Tough defense in the second half led to victory for the Bearcats (4-2) over the Miami Red Hawks (2-3). It was a close game the entire night, though UC prevailed 56-47. Right when the Cats would start to take a lead Miami kept fighting back.
It's exactly what you would expect from rival schools.
The two big men battled back and forth the entire night, fighting hard inside the paint. Yancy Gates ended up with a double-double of 10 pts and 10 boards. UC is going to have to continue to find this play from Yancy the remainder of the season.
For Miami's big man Julian Manvunga he finished with a game high 26 points and 10 boards to go along with that. If the bearcats could have shut him down it would have made it a completely different game. He controlled the paint and was able to accomplish anything he wanted.
Post defense must improve going forward as the Cats are going to have to face better big men in Big East play.
The energy tonight was great when Coach Cronin decided to put Ge' Lawn Guyn into the game. He plays very tough defense and guys he was guarding were struggling to put the ball into the hoop.
"Against this team with the way this team shoots the basketball, we're going to have to get in passing lanes, deny passes, deny wings, and deny reversals," said Coach Cronin. "When we did that, it rattled them and it was affective. That's why you see Ge'Lawn was playing so much because he'll get up and after it and deny it."
Coming out of a second half Miami timeout Guyn made a quick steal and a basket to give the Cats a nine point lead. It's nice to see a freshman stand up when inserted. He is making plays at such an early point in his career.
A huge factor and something that could be great for the Bearcats throughout the season was the play of Cheikh Mbodj. The junior finished with 12 points and 4 rebounds coming off the bench.
"You never devalue winning. He helped us win tonight," said Coach Cronin. "I think Cash went on a nice run to give us a 10-point lead to get him going. It's great for Cheikh, he wants to do so well. The worst thing that could happen to him is he gets hurt because he only has two years. And now all he's thinking is 'Ahh, I have to play well' and he is going 100 miles an hour. I have the same message to him as the rest of them, just worry about playing defense and rebounding. It's amazing how shots will fall."
His shots helped the Bearcats get a comfortable 9 point lead late. UC will definitely need the play of this junior college transfer to continue down the stretch.
"This is going to make our team better to have another guy that we can go to on the block when he has a mismatch," said Gates of Mbodj. "And you can trust him and score through the foul. To step up to the free throw line and make his shot. It adds another dimension to our team."
The Bearcats still have a lot of things to work on, but people have to keep coming out to support them. The early losses can be washed away easier than a February loss. Also hopefully Coach Cronin and the Bearcats will be able to fix the problems by BIG EAST play.
Offensive flow looked markedly better. Finally. In their losses the Bearcat offense struggled to get to the hoop, often leading to throwing up a contested shot and hurrying for a shot. Tonight they were setting the offense and making a conscious effort to feed the ball down low, at least one time every possession.
The adjustment was a nice to see. It shows progress which could lead to wins in the future.
With this win UC improves to 4-2 leading into their first road test of the season. Thursday the Cats depart for Friday's BIG-SEC Invitational tussle with Georgia.