WASHINGTON (AP) — Cincinnati wasn’t about to play Missouri’s game.
Try to run on the Bearcats? Not this time. Their defense just kept getting in the way.
One of the best defenses in the country held firm Thursday night in its opening game of the NCAA tournament. Sixth-seeded Cincinnati took the lead for good midway through the first half and held No. 11 seed Missouri to 38 percent shooting in a 78-63 victory.
Big man Yancy Gates had 18 points, including a pair of 3-pointers that doubled his total on the season, and 11 rebounds, powering the Bearcats (26-8) into a rematch with Connecticut — a rare early round pairing of Big East teams necessitated by the conference’s record 11 bids to this year’s tournament.
Dion Dixon added 16 points, and Cashmere Wright had 11 points and seven assists for Cincinnati, which shot 62 percent in the second half and 54 percent for the game.
The evening marked a successful start to Cincinnati’s return to the NCAAs after years of slow, steady rebuilding under coach Mick Cronin, who took over one season after Bob Huggins’ messy departure in 2005. The Bearcats last won an NCAA tournament game exactly six years ago to the date — 76-64 decision against Iowa that was Huggins’ last victory at the school.
The game pitted a team that allowed a Big East-low 59.2 points per game against the “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball,” as presented by Missouri coach Mike Anderson. The Tigers had the experience, having won their opening game in the tournament each of the last two years, while the only Cincinnati player with NCAA experience was transfer Ibrahima Thomas.
But a Missouri team that averages 9.8 steals a game (second in the nation) had only two in the first half and seven for the game. On offense, the Tigers found themselves having to use more of the shot clock that they’d prefer, and they went nearly the last 7 1/2 minutes of the first half and the first 3 1/2 of the second — some 11 minutes total — without scoring a field goal. They finished well below their average of 81.4 points per game.
Ricardo Ratliffe scored 13 points for the Tigers (23-11), who shot just 29 percent in the first half and trailed 39-28 at the break.
Missouri took a 9-2 lead, then ground to a halt. Cincinnati countered with a balanced attack and plenty of and-1s to set up potential three-point plays — including three by three different players in a one-minute span late in the first half.
The Tigers didn’t get a single point from their reserves in the first half, but Phil Pressley led a one-man rally with three baskets and one assist to cut the deficit to six midway through the second half.
But Gates began to take over from there. His inside bucket pushed the lead to 12 with 5:03 to go, and his fourth 3-pointer of the season made it 70-55 on the next possession.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)