In a day dominated by college bowl games, the Cincinnati Bearcat basketball squad grabbed some of the national spotlight by upsetting the Louisville Cardinals in Freedom Hall on New Year's Day on ESPN. Mick Cronin became only the second of Rick Pitino's assistants to defeat his ex-boss. Tubby Smith was the other while the head coach at Kentucky.
The Cardinals, who had started the season ranked #6 in the country in both major polls, had to feel confident heading into the game since their roster was at full strength for the first time this season with the return of David Padgett from a broken kneecap, but the Bearcats offset Padgett's return by getting major contributions from a variety of players.
John Williamson and Deonta Vaughn shared offensive honors by scoring 13 points apiece while Marvin Gentry came off the Cincinnati bench to add 10 points to the cause. Jamual Warren had seven assists against only two turnovers and grabbed eight rebounds. A couple of freshmen also made major contributions. Freshman center, Anthony "Biggie" McClain, played twenty-five minutes pulling down a team high nine rebounds while also scoring four points, and Rashad Bishop had his usually steady floor game scoring eight points to go with three boards.
The Bearcats led 30-26 at the half, but the game had nine lead changes and four of those came in the last four minutes of the game where Deonta Vaughn really thrived. The Cincinnati sophomore scored eleven of the Bearcats final fifteen points with three treys and a pair of free throws to go with an assist and a steal.
Despite Vaugh's superb play down the stretch, the Cardinals had a chance to win the game with 4.8 seconds left. Louisville called a timeout with the ball on its end of the court.
Coach Cronin explained his defensive strategy in the final seconds of the game. "We went to a 1-3-1 zone. I didn't think he (Pitino) knew what I was going to do since he's never been on my staff. He's never going to learn from me anyway. Our guys did a great job of execution coming out of that timeout in the 1-3-1. They ended up with a very desperate shot, a terrible look right in front of their bench with five seconds. I was concerned if we played man to man, we'd foul. I wanted to make sure they ended up with a jump shot to win it. They were 3 for 23 or whatever at that point, and I didn't want to put the game in the officials' hands at that point with a drive to the basket, and I didn't want to give Sosa a chance to get off the pick and roll and drive to the basket."
Like many of the better coaches, Coach Cronin deflected all the credit to his players. "I told the players in the locker room. People come out of this thing and say Mick did a great job coaching. It's not Mick Cronin versus Rick Pitino. My players won the game. Look at John Williamson totally outplaying Earl Clark, who's an NBA draft pick some day. He's only a sophomore, but they're both in their second year of college basketball, but John totally outplayed him. Jamual Warren, I want to make sure I talk about seven assists again and eight defensive rebounds for a point guard. That's huge."
Cincinnati held the Cardinals to 21 of 59 from the floor and 3 of 23 from behind the arc for a 35.6% average from the floor. Conversely, Cincinnati hit on 23 of 49 shots to go with 8 of 14 from long range for a 46.9% average.
The Bearcats' record improves to 6-7 overall and 1-0 in BIG EAST play. Louisville drops to 9-4 and 0-1 in the league. Cincinnati's next game is Saturday at St. John's.
Cronin's Bearcats Blast Into ‘08
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