That Cincinnati is an improved team cannot be questioned.
Coach Mick Cronin has done a solid job of recruiting and built the kind of team that he believes in, a tough team that rebounds hard and plays defense.
Now it has to find an offensive identity.
Gates put himself in Cronin's doghouse with some lackluster efforts. He played only four minutes against Lipscomb and scored only seven points in the two games before scoring 14 points in the first half against Winthrop.
"Yancy Gates decided to come to play tonight," Cronin told the Cincinnati Enquirer. Gates said it was a matter of putting the polish on before stepping out in the Big East.
"It's just getting ready for the Big East, trying to get back in rhythm," Gates said. "I just came out trying to get touches."
G Deonta Vaughn broke out of a shooting slump by hitting 3-of-3 from beyond the arc against Lipscomb, a good sign heading into Big East play.
F Lancy Stephenson, the hot freshman, has not been intimidated as he moves into college play, leading the Bearcats in scoring with 12.5 points a game going into the Christmas break.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: Saturday in New Jersey. That's how it is going to be early in the Big East season for Cincinnati. The Bearcats play consecutive games in the Garden State on the first two Saturdays of the month, first traveling to Rutgers after the conference opener against Connecticut, then playing at Seton Hall. Considering the power there is in the Big East, it's not really a bad way to open the season, getting UConn at home and then sandwiching a home game against Pitt between Rutgers and Seton Hall.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I truly believe we can compete with anybody if we lock in and focus." -- Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin in The Cincinnati Enquirer after beating Winthrop.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: It has been a roller coaster ride through the early days of the season for Cincinnati. The Bearcats had enough good moments to move into the Top 25 at one point and enough bad ones to slip back out. Coach Mick Cronin benched F Yancy Gates and PG Cashmere Wright at one point to get them to play harder. If there was one discovery made in the first part of the season it was that G Dion Dixon is perfect coming off the bench as a sixth man. "I think he can provide you with energy on both ends," Cronin said. "You look for a guy who can come in off the bench and can change the game. He can come in and give you offensive rebounding. He can give you scoring and he can also give you defensive energy. He's a guy who's had a great attitude this year. He brings a lot of life to our team."
Alabama Birmingham 64, Cincinnati 47
Cincinnati 80, Lipscomb 52
Cincinnati 74, Winthrop 57
Vs. Connecticut, Wednesday, Dec. 30
At Rutgers, Saturday, Jan. 2
Vs. Pittsburgh, Monday, Jan. 4
Vs. Cal State-Bakersfield, Wednesday, Jan. 6
At Seton Hall, Saturday, Jan. 9
IN FOCUS: Highly-regarded freshman Lance Stephenson gets his introduction to Big East play the hard way as the Bearcats open against Connecticut. Coach Jim Calhoun of the Huskies has seen a lot of top-line freshmen come into the Big East and understands the ways to take advantage of their inexperience, no matter how good they are. Stephenson, at least, gets his introduction to Calhoun and the Huskies on his home court, just as he does two games later when he first faces Pittsburgh's stifling defense.
ROSTER REPORT: Coach Mick Cronin used the Lipscomb game to make a point as he benched both F Yancy Gates and PG Cashmere Wright. Gates played only four minutes and didn't score or collect a rebound. Wright did not play in the first half and played only nine minutes in the second half, not taking a shot. He did have four assists and two turnovers. "They've got to understand that around here minutes are earned and not promised," Cronin told The Cincinnati Enquirer.
With Yancy Gates benched against Lipscomb, 6-11 Oklahoma State transfer Ibrahima Thomas made his first start for Cincinnati and played the best he has played in three games, getting 10 points with six rebounds.