Cincinnati had the ball with six seconds to go in regulation, deadlocked with a resilient Alabama Crimson Tide team. Head coach Mick Cronin drew up a simple play. Get the rock to senior guard Cashmere Wright and let the man do what he has to do.
Cashmere took the inbound pass just behind half court, turned and began dribbling up the left side with the clock ticking down. The Savannah, Ga., native sped past the arc, attempting to get a closer look. Just then, Cash spotted 7-footer Moussa Gueye blocking his path to the hoop. Cronin's floor general veered toward the baseline, and with under a second to go, jump stopped, went to the step-back jumper and released it over Gueye's outstretched arm.
The buzzer sounded with the ball in mid-flight...
Any way you slice it, this was a hard-fought game played at a high level on both ends of the floor between two teams that appeared to be mirror images. Both squads entered the Big East/SEC Challenge battle with 6-0 records. Both teams feature strong guard play, size up front, deep benches and intense, underrated head coaches.
Cincinnati (No. 17 AP, No. 16 USA Today) jumped out to a 17-4 edge, due in large part to stifling defense and deafening crowd noise. But led by sophomore Trevor Lacey, who would finish with game highs of 16 points and seven rebounds, the Tide went on a 12-2 run to get back in the game. UC stretched the lead back out to nine, but a last-second three by junior guard Trevor Releford cut the margin to six at intermission.
Alabama (6-1, 0-0 SEC) took it to the Bearcats in the second half, utilizing the high ball screen to perfection on offense while bottling up Cincinnati's leading scorer, Sean Kilpatrick.
With the game tied at 52 with a minute and a half to play, the teams twice traded baskets, setting up Alabama's final possession with 40 seconds to play. Releford drove down the left side of the lane with the shot clock running down and attempted a scoop shot along the baseline. Unfortunately for Releford, UC's Justin "Worm" Jackson was waiting in the wings. The junior from Cocoa Beach, Fla., swatted it away, setting up Cashmere Wright's fade away buzzer-beater.
For Cincinnati, now 7-0 and coming off two quality wins in the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas over Iowa State and Oregon, there appear to be four more tests remaining on the nonconference schedule—home vs. Arkansas-Little Rock on Dec. 6, at Marshall Dec. 15, neutral vs. Xavier Dec. 19 and then home vs. No. 25 New Mexico Dec. 27—before Mick Cronin's troops gear up for the bloodbaths awaiting in the Big East portion.
But make no mistake about it. Regardless of whether Alabama was officially ranked (they had the most votes of the unranked teams in the AP coming in), this will turn out to be a great win on the resume for Cincinnati.
Alabama features superb guards in Releford, Lacey and Rodney Cooper to go along with Devonte Pollard (6'8", 200 lbs, Porterville, MS), as talented a freshman as you'll find in the SEC. In addition, the Tide has plenty of size and skill up front with Gueye, 7'1" Carl Engstrom and 6'8" freshman wide body Nick Jacobs.
That team will be a chore for fellow SEC teams this season and has the look of a team capable of grabbing an NCAA Tournament seed somewhere in the 5-8 range.