SACRAMENTO >> Gary Clark was pretty good in high school. At least nobody was telling him any different.
He played at Clayton, N.C., outside Raleigh, and Wake Forest and N.C. State were on his trail.
Then the assistant coach from Cincinnati came to town.
“You’ve got a lot of talent,” Larry Davis told Clark. “But you don’t play hard enough. I can’t bring my head coach down here to offer you a scholarship if you don’t start playing a little harder.”
“I kind of shrugged, because I didn’t know what he meant,” Clark said Saturday. “I thought he was talking about getting more points and rebounds. So I did that and he came back and said I still wasn’t playing hard. I thought, OK, what is the guy talking about?”
Davis returned for a third look after Clark had committed himself to early cardio workouts and weightlifting and “all this crazy stuff.”
Davis saw enough to bring Coach Mick Cronin, and finally Clark showed he understood Cincinnati from A to Z, ardor to zeal.
“After that I had the first quadruple double in the history of North Carolina basketball,” said Clark, who had 22 points, 21 rebounds, 15 blocks and 10 assists against West Johnston.
“But by then I’d taken a lot of other schools off my list. They wanted me in case they didn’t sign somebody else. Cincinnati was the school that wanted me from the beginning.”
Cincinnati hasn’t been to a Final Four since 1992, when Bob Huggins coached Nick Van Exel. But this is its seventh consecutive NCAA tournament.
As other programs shift their shapes, Bearcat basketball is an unmistakable brand.
Grown men with grown-man biceps who jump into artillery nests to get loose balls, guys who chase rebounds so hard they don’t really care if they take your hand with them.
Tough and hard, like a pickup truck commercial. That is what confronts UCLA in an NCAA Round of 32 game tonight.
“The guys we get are high-level,” Davis said, “but they’re not the highest-level recruits. Jacob Evans came out of Baton Rouge while LSU was trying to recruit the top guys (LSU coach Johnny Jones was fired a couple of weeks ago). Troy Caupain scored 48 the first time we saw him, but a lot of people passed him by.
“Maybe we don’t get the top players but a lot of times we get guys who have guarded the best players. We’re after toughness, guys who compete.”
“You show up at Cincinnati and you think you know how to play defense,” Clark said, “but in the first few days you realize you can’t do it anywhere, not on the ball, not on the help side. At first I’d try to hide and take possessions off so I wouldn’t get in trouble.”Advertisement
Cincinnati gave up 60 points a game this year. Only one team, Marshall, scored more than 78. It had the 11th best defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.com, and ranked 327th, out of 351, in tempo.
That has been the prescription for handling UCLA. It hasn’t often worked, because the Bruins are a better walk-it-up team than people think.
But Cincinnati has talent to match its formula. Caupain is a 6-foot-4 senior, son of a New York cop, who has played against everyone and is obviously anticipating a close-up with Lonzo Ball.
“I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder,” Clark said.
The Bearcats will be looking up at T.J. Leaf and Thomas Welsh, but those big Bruins won’t have free clearance into their preferred spots.
Cincinnati also has more ball dexterity than usual. It ranks 32nd in offensive efficiency, and against Kansas Stateon Friday it hit its first eight shots.
“Live ball turnovers kill you,” Davis said. “You can’t defend them. You can’t get back against them.”
“We always keep our offense simple,” said guard Kevin Johnson. “We always say there’s regular turnovers and then there’s shooting turnovers. You take a quick shot, you give somebody a chance to run. That’s as bad as throwing the ball to the other team.”
Since Huggins came to Cincinnati in 1989-90, the Bearcats have won 27 or more games nine times. This year they are 30-5. Two years ago they were young and undersized but pushed hard against a Kentucky team that has seven players in today’s NBA. They lost 64-51 but made thousands of blue people nervous. Today Cincinnati trots out two senior starters, two juniors and a sophomore.
“Shots go in and then they don’t,” Johnson said. “But if you play hard you can overcome that. We call it Bearcat Tough.”
So is the love.
Source : http://www.dailynews.com/sports/20170318/cincinnati-brings-an-edge-against-ucla-basketball