You could see the frustration, as their collective heads were staring down at the floor as they walked off the Fifth Third Arena court. Cincinnati may have just spoiled their hops of an invitation to the ‘Big Dance'.
After a 72-69 victory on UAB on Saturday, the Bearcats of clinched a spot in the C-USA tournament—a feat that is probably lesser appreciated because no one really expected them not to be in the conference's final 12 of 14 teams.
However, Cincinnati, now 20-6 on the season, will have to settle for a good defensive effort against one of the best offensive teams in the conference, and take solace even further that UAB's chances of their name being called on Selection Sunday seems rather slim.
"I'm relieved. This time of year you just have to try to win, find a way to win," Cincinnati head coach said after the game.
"They made some hard plays. They made a great, great effort," Huggins added of UAB. "You have to take your hats off to them. These guys made plays against us that haven't been made all year."
The Bearcats (8-4 C-USA) found a little success after a tweak in the starting lineup. For the first time this season, they decided to use 6-8 forward James White at point guard against the Blazers (16-9).
The move itself paid some dividends for the Bearcats, as White scored 14 points and dished out four assists, although he did commit five of 22 Cincinnati turnovers.
Jihad Muhammad, however, didn't score whatsoever, and committed five turnovers to no assists in just 14 minutes of action.
As has been the case all season, it was once again Jason Maxiell carrying the torch for the Bearcats with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
UAB took a 29-26 lead into half time, as they converted 15 points off of Cincinnati turnovers. Turnovers were a large problem for Cincinnati, as UAB committed just nine on the game compared to the Bearcats' 22.
After quick baskets to start the second half by Cardell Johnson and Donnell Taylor, the Blazers held a six-point advantage, 33-27.
The game was back and forth after the 14:00 mark, where Cincinnati finally took the lead for the first time since mid-way through the first half. However, every time the Bearcats built leads of six and seven points, UAB came storming back.
After a technical foul on UAB head coach, Mike Anderson at the 6:16 mark, it looked as though Cincinnati's 9-point lead would hold up for good.
But the Blazers weren't quite done.
UAB twice cut the lead to just one point with 50 seconds and 32 seconds each, but both times Cincinnati converted on a pair of free throws, and UAB missed a 3-pointer on the game's final possession that could have tied it, giving Cincinnati the win.
For a coach whose team suffered a rough loss, Anderson almost seemed to find consolation after the game.
"It wasn't a thing of beauty and that's how we like it," Anderson said. "We did a lot of good things. They are very good at home. You know that there is going to be some physical play and aggressiveness and I think that we matched that."
Now, the Bearcats have four days to prepare to burst another C-USA bubble.
On Thursday night, Marquette comes to town for a 9 PM showdown on ESPN. The Golden Eagles have limited NCAA Tournament chances as well, so a victory is almost vital to them.