Alex Frank | Sports Director
The Cincinnati Bearcats men’s basketball team returned home and held on Saturday night for a thrilling 74-72 overtime win over the UConn Huskies at Fifth Third Arean.
But here’s the deal: Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin was not happy.
I get it, but I don’t know why.
Let’s forget about why Mick Cronin wasn’t happy after the game and focus on how important of a win this is.
The Bearcats were playing their second game less than 48 hours after winning an overtime game at Tulsa with three of their starters battling the flu during the game.
It’s also their second game of three in a span of only six days in conference play.
So, consider that, having to fly back to Cincinnati after the win at Tulsa, get home late and then only get a day to get ready for a Huskies team that is breathing new life under first-year head coach Dan Hurley.
I get that the Bearcats had some mental lapses Saturday night in terms of following the scouting report, but maybe the players were exhausted from the mental grind at Tulsa.
Then again, Cronin did say after the game that he doesn’t “think there’s medicine for what our problem is.”
Every conference game is going to be a grind, just saying.
But this is Cincinnati’s second straight overtime win in conference play, and it’s also Cincinnati’s first time winning back-to-back overtime games since the 1966-67 season.
The Bearcats are going to get every team’s best shot this conference season because they are the defending regular-season and tournament champions, and UConn sure gave them theirs Saturday night.
The Huskies made 11 threes and out-rebounded the Bearcats 38-30 on their own home court, something Cronin was not at all pleased about after the game.
In the second half alone, UConn rallied from deficits of four late, seven twice earlier in the final 20 minutes, eight, and 11 points early in the second half.
Was it, like Cronin said, that the Bearcats don’t want to finish games?
Or, that Cronin said they just want to flash their badge- the C-paw- and think the opponent is going to run away?
No, I really think it’s that the Huskies are a much-improved team, and they showed that Saturday night.
Also keep in mind when the Bearcats played the Huskies at their temporary home last year, Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena, they were without prolific scorer Jalen Adams who was battling flu-like symptoms.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The senior guard from Roxbury, Massachusetts scored 16 points Saturday night, and he could have scored much more had he not been plagued by foul trouble that eventually led to him fouling out with 2:26 to go in the second half.
The point is UConn was limited when they came to Cincinnati last year, plus the Bearcats were coming off back-to-back losses that dropped them out of the AP top 10 at the time.
So, of course, Cincinnati was going to come out motivated to win.
And even when the Bearcats went into Storrs, Connecticut last year and beat the Huskies, UConn didn’t quit despite, at one point, a 19-point second half deficit and only lost by eight.
The Huskies didn’t quit then, so why should anyone have imagined they would Saturday night?
And as much as the Bearcats defense was shaky at times, they got stops when they needed to.
After UConn rallied from down 56-48 to take a 57-56 lead with 4:39 remaining in the second half, Cincinnati held them scoreless for over three minutes while they came back to take a four-point lead.
And had it not been for Huskies sophomore guard Alterique Gilbert’s game-tying layup at the buzzer of regulation, Cincinnati would have held UConn to just three points in the last 4:39 of regulation.
Remember how Cincinnati didn’t score in the final 3:27 of regulation in their road win at Wichita State last year but still managed to find a way to win?
Looking back on it, this game had a similar feel to that one last March.
Plus, Cincinnati also held the Huskies scoreless for over two minutes in overtime while they built a lead wide enough that UConn could not relinquish it.
Were there areas the Bearcats could have done better in Saturday night? Sure, I can’t deny that.
Aside from the defensive mishaps, senior guards Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome combined to go 8-16 from the free throw line.
Considering both players came in shooting over 80 percent from the charity stripe and their eight misses made up the majority of the Bearcats 13 free throw misses, that’s not good.
Also, for a Huskies team who gave up 23 offensive rebounds to SMU on Thursday, the Bearcats only pulled down seven on Saturday night.
But in spite of it all, the Bearcats still managed to win an important early conference game.
As an old basketball coach of mine used to say, it’s better to win ugly than to lose pretty.
The Bearcats are far from a finished product, whatever that might be, but they are still winning conference games while defending their regular-season conference championship.
I trust Cronin will get the best out of this team and have them playing their best basketball when it matters most.
Other scores from the American Athletic Conference Saturday night
Temple 82 South Florida 80 (OT)
SMU 77 Tulsa 57
Houston 79 Wichita State 70