With the regular season coming to a close, the Cincinnati Bearcats had their sights set on sending their seniors off on a high note with a home win against twelfth ranked Houston. A loss at Central Florida on Thursday night took away the possibility of winning the American Conference outright, but regardless, taking a share of the regular season conference championship with a win was definitely an added bonus.
All of that build up, however, turned out to disappoint. After a pretty strong first half in which Houston only led for the for the first minute and the final second, the Bearcats found themselves down two at the break. They ended up retaking the lead, and after a thrilling sequence consisting of a Nysier Brooks block on one end and an acrobatic layup from Keith Williams on the other which put Cincinnati up 6, it seemed like the Bearcats might run away with it.
Houston Head Coach Kelvin Sampson then called a timeout, and from that point on, it was all about the Cougars. Following that timeout, Houston outscored Cincinnati 44-22 and ended up winning 85-69.
As a Cincinnati sports fan, I’ve come to expect disappointment, and for some reason, I didn’t see it coming on Sunday. It was definitely the biggest matchup Fifth Third had seen in years, and it’s not like the Cats were too far away from beating Houston on the road just one month before.
It was a tough loss, and the manner in which it happened was especially crushing, but by no means is this Cincinnati team dead. Houston is a phenomenal team. They’ve only lost two games all season, and both were against tournament teams. They also have a really good coach in Kelvin Sampson, who in all honesty, probably wouldn’t even be at Houston if it weren’t for NCAA rule violations at several programs. Houston also has Corey Davis Jr., who along with Memphis’ Jeremiah Martin and Cincinnati’s own Jarron Cumberland, was recently voted first team All-American Conference unanimously, and will most likely take home the AAC Player of the Year. Even at home, wins aren’t going to come easy against a team of Houston’s caliber.
I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. The Cats getting embarrassed on Senior Day was one of the worst possible outcomes. Luckily, the American Conference Tournament starts on Thursday, and UC got a great draw, as UCF and Memphis both landed on Houston’s side of the bracket after Temple knocked off the Knights on Saturday. Cincinnati will be playing the winner of SMU and Tulsa, both of which have given the Bearcats some trouble throughout the season, on Friday at 7 p.m. ET. If they can win that one, they’ll most likely be looking at a matchup against Temple for a third straight trip to the American Conference Championship game.
The great thing about Sunday’s loss was that it wasn’t the postseason. While it obviously wasn’t great, there are still two more tournaments to go, and if you somehow haven’t realized yet, this Bearcat team is tough. They’ve weathered the storm of some major roster turnover during the offseason, so two losses against ranked opponents doesn’t really scare me a whole lot. Strap in everybody, March is here.