- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spend a few minutes in the Cincinnati Bearcats’ locker room and you can easily forget their 48-point loss in the Big East tournament and easily remember that this team won its first 15 games this season.

That was the team that showed up at Verizon Center on Thursday night, as sixth-seeded Cincinnati rolled over 11th-seeded Missouri 78-63 to set up a date with conference rival UConn on Saturday.

“It’s inevitable. That’s what our team needed in order to come out and be successful tonight,” said Sean Kilpatrick, who scored 10 off the bench. “Part of it’s just the atmosphere of being part of this tournament – you’re gonna be loose and play with excitement.”

On the court, it was a product of balance like it usually is for Cincinnati, which got scoring from nine players and had four in double figures, led by Yancy Gates with 18.

“We just share the ball – we don’t get down on ourselves, we just try to play as a team,” senior guard Larry Davis said.

But off the court is where the Bearcats seem to have everything figured out. During their open locker room time Wednesday, players clowned around with reporters and cameramen – typifying a team that isn’t feeling any kind of pressure.

Players said it’s like that all the time, thanks in large part to Davis, whom teammates call “Crazy Larry” for his antics.

“When you wanna laugh and you wanna see somebody act stupid, that’s the person. He’s hyper around everyone,” Kilpatrick said. “With this being his senior year, he’s just looking to go out and have fun.”

The Bearcats looked like they were having fun Thursday night in advancing to the next round of the NCAA tournament. And while Missouri’s “40 minutes of hell” pressure can cause problems, the real challenge for Cincinnati comes Saturday night at 9:40 when it faces third-seeded Connecticut, which hammered No. 14 seed Bucknell 81-52 earlier in the evening.

UConn rides a six-game winning streak into Saturday’s matchup and despite concerns about fatigue has shown no signs of slowing down.

“We love this game of basketball. This is the biggest stage, the biggest tournament in the word on the collegiate level, and fatigue’s not close to being a factor for us,” said UConn’s Kemba Walker, who scored 18 points and added 12 assists in the rout. “We just want to win basketball games and just play ball.”

Saturday night will provide a Big East showcase at Verizon Center, as three of the four teams left in the D.C. part of the draw come from the elite conference. No. 1 seeded Pittsburgh, which beat UNC-Asheville 74-51 Thursday afternoon, will face Butler at 7:10 p.m.

As for Cincinnati, don’t expect the Bearcats to start feeling the pressure all of a sudden, because they don’t seem ready to stop having fun.

“They love their seniors in that room. It gives me an added edge as a coach,” Mick Cronin said. “I got guys in there fighting to keep our season alive.

Cronin also pointed out that Davis is a native of the city that’s hosting the Final Four.

“We also got a guy from Houston, so they gotta win three more to get to Houston,” he said.

And Cronin’s Bearcats are at least acting like a team that thinks it can get there.

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