The Cincinnati Bearcats got what the Associated Press described as "the defining win of their season" Wednesday night. That might be a little bit hyperbolic -- and who's to say Cincinnati can't get another "defining win" before the Big East season finishes? -- but you can understand the enthusiasm at work.
After all, these Bearcats were on the ropes. They were losing must-win games. Their head coach was keeping his best player, forward Yancy Gates, on the bench for extended periods during crucial games. If this team wasn't fading down the stretch -- and watching their at-large tourney hopes fade with them -- it certainly knew how to play the part.
In other words, yes: big win. The Bearcats are now 20-6 with a winning record (7-6) in Big East play and another big-time top 50 RPI win to add to the ledger. As long as Cincy doesn't totally implode during a challenging five-game conference finish, it should be able to add two or three more wins and glide easily to the Big East's ninth or tenth at-large NCAA tournament bid.
In the meantime, coach Mick Cronin's chances of keeping his job -- if he were ever at risk of losing it in the first place -- are much, much better. That's good news for Cincinnati fans (the Bearcats have continued to improve under Cronin) and better news for people who enjoy comic-book references sprinkled into postgame coaches' news conferences. I happen to be one of these people. Just like his team, on Wednesday night, Cronin delivered:
Cronin, who spent two years as an assistant at Louisville under Rick Pitino, likened the Cardinals' ability to get steals off its press and knock down 3-pointers in a hurry to "Batman with his armor and Superman with his cape." "If you take away who they are, they're just Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne," Cronin said.
Well done, Mick. Well done indeed.
There were some other choice selections Wednesday night, ranging from "defiant" to "coachspeak" to "redemptive," depending on the quote. To wit:
"I told them, 'We're 19-6, we need to be proud of it, need to act like it,'" Cronin said. "We don't need to let anybody define us individually or as a group that's outside of our locker room." [...]
"We talk about hammer and the nail, we wanted to be the hammer tonight," Cronin said. [...]
Cronin said he was "sick for two days" after falling to St. John's, a loss in which Gates played just one minute in the second half while Cronin opted for the five players he thought "would help us win." [...]
"Yancy had a great game. The stat line doesn't do justice to how big an effect he had on the game," Cronin said. "He had zero turnovers against a team that tried to double-team him all night." [...]
"You worry about going to play musical chairs at the end and you're going to get left out," Cronin said. "You don't want to be that team."
In short, all appears well between Cronin and Gates. Cronin has recovered from his post-St. John's malaise, Cincinnati found a way to be the hammer again (and maybe the Joker or Lex Luthor, too, though that analogy remains indirect), and the Bearcats aren't likely to be the team left out of the musical chairs game that is the NCAA tournament selection process.
All in all, not a bad Wednesday night for the Bearcats, eh?