The Bearcats suffered an overtime defeat to Marquette on Feb. 21, their fourth loss in five games and fifth in seven games down the stretch.
Coach Mick Cronin knew it wouldn't be easy to get something accomplished from the position his team was in and with the schedule it had ahead of it.
"The games are so brutal, night in and night out," he said. "For teams) that don't have a place in the tournament clinched), essentially the NCAA Tournament begins Feb. 1."
To make matters worse, only one of the losses came at the hands of one of the conference's top teams, that being to Syracuse.
The role now changes for Cronin's Bearcats, who will hold out hope but who have been done in by their lack of offense and their inability to win close games, losing three overtime contests.
Cincinnati can be a spoiler in the Big East, for it faces West Virginia, a suddenly struggling Villanova team that has lost two straight and Georgetown. Rest assured Cronin and his team would love to upset former Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins' West Virginia Mountaineers in Morgantown when they play on Feb. 27.
But more important than ruining the day for WVU is Cincinnati finding a way to get itself straightened out so it can finish the season with a positive note to carry over to next year.
• In the overtime loss to Marquette, Cincinnati turned to its bench for offense. Other than starter Rashad Bishop, who had 17 points, the bulk of the offense was from reserves. G Larry Davis had 13 points, F Yancy Gates and G Dion Dixon had 12 each and G Deonta Vaughn had six. The bench produced 43 of 76 points.
• G Deonta Vaughn, who was considered one of the top scorers in the league, has seen his average drop almost four points a game this season and almost six points a game from two years ago.
ON THE SPOT: G Deonta Vaughn has struggled with his scoring, but he is in position to leave a strong mark on the history of Bearcat basketball. After scoring six points against Marquette, he needs 17 to tie Roger McClendon (1984-88) for fourth place on the school's career scoring list. And after collecting seven assists against Marquette, he needs 16 assists to tie Eddie Lee (1976-80) as the all-time assist leader at the school with 500. He also needs three steals to tie Lee for third place all time at 163.
Vaughn did not hit a 3 against Marquette and needs 15 to pass Darnell Burton (1993-1997) for first in 3-point shots made at Cincinnati with 307.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's only five left now. Every game is magnified. The clock's ticking. Our guys are well aware of it."—Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin to The Cincinnati Enquirer before Marquette dropped an overtime bomb on the Bearcats.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Bearcats have played this year like an NCAA bubble team. They have two really tough non-conferences loses in overtime, one to Gonzaga and one to Xavier. Wins in those games would probably have put them in position to go to the tournament. The Bearcats also have some good wins, including a victory over Vanderbilt and two over Connecticut. G Deonta Vaughn hasn't quite lived up to his previous three seasons and G Lance Stephenson has played like the freshman he is on occasions.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters—F Yancy Gates, F Ibrahima Thomas, F Rashad Bishop, G Lance Stephenson, G Deonta Vaughn. Key Subs—G Cashmere Wright, C Steve Toyloy, F Darnell Wilks, G Larry Davis, G Dion Dixon.
Cincinnati 60, Connecticut 48
South Florida 65, Cincinnati 57
Marquette 79, Cincinnati 76 (OT)
vs. DePaul, Wednesday, Feb. 24
at West Virginia, Saturday, Feb. 27
vs. Villanova, Tuesday, March 2
at Georgetown, Saturday, March 6
IN FOCUS: With the NCAA bid now almost certainly gone, Cincinnati must try to keep it together and aim at the Big East Tournament and, probably, the NIT. The Bearcats have a tough close, however. Coach Mick Cronin's team has a home game against DePaul before closing out the season at West Virginia, at home against Villanova and at Georgetown. That's three highly-ranked teams, two on the road, each with its own incentive to continue playing hard down the stretch. The matchup against former coach Bob Huggins is always an intriguing one.
• In the Feb. 21 overtime loss to Marquette, both F Yancy Gates and G Lance Stephenson, two of Cincinnati's better players, spent a lot of time on the bench down the stretch and into overtime. No word on why.