Alex Frank | Sports Director
With the Cincinnati Bearcats 93-64 win over the UCLA Bruins Wednesday night seemingly in hand, sophomore guard Keith Williams nailed his third three-pointer of the game to push the Bearcats lead to, at the time, 76-46.
While getting back on defense following the make, Williams did a shoulder shrug reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s famous shoulder shrug in game one of the 1992 NBA Finals.
“Keith told me it was Michael Jordan flu night,” head coach Mick Cronin said “I couldn’t talk to the team I was laughing so hard in the postgame. When we were walking back, he said, ‘Coach, Dec. 19, 2018, flu night for Keith Williams.’”
Michael Jordan flu night is a reference to Jordan’s famous 40-point performance while battling flu-like symptoms during game five of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz.
The same year of Jordan’s shrug in 1992 was the last year the Bearcats, led by head coach Bob Huggins, went to the Final Four.
Huggins, along with the families of the other head coaches who have taken the Bearcats to Final Four, George Smith and Ed Jucker, were honored during halftime.
If the Bearcats get to the Final Four this year, it will be their first appearance in 27 years.
Before Williams made the three where he did a subsequent Jordan-esque shoulder shrug, the Bearcats lead was 27 points.
See how everything came in full circle Wednesday.
Williams’s shoulder shrug conjured images of Jordan’s back in 1992, the last year the Bearcats went to the Final Four with a team coached by Bob Huggins, who was honored at halftime.
Oh, and did I mention that the Final Four in 1992 was in Minneapolis, the city where it is in this 2018-19 season?
Could this Bearcats team get to the Twin Cities come late March? We shall see.
But if Wednesday night’s performance against UCLA is any indication, this team has the implications of being a very tough team to beat come tournament time.
Williams’s three, followed by the shrug, was part of a 19-point performance on 8-13 shooting that also included three rebounds and four assists.
Williams was one of four Bearcats to score in double figures, led by junior guard Jarron Cumberland’s 25 points.
Being able to distribute the scoring across multiple players allowed Cincinnati to attack UCLA’s length from all angles and it translated to a 52.4 percent shooting night, including 57.1 percent from beyond the perimeter and 15-20 from the free throw line.
Before the opening tip, the scoreboard showed a video of last year’s 77-63 Bearcats victory at UCLA.
Just like last year’s game where the Bearcats used an 18-0 first half run to pull away, this year was much the same.
After the Bearcats rallied from an early seven-point deficit to tie the score at 17 with just over 10 minutes to play in the first half, the Bearcats closed the first 20 minutes on a 31-14 run to lead 48-31 at the break.
The Bearcats run reached 20-4 at the 6:44 mark in the first half, with junior forward Nysier Brooks leading the charge with nine points and shooting 4-5 from the field in the first 20 minutes.
The Bearcats didn’t let up once the second half began as they kept the pressure on the Bruins to stay in the game, which they did not.
Despite sophomore guard Kris Wilkes notching his 11th-straight double-digit scoring performance to start the season- 21 points on 6-12 shooting- the Bruins were plagued by 14 turnovers that turned into 20 Bearcats points.
Cincinnati outscored the Bruins 45-33 in the second half after leading 48-31 at halftime.
That’s consistency right there.
Plus, this win tonight shows the Bearcats can consistently beat a major college basketball program that is UCLA.
After all, this is their second straight victory over the Bruins following a loss in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
Wednesday night’s win also concluded a difficult five-game stretch for the Bearcats that started back on Dec. 1 at UNLV, and they went 4-1 during it to improve to 10-2.
Don’t overlook South Carolina State on Saturday at 2 p.m. (FOX Sports Ohio/ESPN3), but that game won’t be at the magnitude that the previous five games were at.
After that, the real fun begins with the start of conference play.
This 29-point win against UCLA, though, is a very encouraging sign of just how far this team can go.
Maybe that’s their first Final Four since 1992, and who knows beyond that.