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February 14, 2011

Former Analyst Steve Lavin evaluate UC basketball

He had a 145-78 record with UCLA, leading the school to the Sweet 16 five times. The Bruins reached the final eight in 1997, his first season.

He is Steve Lavin, first year basketball coach of the St. John's Red Storm.

St. John's, which fired Norm Roberts after six seasons, has not been to the NCAA tournament since 2002. And yet with six regular season games remaining St. John's is on the inside looking out according to most prognosticators.

After narrowly escaping Cincinnati with a win Sunday afternoon Coach Lavin held a brief media bruch filled with numerous tasty side dishes.

How do you defend Cincinnati?

Despite their strong shooting start to the 2010-2011 season, Cincinnati has tapered off dramatically in the last month of play. In fact UC is barely shooting over 40% in conference, ranking them 294th in the nation.

Woeful.

"Our idea was to try and cluster the paint and jam the paint like eight in the box in football and we were going to take our chances with them surviving on a steady diet of three-point shots," said Lavin.

Early on Cincinnati did not just survive they flourished. Bomb after bomb found the bottom of the net. Glee was surging up into the rafters of Fifth Third Arena.

The game was tight but UC was shooting tremendously from deep. No need to worry.

"We talked about it," said Coach Lavin of his halftime speech. "Eleven three's is a lot. We discussed that we needed to keep our defense tight. We wanted to improve on our high hands and our close outs. I thought there were stretches where we got our hands up and closed out and there were stretches where we didn't."

Prior to the break seventy percent of the made Bearcat field goals were from beyond the arc.

Dion Dixon hit two. Sean Kilpatrick hit a trio or triples. Dixon's recovery was a welcome sight. For only the fourth time since Hanukkah the junior starter hit multiple three-point shots in a game.

It was his first decent shooting performance since the Syracuse/Notre Dame road trips.

"To their credit they were willing to make that extra pass on the swing, swing or as I like to call it the "share the sugar" pass to get the open look," said Coach Lavin. "It was a game of rotations."

Coach Lavin talked about keeping his defensive integrity, holding the "shell together" despite UC's shooting success.

"All of our bigger wins, this one today, though they hit the three's in the paint we won 30-14," said Coach Lavin. "To me the paint is equivalent to the line of scrimmage in football. If you dominate that at least you give yourself a chance to win."

After two months of owning the paint against feeble non-conference competition Cincinnati is starting to find scoring inside difficult. Gates suspension and minute limitations certainly aren't helping a team devoid of a second low-post scorer.

Ibrahima Thomas, Justin Jackson, and Darnell Wilks all have skills of their own. Posting up with their back to the basket is not one of them.

"At least you are going to be in the game if you own the paint," said Coach Lavin. "I think Pittsburgh has demonstrated that the last decade. UConn with Calhoun and Boeheim in his own way controls the paint."

At the end of the day St. John's did what they had to do. Cincinnati hardly stirred the 7374 reported attendees until the final six minutes.

Rashad Bishop played immaculately from the midway point in the second half until that fateful lane violation.

"I stepped in," said Bishop. "The first look I looked at the ref. He saw me do it. I was like 'He got me.' I didn't mean to do it. It happened."

Prior to that painfully key infringement Bishop lifted his Bearcats from the ashes.


Temporarily more regal that the saints, Bishop nailed a huge three-pointer with 6:32 left, cutting the lead to 52-46. A minute later Bishop nailed another one narrowing the margin to one point.

"I was just trying to get the win," said Bishop. "I just hit the shots."

At a time when two starters (Gates, Dixon) watched from the sidelines, Bishop ignited a fire of passion, of energy so desperately needed.

"When we are down, we talk about this alot, we just try to stay together. Keep playing harder. I saw a couple of people starting to get down so I decided to pick up my energy to help them get back into the game."

The unkind yet seemingly inescapable fate
"We weren't sharp today," said Coach Lavin. "It was probably an eye sore or ugly to watch for the spectators yet pleased to get out of here with the win."

It could have gone either way. Unfortunately it didn't. Cincinnati falls to 6-6 in conference, a respectable record until you look a mite closer.

The teams they have beat feature an average of three BIG EAST wins. DePaul is worse than awful, South Florida lost to Florida Atlantic and Kent State, and Seton Hall has four A-10 losses.

Ironically the Bearcats best conference win was over St. John's who gained some credibility by beating the same Bearcats Sunday. The higher the Red Storm climbs the better Cincinnati's resume appears.

All season long Coach Cronin has preached the toughness of his schedule along with the opportunnity for good wins. He is right on both accounts when you gloss over the non-conference creampuffs.

But those countless chances to beat a ranked team are dwindling steadily. It is creeping towards late February and UC gets Louisville, UConn, and Georgetown to visit. The Bearcats will be underdogs in all three of those games. They also have the talent (with Yancy), more importantly the experiences to win all three games.

If ever there was a time when the four seniors recognized and capitalized on their sense of urgency it was now.


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