First Year Bearcat head coach Andy Kennedy used the now cliché "nail in the coffin" metaphor describe the state of urgency the Bearcats came into this Big East rivalry game with. Stating that the loser of the OH-KY Showdown would most likely be nailing shut their own postseason coffins, the Bearcat headman wanted to "drive home" the point that this was a must win for the ‘Cats.
"He brought in a hammer…and a nail," said Bearcat strongman Eric Hicks, who played out of his mind in tonight's showcase of brute force, pulling down 12 rebounds (seven offensive) and making 10-of-10 free throws en route to 14 points and a double-double. Playing out of his mind is more than a simple colloquial metaphor to describe an outstanding feat of athletic achievement. On this not it is a literal statement, as Hick's performance, as the 6-6 power forward played more than 15 minutes with a concussion.
"Our doctor's are pretty strong, but they would have had to wrestle [Hicks] to keep him out of the game," said Kennedy about the desire and passion his senior frontcourt standout. "He definitely had a wobbly base and his pupils were a bit dilated, but he went in the back and the doctors gave him a few test, and let him come back out and play. I love these kids, and I don't want to see any of them get hurt, so I wasn't going to let him play until I get their okay."
Luckily for the Bearcats, their faithful, and their post season chances they did, as Hicks embodied the hard-nosed clutch approach that the entire team seemed to bring to the table. Hicks lead a pack of four ‘Cats in double figures (Jihad Muhammad (19), Devan Downey (who hit the key shot down the stretch to give the ‘Cats the lead) (15), James White (14)), and led a team-driven crash to the glass. Hicks 12 rebounds were rounded out by White's nine Cedric McGowan's eight. In all, the Bearcats did a number on the Cardinals when it came to hitting the glass, a weakness for both teams coming into tonight.
"I think they really hurt us on the glass," said Louisville coaching legend Rick Pitino, who has seen his top-10 preseason team drop to 3-7 in a rough and tumble Big East conference race that only sees 12 of the 16-team conference make the Postseason Conference Tournament. "We tried to alleviate some of our woes with our press, but they were just too tough for us on the glass."
For the game the Bearcats out rebounded the Cardinals 42 to 30, including 16 to 11 on the offensive glass. The ability to hit the offensive glass turned out to be a major asset for a team that struggled shooting the ball.
"This was the first time all year we've won a game when we haven't shot forty-percent from the floor. I think that shows how important our effort on the glass really was for us," said Kennedy.
The Bearcats, who shot 39.7 percent from the floor on Monday night utilized 20 second chances points that came from their work on the O-glass, and helped make up a large portion of their 30 points in the paint and 18 trips to the charity stripe – a place that really helped pave the road to victory for the ‘Cats.
Cincinnati was 18-of-18 from the line tonight, a place that has hurt them in recent weeks.