Today I woke up just like any other day. Except today is not just any other day. Last night, UC, on the shoulders of Troy Caupain and the other upstart Bearcats, snuck a win by the Purdue Boilermakers.
With their backs against the wall, less than a minute left on the clock, their season dangling in the balance, the Bearcats fought. They scratched, clawed, scrambled, hustled, and (believe it or not) scored their way out of the deficit to overtake one of the tallest Big Ten teams without the services of Octavius Ellis. As far as March Madness games go, this one was a classic.
Previously I had written about the version of “ugly ball” that the Bearcats have become locally famous for. To be honest, there was more scoring last night than I expected. But you saw in that last minute the brash, aggressive, desperate version of ugly ball that has made this team intrepid.
Coming into the season, the Bearcats featured seven new players. The leading scorer returning averaged a mere seven points a game. To make matters worse, our fearless and indomitable coach, Mick Cronin, is medically precluded from providing any relief to these young guys. He cannot stalk the sidelines, cannot use the relational capital he’s developed to influence referees, and cannot draw up plays out of the timeout. Adversity? You bet. In some ways, last night’s comeback was no surprise. This team has been rallying since the start of the season.
Now the stage is set for UC to play the best basketball team in the land, they say. You have heard all of the hype. The experts have already weighed in. None of them thought the Bearcats would make it out of the first round. Against Kentucky? Ken Pom gives us a 10% chance of prevailing on Saturday. And why wouldn’t he? Vegas, too, considers UC a 17 point underdog. Why not?
Kentucky has yet to lose. Sure, they’ve had some scares, but they’ve always figured out a way to win. And they have everything in their favor.
The rich tradition.
The number one recruiting class every year.
Ten players that could start on any team in the nation.
They played in the national championship game last year.
Lots of seven footers.
The Harrison twins.
Blah. Blah. Blah.
The whole world thinks UC has no chance. In that respect UC joins a distinguished class of competitors that the whole world counted out. I remember when the world thought Daniel LaRusso stood no chance against the Cobra Kai Dojo in the All-Valley Karate Tournament. The world doubted whether Ivan Drago, with his punching equipment and medicine regimens, could be defeated. Likewise, the experts all thought tiny upstart Hickory couldn’t compete for the state title with South Bend. Last, I remember that most of the citizens in a small Missouri town doubted that Dalton, the new bouncer (aka “cooler”) at the Double Deuce, could face down Brad Wesley. Well, he did. And Hickory won the championship. Rocky defeated Drago. And Daniel won the All-Valley Karate Tournament.
Saturday at 2:45 PM, it’s Cincinnati against the world, featuring the “unbeatable” Wildcats and their Big Blue Nation loyalists. Everyone is counting out the Bearcats. I’m not.
By Brian Fox