As the offseason draws to a close so to does the Bearcats Nation countdown of the top 10 moments from the 2011/12 football and basketball season. The very top spot in this countdown belongs to a player who has made a name for himself in a remarkably short time with the Bearcats. Coming out of high school he was a bit of an under-the-radar prospect who Mick Cronin convinced to sign with UC. As a freshman he was redshirted in favor of Lance Stephenson and he took it in stride seeing it as an opportunity to advance beyond his peers in the weight room.
I’m of course speaking of Sean Kilpatrick who as just a Sophomore has become one of the most beloved Bearcats in the history of Cincinnati basketball. It’s remarkable, really, how quickly his rise to fame has been. During his redshirt year, coaches and players raved about his work ethic and heart. That certainly built up the hype for the young man from New York. By the time he was allowed to play the Cincinnati fanbase already knew just about everything about him except how he would look on Jucker Court. Their patience was rewarded in his first live game with the Bearcats in which he lead the way with 21 points dropping three from beyond the arc and going 6 – 11 from the field.
All this coming off the bench.
This trend would continue for Kilpatrick who embraced the opportunity to play behind a starting line-up chock full of seniors. He gained a reputation of being a deadly scorer both from three-point land and slashing to the basket. By the end of the season Kilpatrick finished 3rd on the team in points per game and was in the running for the Big East Sixth Man of the Year award. But his sophomore campaign is when he ascended from fan favorite to star.
With a good portion of the roster gone to graduation, Kilpatrick started for the first time with Cincinnati. Obviously this made sense considering the kind of offensive threat he was. And during out of conference play the sophomore continued to piled up numbers proving that he was even more dangerous with more playing time (go figure). While against lesser competition, Kilpatrick still didn’t take his foot off the pedal scoring 22 against Georgia, 20 against Wright State, and 21 against Chicago State.
But when the opponents became remarkably more difficult in conference play Kilpatrick continued to put up superstar numbers; 19 against Pitt, 21 against St. John’s, and 27 against Georgetown. Clearly with the one they call Killa the Bearcats were going to be a force to be reckoned with once again in the Big East. But Cincinnati had yet to face their most difficult opponent in the most difficult venue of the season sans Xavier and the Cintas Center. Despite roadies there and at Georgetown, the UConn Huskies were, at the time, one of the most difficult opponents on UC’s schedule.
Sure it’s never easy facing a Jim Calhoun-coached squad even with Kemba Walker gone to graduation. But the Huskies still boasted prolific scorers Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb along with gargantuan freshman center Andre Drummond. Not only was the lineup daunting but Cincinnati was walking into a hornets nest in the Gampel Pavilion. While UConn plays most of their games in the spacious XL Center they do play a handful of games each season in the Pavilion just to terrorize opponents. It’s truly a raucous environment that the Bearcats certainly experienced near the end of the game last season.
Even though UC lead for a majority of the time, they should have known that any kind of lead is never safe with the kind of scorers on the Huskies’ roster. Despite solid defense and clutch scoring, the Bearcats were only up 6 with just over a minute to play. At that moment, Shabazz Napier hit two of the most clutch shots I have ever seen in a college basketball game. Within a span of about a minute, the UConn guard nailed a three and, after an exchange of free throws, nailed another three to tie the game at 67 with 10 seconds to play.
When Napier made that shot the sold-out crowd jumped to their feet and nearly tore the roof off the arena with their chants. And with the clock running down, Mick Cronin didn’t call a timeout. I mean why would he? Kilpatrick was white hot in the game and a timeout would have allowed Jim Calhoun to set up his defense. The risk-reward of letting the team play and keeping the ball in his best shooter’s hands was heavily in favor of the Bearcats.
And it paid off.
With three seconds remaining Sean Kilpatrick hammered a nail through the heart of the thousands of fans in the Pavilion hoping the Huskies would complete the comeback. Take a look at the full sequence:
Lesser men would have perhaps missed the shot or turned the ball over. But not Kilpatrick. With the game on the line he rose to the occasion and delivered. Because that’s what stars do; shine the brightest in the biggest moments. After this, Sean Kilpatrick cemented himself as a superstar in the annals if UC basketball history. Forever from that moment onward Killa was a made man in Clifton but also got noticed on a national stage. Rumors immediately started swirling that he would leave Cincinnati early for the NBA. But of course #23 squashed those rumors as quickly as they emerged. That won’t stop him from garnering the attention of NBA Scouts and getting listed on preseason award lists. And neither is a bad thing for Kilpatrick or Cincinnati.
What that shot also did was raise the profile of UC’s basketball program as a whole. Mick Cronin has done most of the legwork rebuilding Bearcat basketball but they never got much attention before that night. Taking down the 11th-ranked team in the country turns heads. More and more writers, analysts, and especially recruits are getting in Cincinnati’s corner recognizing that UC basketball was, in fact, “back”. It’s a great thing to see and can be partially attributed to this incredible Sean Kilpatrick shot.
Fittingly the best moment of the 2011-12 football and basketball season belongs to one of the best players to ever walk through the doors at 5/3rd Arena. Through this process we were able to relive game-winning touchdowns, electric dunks, and dominating performances from UC athletes. But Kilpatrick’s play was a notch above the rest. One thing you probably noticed in this countdown is the sheer number of returning players who stood out. Sure seniors like Collaros, Pead, and Dixon are gone but guys like Kilpatrick, Chisum, Stewart, and Frey are returning to keep the ball rolling in these programs. It’s a changing of the guards, yes, but playmakers like these will ensure that success the football and basketball programs experienced last year were not just a fluke.
God I can’t wait until the next seasons begin.