#3: TITUS RUBLES PUT BACK TO SINK PITT
In early December the Cincinnati Bearcats were in a rut. Actually that’s probably putting it lightly. UC’s season was very, very near tumbling downhill in remarkable fashion. The problem was the defense, that heralded defense that Cincinnati could lean upon night in and night out, had become a giant sieve seemingly overnight. They had surrendered 63 points to the New Mexico Lobos by getting dominated inside then allowed Xaver to shoot nearly 70% from three en route to a 64-47 beat down.
Things were looking ugly for the Bearcats late in conference play.
But after their games with New Mexico and Xavier, Cincinnati didn’t have the luxury of taking a break to regroup. They faced an undefeated Pitt Panthers team at Madison Square Gardens in the Jimmy V Classic. And the Bearcats certainly weren’t going to win this one in a shootout. In true Cincinnati fashion they won in a rock fight.
Like many UC games last season they didn’t build much of a lead on the Panthers while at the same time preventing Pitt from gaining momentum themselves. Neither team boasted more than a five point advantage and they were typically short lived. In general both UC and Pitt has trouble scoring all game long. In fact, the Bearcats and Panthers combined for more points when the football teams in the fabled 2009 pseudo-Big East Championship than they did this night.
So it was a defensive struggle (or offensive struggle depending on how look at it) to put this game nicely.
As the game neared its final minutes it became agonizingly obvious that each possession could determine the outcome of the game. And it nearly did when Sean Kilpatrick turned the ball over with Cincinnati up by a point with 1:18 to go. The Panthers turned that into a quick bucket to go up a point themselves. UC had another opportunity a possession later but they blew that one as well. It looked like another heartbreaking loss was staring the Bearcats right in the face. If not for a couple of missed Lamar Patterson free throws, that is.
The Panthers star player effectively breathed new life into Cincinnati and UC took advantage this time.
On their next possession the Bearcats put the ball into their own star Sean Kilpatrick’s hands. He drove to his right and put up a layup that hovered near the rim but wouldn’t fall. Thankfully Titus Rubles, Cincinnati’s rebounding machine, was Johnny on the spot that night. He snagged the board and without hesitation drained an easy 2 ft shot with six seconds left. It sent UC’s bench into a frenzy.
The importance of this seemingly basic shot can’t be overemphasized.
Titus Rubles’ play took down the Panthers. Even though Cincinnati and Pitt are now in separate conferences, there’s still very much the same animosity towards our Ohio River counterparts as when both teams were in the Big East. Beating the Panthers always causes good feelings all around, especially when it’s done after a grueling, nail-biter of a game and even more so when it knocks the them out of the ranks of the unbeaten.
But perhaps most importantly was that Rubles’ put back sparked a 15 game winning streak that jolted Cincinnati to 7th in the rankings, tying their highest mark ever during the Mick Cronin era. It knocked the Bearcats out of their funk and restored their focus on defense, despite how shaky they were on the opposite side of the ball. I can’t imagine how this team would have fared or the fanbase reacted (suicidally) had they lost this game.