Overview: For the first 13 minutes of the Global Sports Classic finale, it looked as if a demure and mostly dispersed Thomas & Mack Center crowd wasn't going to get much in return for its decision to eschew the Vegas sports books. Cincinnati came out hot, poured in 3s from the perimeter, and ran up a 33-14 lead by the under-8-minutes timeout. But Oregon didn't go away. Through the rest of the of the first half and through the second, the Ducks clamped down on defense and slowly but surely clawed their way back from the dead -- taking their first lead, at 54-52, with 7:40 left in the game.
Turning point: Cincinnati desperately needed a bucket. Oregon had tightened its defense and worked its way back in the game, and the hot shooting that had opened up the early lead had abandoned the Bearcats. Oregon had just taken its first lead, thanks to three straight Arsalan Kazemi steals on high pick-and-roll defense.
That's when Titus Rubles made a jumper, then assisted Jermaine Sanders on an open 3. On the next possession, Rubles got to the free-throw line and knocked down two, then came back again and dropped another long 2-pointer. Suddenly, the Bearcats were back up by seven, 61-54, and had weathered the storm.
Why Cincinnati won: It made its 3s, and chased down its misses. The Bearcats' hot start put them in advantageous position early, and they finished 11-of-24 from beyond the arc. But when they went through that long drought in the middle of the game, the Bearcats survived because they frequently found offensive rebounds and the second possessions they grant. Cincinnati finished with a 45.4 offensive rebounding percentage.
Why Oregon lost: It started the game in a deep hole, and its offense was never good enough to catch up. Bottom line: When you trail 33-14 at the eight-minute mark of the first half, it's going to be hard to win that basketball game. And if you do come back, you have to be pretty great offensively to do so. The Ducks got to the free-throw line a lot -- 29 times, to be exact -- but they went 29.4 percent from 3 and 34.5 percent from the field overall. It was pretty ugly stuff.
Star(s) of the game: As mentioned above, Cincinnati guard Rubles scored eight of the Bearcats' 10 points during the decisive second-half stretch. Meanwhile, Cashmere Wright went 5-of-9 from beyond the arc -- including one deep rattler that more than sealed the game in the closing minutes -- and with the possible exception of Kazemi was pretty clearly the best player on the floor.
What it means for Cincinnati: The Bearcats have yet to knock off a truly elite opponent, but that's about the only negative thing you could say about their start to the season thus far. Cincinnati has handled its business, and looked good doing so. If this form keeps up, the Bearcats can push the best of the Big East for the title. They're looking every bit as solid as expected.
What it means for Oregon: If you're Dana Altman, you probably wish your team finished the final 10 minutes of Saturday night's game with a bit more oomph. And you probably wish you didn't fall behind by 19 in the first half. But you can't really walk away from this tournament with anything but positive impressions. Kazemi looks predictably good, Dominic Artis is already playing well, and -- oh by the way -- you got a resume win no one expected, over UNLV on its own home floor. Altman will have this team improving throughout the season, but they're already looking vastly improved over last year's milquetoast effort.
What’s next: Cincinnati has a week off before one of its best nonconference fixtures of the season, a home date against a solid (and just as physical/athletic) Alabama team. Oregon is essentially past the best opponents on its nonconference schedule. Coming up is UTSA, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Idaho State, Nebraska and a trip to UTEP. It would have been nice to notch another win over a ranked team, sure, but coming away from Vegas with that win over UNLV? That's a big-time victory.