko Fall, finally playing like the sturdy big man UC fans have been looking for. Trevon Scott fought like a bat out of hell before stepping outside for a titanic shot with his team leading by two points with just over two minutes remaining. Justin Jenifer fed him the pass on that play before catching one on the receiving end. His three-pointer—when UC was up three with 25 seconds remaining—feels like the type of thing we'll be talking about after the book closes on his career. It had to be a cathartic moment for the latest in a long line of seniors to battle uphill and pay their dues, only to blossom in the twilight of their careers.
For Cincinnati, proving that the sum of its parts are enough to wipe out a difficult conference opponent feels like a significant plot point. Their second, third, fourth, and fifth men had some help from their sixth.
Much has been tweeted in recent days about Fifth Third Arena's lack of oomph in conference play. Student section liveliness becomes a controversy every couple years, but rarely has it gotten to the point where the sports radio guys are talking about it, and the players themselves are imploring kids for more noise. When Thursday's game reached its climax, it all seemed foolish. The students droned on through each of UCF's offensive possessions before practically peeling the roof off following season-defining three-point shots from Scott and Jenifer.
So yes, only time will tell what the near future has in store for the 'Cats. For optimistic thinkers, the image of a senior point guard—arms outstretched, facing a raucous student section—will be hard to shake. The Bearcats have written chapter one. For now, at least, it's all coming up Cincinnati.
THE BROOME IS BACK. Cincinnati's embattled senior entered the Houston game averaging just eight points, unable to find consistent footing as a returning star in a season defined by so many newcomers. In his last three outings, he's averaging 10.3 points. Perhaps most reassuring is the fact that his outside shot is starting to fall. Broome has now connected on at least one three-pointer in five consecutive games for the first time since last January. For a team that doesn't take a ton of threes—largely due to a lack of reliable shooters—that wrinkle means a lot. As BearcatJournal.com's Justin Berg points out, he's also making an impact on the defensive end.
Trevon Scott is developing big-time Glue Guy qualities. His seven points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block probably won't raise many eyebrows, but those who watched the game saw his impact. When Cumberland, Williams, Jenifer, and Broome are holding serve alongside him, he doesn't need to do any more than he did Thursday.
I'm gonna talk about Nysier Brooks one more time. He notched nine points and seven rebounds (four on the offensive end) in a game in which he was undersized. Tip of the cap to that kid. His team needs these kinds of games.
We all need a break after that one. We aren't gonna get it. Cincinnati heads to Connecticut for a grudge match on Sunday before catching a flight to Dallas for a Wednesday soiree at Moody Coliseum. The doctor has ordered 2-0. It'll be possible, but very tough. Welcome to late-February basketball. I'm having fun.