Saturday night saw the Bearcats play basketball the way fans have hoped for since Mick Cronin took over his hometown program. Going toe-to-toe with a conference foe with few expecting you to win has allowed Cronin and his staff to earn the attention of their players. But are Bearcat fans paying enough attention early on to see the changes over the course of the past year? Those at Fifth Third Arena walked away knowing they should pay more attention in the coming weeks as these Bearcats are starting to believe in themselves.
From the first basket of the night (Deonta Vaughn 3-pointer) to the last one of the (Rashad Bishop 3-pointer) these Bearcats battled a ranked opponent they've not defeated to the final buzzer. Each time the Bearcats looked to take an advantage the Wildcats would answer. Each time it looked as the energy was going to switch in favor of the Wildcats the Bearcats would respond.
Led by Vaughn's team high 25-points, the Bearcats would find the difference on this night coming from behind the three-point line. But the last one by Bishop was the one that counted most. With 22-seconds on the clock, the freshman hit his only shot of the night putting the Bearcats ahead by two points and sending the over 10,000 fans into a frenzy feeling a win was forthcoming.
But with time still left on the clock work needed to be done and Cronin's team responded by keeping the Wildcats off the scoreboard as Scottie Reynolds tried a desperate three-point shot as the clock hit zero.
The "Shoe" was rocking as the crowd knew they've seen another step towards getting the basketball program back to the level they desire. After the game Mick Cronin couldn't praise his team enough as the media gathered.
"I was really proud of the way our guys hung in there. They hit some back breaking shots that we could have panicked and folded up. My players responded to everything Villanova did. Fortunately, we made the last shot"
As expected the biggest battle of the night came from two of the Big East top sophomores in Villanova's Reynolds and the Bearcats Vaughn.
After the game Vaughn expressed how it feels to see the Bearcats sitting with a 3-1 record.
"It means a lot. It's all preparation and the things we do. It's doing the little things that coach tells us to do. We came in prepared today. We knew they were going to take some good shots. It came out to us playing smart and playing defense."
For Bearcat fans it was more than just a victory in the end. Alvin Mitchell showed signs of coming into his own hitting for 12-points and the way the team played on the defensive side proved this team needs to be watched as they enter the heart of Big East play.
The win moves the team to .500 on the season and gives them one more conference victory over last season totals. Up next the Bearcats will travel to Notre Dame for a match-up on Tuesday night before heading back to Fifth Third Arena for a major battle with Pittsburgh next Saturday afternoon.