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March 8, 2012

Seemingly impossible semifinal berth

Somehow Cincinnati's offense returned from the dead. Somehow they defeated Georgetown 72-70 in double overtime despite missing every relevant shot in the first thirty minutes of action.

Never doubted it. Really Cashmere, you never doubted the victory?

"You can't doubt yourself," said Wright. "When you doubt yourself that is when you lose."

Down eleven points, shooting worse than 10% from beyond the arc? Not a doubt?

Georgetown led 49-38 at one point and it truly looked impossible Cincinnati would ever see their 49th point. Five Big East teams had already been held sub-50 by Georgetown this season. Nothing was falling. The only thing that even worked was a fastbreak basket or two.

Making something out of nothing

As the game waned into final quadrant outside shooting slowly became extinct for Cincinnati. Entering play they knew Georgetown blanketed shooters with their long arms and expert positioning. Still they believed a few more shots would fall.

"They are long," said Wright. "They start a two man at 6'8"? That is a lot of length on that zone. It is hard to get over it. You have to shoot a lot higher or it is going to get blocked."

Sean Kilpatrick and Dixon missed almost everything. Parker clanged a rebound up to the top of the backboard.

Facing Georgetown can stifle a team's creativity and drain the life out of an offense. Still Cincinnati completed multiple rim-rattling dunks.

Justin Jackson found a runway towards a fantastic first half rebound dunk. Yancy Gates pumped a couple home. His best occurred a on a fastbreak he began. Gates found Cashmere, dropped a pass laterally and then soared to retrieve an alley-oop.

"That was nice though, right?" said Wright. "Just liked the whole situation, the whole build up to the dunk. He was the one that got the steal. It was pretty impressive."

Jaw-dropping basketball.

The remarkable play drew Cincinnati into three points nearing the final TV timeout. The comeback was not yet complete, but it was now believable. More than just Cashmere could envision the tipping point.

"As a coach there are things you can control," said Cincinnati Head Coach Mick Cronin. "We talk about effort, togetherness, and attitude. There is never a better example of that today."

When asked what Cincinnati did in the final nine minutes of regulation to mount the comeback Coach Thompson III simply didn't know.

"I'm not sure," said Thompson III. "I think that during that stretch our turnovers…we had made some poor decisions at that point, I think."

The offensive hero was absolutely UC forward Yancy Gates.

Time after time Cincinnati fed their big man on the blocks. Earlier in the year UC drastically changed their offense away from featuring Gates. Thursday they returned out of necessity.

"Yancy is tough every night," said Coach Thompson III. "I mean, their team is tough every night. Yancy hurt us, not just with the post moves, but he got some big second shots that we needed to get the defensive rebounds."

While Gates was scoring a season-high 23 points the defensive intensity ratcheted up.

"They only had two turnovers at halftime," said Coach Cronin. "So we needed to turn up the heat. Trying to get the guys going in the second half as much as possible, not worry about fouling. We've got to get up there and get some deflections. If we don't turn them over we're not going to win the game. Got to get some turnovers and they did a great job of that."

Final minute(s) execution

Cashmere Wright curled around a Gates' swinging gate screen. Wright could not make his leaning layup, but Yancy devotedly followed the miss. His putback gave Cincinnati their first second half lead. And it came in the final minute of play, or maybe only the first of three final minutes.

As Henry Sims rose up to shoot a potentially game-winning three pointer he spotted freshman friend Otto Porter. It shows what a great teammate Sims is that he entrusted the youngster with such a critical shot.

Georgetown drew the game even 54-54 with the basket. In the remaining 3.4 seconds Cincinnati attempted the now famous "Bryce Drew" play. Hit your biggest body at the top of the key. A sideline-flying guard accepts a pass in rhythm. It should get you an attempt at least. It's a good play. Yancy was unable to handle the pass perfectly and overtime commenced.

Missed free throws by Gates and Dixon in overtime allowed Georgetown a last second gasp.

Senior center Henry Sims pumped, then drove to the basket. Thanks to an entire game of standing firm out high Sims inadvertently baited the UC defense.

"I mean, it would have been nice to make that last one, obviously, but the first lay-up to put it into double overtime I think obviously felt good," said Sims. "But I'd much rather have that shot at the end."

Cashmere Wright made another aggressive move to the rack as double overtime concluded. With fewer than ten seconds left, score tied, Wright dashed past his defender. He offered an unorthodox floater off the backboard.

"I was watching the glass the whole time because of how fast I was trying to get to the hole," said Wright. "I was thinking, 'Ok I have to get the shot up.'"

The shot fell and Cincinnati advanced to their first Big East Semifinal. Syracuse waits so the time for celebration is brief.

"You can't get nervous," said Wright. "That is when you start to doubt. We had the confidence no matter how far we were down we could come back."

Ok Cash. Now we believe you.


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