7:00 PM ET, March 9, 2011
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Cincinnati enters the Big East tournament on a high note, having won five of six games in a stretch in which it's beaten three top-20 teams.While lacking in credentials, its first opponent is certainly riding a wave of emotion.Lowly South Florida rallied from 16 down to pull off a stunning victory in its tournament opener, providing a momentum boost it hopes to continue against the 25th-ranked Bearcats in Wednesday night's second round at Madison Square Garden in New York.Cincinnati (24-7) didn't have much of an NCAA tournament resume as late as mid-February, entering a game against then-No. 16 Louisville 0-4 against ranked opponents.The Bearcats had dropped six of 10 after a 15-0 start, but they've likely played their way into the tournament with a strong finish. Cincinnati knocked off the Cardinals, won at Providence and Marquette and beat Georgetown twice, including an emphatic 69-47 rout of the then-No. 17 Hoyas on Saturday.The seventh-seeded Bearcats, who allow a Big East-best 58.2 points per game, held their last four opponents to an average of 55.0 points and just 36.2 percent shooting."We're shutting teams down," coach Mick Cronin said. "That's been a transition for this team, being able to shut down ranked opponents."Fifteenth-seeded South Florida (10-22) is 0-11 versus teams in the AP Poll, but came up with a memorable victory in Tuesday's first round against a Villanova team that spent much of the season in the top 10.Down 49-33 at halftime, the Bulls outscored the Wildcats 37-20 in the second half and used Anthony Crater's layup with 5.1 seconds left to post the 70-69 upset."That was a great, great game," coach Stan Heath said. "I'm really proud of our team's gutsy performance in the second half. In the first half, it didn't seem like we were guarding anybody. In the second half, we defended and got to loose balls."Shaun Noriega made six 3-pointers and scored 22 points in only the second Big East tournament win for South Florida since joining the league in the 2005-06 season.Now, Heath has to turn his attention to Cincinnati, which took advantage of 18 Bulls turnovers in a 74-66 home win Jan. 12."I know they're good," Heath said. They've had a great season, we played them very well down at their place and probably in the last five minutes it got away a little bit."If our team can learn to close and finish and not have droughts, we can compete against anybody."Freshman guard Sean Kilpatrick did much of the damage in the Bearcats' previous victory over South Florida, hitting 4 of 5 3-pointers and scoring a game-high 18 points, but the Bulls may need to focus on Yancy Gates on Wednesday.Cronin benched Gates when he was frustrated with the junior forward's lack of effort in a loss to St. John's on Feb. 13, but Gates has been Cincinnati's best player down the stretch. He's averaged 15.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and shot 56.5 points in his last five games.He's also shot 82.1 percent (23 of 28) at the line, quite an improvement after shooting 50 percent (40 for 80) in his first 25 games."I'm hot," Gates said. "That's something I've been working on after practice. It's starting to pay off."The winner faces fourth-ranked and No. 2 seed Notre Dame in the quarterfinals Thursday.
Big East Tournament
|Avg Points Allowed||66.5||59.2|
|Conference||Big East||Big East|