At this point of the season for Cincinnati, it's all about adding as many quality wins as possible in an effort to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee
The Bearcats got a big one Thursday when they knocked off No. 17 Louisville 60-56.
Cincinnati (20-8, 10-5) earned its third consecutive win and fifth in six games. The victory should also boost the Bearcats' lackluster No. 82 standing in the RPI.
Cincinnati moved into a four-way tie for fourth place in the Big East with No. 9 Georgetown and South Florida. The top four teams receive double byes into the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
Cincinnati has a chance to add another good win to its resume when it visits South Florida on Sunday. The Bulls are 17-11, 10-5 in the Big East, after having their four-game winning snapped at No. 2 Syracuse on Wednesday.
Senior forward Augustus Gilchrist is the only South Florida player scoring in double figures, as he is contributing 10.3 points and 5.0 rebounds a game. The Bulls have seven players averaging 6.7 or more points, though.
Cincinnati has won three of its last four games against South Florida, including two victories last season, 74-66 in the regular season at home and 87-61 in the Big East tournament.
Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati with 18 points in the regular-season game, while Cashmere Wright had 11 points and five assists. Dion Dixon added 11 points. South Florida was topped by Ron Anderson Jr.'s 13 points, while Gilchrist had 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Jawanza Poland finished with 10 points before fouling out.
Gates scored 25 points, Dixon had 21 and Kilpatrick added 12 in the conference tourney. Gilchrist led South Florida with 16 points, and Shaun Noriega scored 12.
TRENDS: Cincinnati clinched consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time since 2004-05 and 2005-06. The Bearcats also clinched back-to-back 10-win seasons in the Big East for the first time since joining the conference at the start of the 2005-06 season.
NOTES, QUOTEDixon's leadership showing through at the right time
--As the calendar edges toward March, the NCAA tournament bubble is becoming more or less crowded by teams getting hot at the right time, or not. In order to remain a topic in the postseason discussion, the Bearcats had to hold serve last week against two teams they'd be favored to beat at home -- Providence and Seton Hall.
They did just that, led by senior guard Dion Dixon, who appears determined to close his career with a second consecutive NCAA tournament berth.
"It is my last go-around, so I am trying to get there," Dixon said following a 62-57 win over Seton Hall on Feb. 18. "I am just trying to give it all on both ends of the floor for my team. We must win games."
Dixon, who scored 20 points in the win over the Pirates, has scored in double figures in five of the past six games and has 13 assists over that span. With other scorers like Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright on the floor, Dixon's leadership often extends beyond points.
Dixon and Yancy Gates are the Bearcats' only seniors, and that inexperience has been apparent at times this year, especially during a three-game losing streak in January.
"You have to go through things like that as a young team," said Dixon. "We have gotten better as the season as gone on, and we have come together down to the stretch."
If anything, the Bearcats have proven to be adaptable. During the suspensions following the brawl with Xavier, they evolved from a lumbering half-court team to a high-flying, 3-point shooting, guard-oriented squad. Now, Mick Cronin has pulled in the reigns just a bit, and the Bearcats have shown an ability to rely less on perimeter shooting.
Despite some recent defensive lapses in losses to Marquette and Rutgers, the Bearcats have maintained their aggressiveness on D, ranking fourth in the Big East in allowing 61.5 points per game through Feb. 19. And they'd outrebounded the previous four opponents 172-123.
"I think we are still in must-win situations," Dixon said. "Early in the season we had some tough losses that don't look good on our resume. We feel like we must win out."
--Senior G Dion Dixon's 20 points in the win over Seton Hall moved him into 28th place on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,167 points, passing Tom Thacker (1,152). It was Dixon's fourth 20-point game this season. He also had five rebounds, five assists and two blocks in the win over the Pirates.
--The Feb. 18 win gave the Bearcats nine Big East Conference victories for the second time since joining the league in 2005. Cincinnati went 11-7 in Big East play last year.
--Entering this week, Cincinnati led the Big East with six of its league wins being decided by five points or fewer or in overtime.
BY THE NUMBERS: 123 -- The Bearcats ranked sixth in the Big East Conference with 123 blocked shots through Feb. 19. Last season, Cincinnati had 129, which was the most during Mick Cronin's tenure as head coach.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "With what we have been through ... that is our first technical foul all year -- player or coach. You have officials trying to make the NCAA tournament, so they aren't afraid to blow the whistle." -- Coach Mick Cronin, on Yancy Gates being assessed a technical foul in the Feb. 18 win over Seton Hall.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL THIS WEEK'S GAMES: --at South Florida, Feb. 26 KEY MATCHUPS: The Bulls, who were 13-1 at home entering the week, are led by Augustus Gilchrist, who averages 10.6 points per game and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, who shoots 41.5 percent from 3-point range. USF, which allows just 58.6 points per game, provides the Bearcats with one of their stiffest challenges offensively.
FUTURES MARKET: Cashmere Wright continues to be the sparkplug for the Bearcats' offense, and they'll need him to continue this pace heading into March. The junior guard went 3-of-4 from 3-point range in Saturday's win over Seton Hall to help stave off a Pirates' rally. He had scored in double figures in eight of the past 10 games through Feb. 19. Perhaps more important, he had a 2.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the past 17 games with 74 assists and 32 turnovers.
--Junior G Cashmere Wright showcased his all-around talents in a 60-56 victory over No. 17 Louisville on Thursday. He not only did he dish out five assists from the point guard position, but he also knocked down six 3-pointers (in 13 attempts) to tie a career high. Wright finished with 22 points for his ninth double-digit total in the last 11 games. He has averaged 12.9 points a game in that span.
--Senior F Yancy Gates had 10 points and 10 rebounds against Louisville for his ninth double-double of the season. Gates has averaged 9.8 rebounds in the past five games.