Final Score: Cincinnati 77, Oregon 66
Twitter-compatible recap: Hot-shooting Cincy jumps out to 19-point lead. Ducks ride stingy D and Kazemi-Emory to mount comeback. Titus Rubles second half game-changer
Dealing early blows. When the Bearcats are going well, they’re delivering knockout punches early in the game. It’s a tried and true formula that earned Cincy a spot in the Big East tournament championship game last year (revisit the semifinal win over Syracuse) as well as a Sweet 16 appearance in the Big Dance (see the second round win over Texas). The Bearcats have executed the system to a T in the early stages of this season, jumping out to early leads and never looking back…until Saturday. After jumping out to a 33-14 lead midway through the first half on the power of seven 3-point shots (four out of the hands of Cashmere Wright), Oregon’s defense stiffened up and the Ducks came waddling back. The luxury of building large, early leads: When an opposing team makes a late charge, as Oregon did, it usually runs out of gas before it can snag a lead and/or pull away.
Unsung hero. Titus Rubles. The junior college transfer has been impressive in a reserve role for Mick Cronin, and Saturday was his best performance to date. Rubles had a hand in four straight scoring possessions that spun Oregon’s first lead of the game—54-52 with less than eight minutes to play—into a seven-point Cincinnati lead. He buried a jumper to even up the score, then set up Jermaine Sanders for a go-ahead trey on the next trip down the floor after an offensive rebound. Rubles sunk two free throws on the following possession to extend the Bearcats lead to five and capped off the run with another jumper to give his team some breathing room. Cincy needs a player like Rubles who has the versatility to play any one of three positions. The school also needed his clutch play to survive the pesky Ducks.
Sean Kilpatrick. He hit all four of his shots in the game’s first 12 minutes, then vanished over the final 28. The star junior guard doesn’t normally go through sustained droughts like he did in the Global Sports Classic finale, but in the rare event he does again, Cincinnati has proven the team can compensate for his absence.
Quality wins. Cincinnati doesn’t have any standout wins on its current résumé, and with Xavier mired in a transition year, the only remaining opportunity on the schedule for a signature win comes in late December (the team’s final non-conference game) against New Mexico. But the Bearcats are beginning to assemble some quality wins which could look better in March than they do right now. Iowa State and Oregon don’t jump off the page. Neither does Cincy’s next opponent—Alabama—next Saturday. But with wins over ISU and an up-and-coming Oregon team, along with the opportunity to sow up wins over prospective NCAA tournament teams like the Lobos and Crimson Tide, Cincy’s non-conference résumé should look more appealing in a few months than it does presently.
Oregon still feeling good. That the Ducks were able to hang with a Top 20 caliber team on a night when E.J. Singler couldn’t find his shooting touch and Tony Woods was glued to the bench with foul trouble (he only logged seven minutes) bodes well for the team’s future. Oregon had already overachieved in the tournament before it even took the floor for the championship game, having shocked No. 18 UNLV in a virtual road game the night before. To battle back from down 19 and hold a lead late in the second half against a strong Cincinnati team is proof that the Ducks will be a major player in the Pac-12 this year.
Kazemi and Emory building foundation inside. Damyean Dotson and E.J. Singler are taking care of the scoring load on the wing. Now the frontcourt—a major weakness of recent Ducks teams—is slowly but steadily beginning to pull its oar too. Senior forward Carlos Emory and Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi have done a solid job holding down the fort inside. Tony Woods has been unreliable from a game-to-game basis because of foul trouble, but if the senior pivot can ever stay on the floor, the Ducks will have formidable frontcourt rotation by the time Pac-12 play rolls around. One thing is clear: Oregon will be no pushover on the boards like it was last season.