Cincinnati took their 3rd straight home loss last night at the hands of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 66-60. The Bearcats fall to 13-3 while ND moves to 14-1. Before we get too far into the game, I want to say something about some of the fans. Some of you need to relax. It's January 8. There is a lot of season to go. Cincinnati has lost 2 games by 1 point and another by 6. This is still a good team. The defense is still very good. The Bearcats are still an NCAA tournament team as of this point. Things aren't amazing right now, but that's no reason to flip out. The mentality of fans that I hate is the one where it's "Oh woe is me, everything sucks and everything will fall apart." For every team but one, it all falls apart. The ride is the most enjoyable thing. Don't let a pair of back to back losses make you lose your head. Don't give up on this team, they don't deserve that.
First things first, this Notre Dame team doesn't look like the Notre Dame teams we have seen the last couple of years. They don't play a ton of defense, but they play enough defense to get them by. Their zone defense yesterday was very effective. Part of that is because of the Cincinnati offensive design, but part of it is because this team is better. Offensively, they are something else. They are the #2 offense in the nation according to Ken Pom. They pass the ball so, so well. If you don't stay disciplined against them, you are in a load of trouble.
For most of the first half, this was not a problem for our Cincinnati Bearcats. For the first 14 minutes of the game, Notre Dame had 11 points. That's when the Bearcats got over aggressive in the zone and lost a lot of discipline. How many times did Pat Connaughton or Scott Martin have an open 3 from the corner? The answer is way too many. With the Bearcats getting caught there, Notre Dame smartly started using the screen and roll. Cincinnati stayed on the corners, which let the ND center get easy baskets. Jack Cooley is good, but he was having a rough game. The Irish got him easy baskets to get him his 13 points. These small breakdowns to a team this sharp were the difference in the game.
That and Jerian Grant making difficult shots late in the shot clock with Sean Kilpatrick draped all over him. Jerian Grant was very good last night.
The offensive woes are continuing, even though the raw stats from last night don't show it. There was a point in the second half where they scored 5 points in 8 minutes. Notre Dame used their zone to expose the big flaw in the offense. You have 2 guys on the court who can not get their own shot at seemingly every time. Titus Rubles in the starting lineup was supposed to change that. It did not. ND played off the big men and were able to concentrate on the guards. Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker and Sean Kilpatrick had 17 shot attempts. There needs to be a post done about the UC offense.
The officials did not cost Cincinnati the game last night. That does not mean that they did a good job. They were awful. Listen to the commentary. Raftery, Sean and Bilas said "Walk," 8 or 9 times when they weren't called. The offensive foul on Parker was a joke. "Why was that an offensive foul?" "Because the official said it was." That was the exchange of the night to me. It was not a good night for the zebras.
The key sequence last night came with around 9 minutes left. Eric Atkins makes a basket on a very nice move where he broke Jermaine Sanders ankles to give ND a 2 point lead. Sanders throws a lazy inbounds pass that Atkins steals. Jerian Grant gets fouled and makes both. The lead went to 4 and eventually 10. This team has shown a propensity to shoot themselves in the foot in close games.
A big example of shooting themselves in the foot was the bizarre late game strategy by the Cats. They were down 6 with 1:15 left. ND had the ball. For some reason, Mick chose not to foul. ND didn't score, but they ran the clock down to 37 seconds. The Irish were still in the 1-1. I don't understand what the move was here to play it out. UC would score on their next possession, but it took 14 seconds. Of course ND missed the front end of the 1-1 with 22 seconds left. It would have meant a lot more if they missed with with a minute left. Bad late game execution.
Titus Rubles started the game off with a dunk. It would be his only basket. His 1-9 shooting, 0-3 from 3, would be the only blemish on his time last night. He had 7 rebounds and 5 assists to 1 turnover. 3 of Rubles assists went to 3 pointers. 1 of them was for an and 1. Rubles is getting kind of wild with his shot selection. Of course, missing shots is the biggest flaw in his game right now and the only way you can not miss shots is to make shots. The only way you can make shots is to shoot. This is the conundrum.
Cheikh Mbodj scored 8 of the last 10 Cincinnati points on 3 dunks and a layup. Notre Dame completely let him go in the last 5 minutes. He made them pay. Mbodj was getting the best of Jack Cooley. Cooley was blocked 3 times by Mbodj in the first half. Once again, 13 was in foul trouble. This time it really hurt because he was playing well. Only got 17 minutes out of him last night.
Cashmere Wright was bottled up big time by the ND defense. They held him to a season low 5 field goal attempts. His second lowest total was the New Mexico game. Cash was 1-5, 0-2 from 3, 3-4 from the foul line for his 5 points. He left his mark on the game by registering 8 assists. Keeping Cash, the team's best 3 point shooter, to 2 attempts is great defense. The Irish really keyed in on him and took him out of the game scoring wise. To his credit, Cash got everyone involved and had a big night that way.
Mentioned this last night, but it's worth mentioning again. Cash passed Oscar Robertson for 4th place all time in assists at UC. Congratulations, Cashmere.
I've been hard on the passing lately. The ball moved very well. UC had 18 assists on 23 made field goals. They had more assists than Notre Dame.
The turnovers were big. UC had 2 in the first half, 7 in the second half. In a game that was as nip tuck as this was at times, giving away possessions hurts. It seemed like a majority of the turnovers were on travels or offensive fouls. Backbreaking.
Sean Kilpatrick broke out of his shooting woes last night in a big way. He was the only Bearcat in double figures with 15 points. He was 6-11 overall and 3-6 from 3. Even the 3s he missed looked good. He had a big 5 point surge to get UC within 3. He's never been shy to shoot, but there is something different about his shot when he knows it's going in. That was the SK we saw last night.
It's a credit to ND that they held him to 3 shot attempts in the second half.
Notre Dame held Wright, Kilpatrick and Parker to 5 shot attempts and 6 free throw attempts in the second half.
JaQuon Parker had a very quiet game after a couple of loud baskets. He hit a pair of 3s back to back to put UC up 20-11. He didn't attempt another field goal. He was 2-4 from the foul line for 8 points. He didn't rebound, 1, didn't get assists, 1, and had 3 turnovers. 2 were travels. I think he's going to have a big game against Rutgers.
Shaq Thomas played a career high 24 minutes. I think this is the start of the rise of Shaq Thomas. He was 2-6 for 5 points. He had 3 boards, 2 assists and a block. His ratio for great moves to way too fast moves for bad shots is still out of line. But when he makes a great move, it looks great. When he makes a bad one, you want to grab him by the shoulders and say slow down and look at the rim before you shoot the ball. He plays some good defense as well. I am really enamored with his game.
Ge'Lawn Guyn played 7 minutes and made a huge 3 pointer to put UC ahead by a bucket. He took 3 shot attempts. That's what I want to see. I like aggressive Ge'Lawn Guyn.
Jermaine Sanders provided a nice spark off the bench. He hit a couple of 3 pointers in the furious 3 point rally that occurred in the first half. He added a layup in the second half for an 8 point performance. His only turnover was the thrown away inbound. Just like the Pitt game, he's not making many mistakes, but the ones he makes seem very costly.
Kelvin Gaines saw 11 minutes of playing time last night and responded decently. He had 4 rebounds. He scored a basket on a bank shot that hit the glass at roughly 140 mph. He had a turnover off a rebound where the put the ball low, but that's no biggie. If he had any kind of offensive game, he would be earning a lot more minutes.
I don't know how taught him free throw stroke, but that person should not allowed to teach anyone else how to shoot free throws.
David Nyarsuk had 4 points and 3 rebounds. It seemed like everything he did took place in a 4 minute span in the first half. Everything but his basket to tie the score at 49.
Justin Jackson got a DNP - coach's decision. From the sounds of things, he's in the dog house and might not play on Saturday.
Notre Dame went 7 deep last night. The 2 guys off the bench played 23 minutes. I don't know how great a strategy this is going to be as the season progresses, but for now, it works.
Love the Atkins - Grant back court. Grant was great last night with 19 points. Atkins controls the action very well.
UC should not have let Notre Dame wear white. UC has lost the last 4 games against the Irish while ND has been in white uniforms. Gave away the advantage.
Photos via Cincinnati.com.