January 01, 2016

Mick Cronin doesn't sound like a guy who had a very happy holiday season, but he left no doubt as to what his players can provide as a New Year's resolution.

Defense and toughness were the two words Cronin harped on after 22nd-ranked Cincinnati's latest loss, and the Bearcats will try to stop a two-game skid and start correcting their faults Saturday against Tulsa.

There wasn't much to pick apart in Cincinnati's first three defeats - two of which were by two points - considering they all came against teams currently among the nation's top 11.

But Tuesday's 77-70 loss to previously .500 Temple was enough to set Cronin off. The Owls became the first team to shoot 50 percent against the Bearcats (10-4, 0-1 AAC) since February, and the defensive disparity in Cincinnati's wins (35.2 percent, 57.0 points per game) versus its losses (45.4, 75.3) had him particularly fired up.

"Our problem is we're just not a good defensive team right now. We lack a lot of toughness," Cronin said. "We don't do anything that's hard. It's hard to win games against good solid teams when we have too many players on our team thinking everything is OK because we're ranked."

That was only the beginning for Cronin, who said the loss was "my fault" but wasn't done sending a message to his team.

"We've lacked talent when we were rebuilding the program. We've lacked height. We've never lacked toughness," he said. "Right now, they're a disgrace to every guy that's been in there bleeding to build that program. That's played out-manned, under-manned in a battle royale. Right now, they owe those guys an apology for the way they defend and the way they play."

Cronin apologized to Cincinnati's fans after the program's third home loss prior to January for the first time in eight years. He promised to rectify things, and it'll be interesting to see if he tries to do so with Shaq Thomas and Octavius Ellis as starters.

Those two came off the bench for the first time due to a series of poor practices, replaced by Jacob Evans III and Coreontae DeBerry. Evans and Berry had nine points in a combined 37 minutes while Thomas and Ellis totaled 20 in 54 off the bench.

''We just don't understand that being Cincinnati and being blessed to be in the Top 25 that we've got to be ready to play every game,'' said Troy Caupain, who led the Bearcats with a season-high 19 points. ''That's something we've been lacking, energy for all 40 minutes. It's held us back.''

Cincinnati likely won't have to worry about being ranked even if it beats Tulsa (8-5, 0-1), which has won both of its true road games and split four at neutral sites.

Like the Bearcats, though, the Golden Hurricane have lost three times at home after letting No. 17 SMU shoot 56.4 percent in Tuesday's 81-69 defeat. Still, coach Frank Haith was taking the long view after Tulsa's conference opener.

"It's a long, long, long season. ... We have another opportunity again this weekend against Cincinnati," Haith said. "We have 17 more of these to go. We just have to get better and keep grinding. There is no time to panic. Nobody across the country can feel that."

One thing Haith doesn't want to talk about anymore is his team's free-throw issues. Tulsa is shooting 66.9 percent from the line after going 11 of 22 against SMU, and Haith has vowed silence on the matter.

The Golden Hurricane went 4 of 13 from the stripe March 4 as Farad Cobb had 22 points in the Bearcats' 56-47 win.

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