Yancy Gates is Cincinnati’s biggest and most well-known player. Sean Kilpatrick is the Bearcats’ leading scorer. But if you had to identify one player who needs to play well in order for the Bearcats to advance in the NCAA Tournament, it’s point guard Cashmere Wright.
“When he plays well, we are at our best – I don’t think there’s any question about that,” head coach Mick Cronin told me. “My biggest challenge is to get him to realize that he has tremendous talent and that he truly can be a great player. He has to come in with that mentality every game. I don’t think he realizes how good he is at times.”
“We tell him that all the time,” said Yancy Gates. “We try to motivate him and pump him up and let him know how good that he is.”
Wright was outstanding in Cincinnati’s 65-59 victory over Texas, with 11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 turnover. Foul trouble limited the junior guard to 26 minutes of playing time, and the Bearcats outscored the Longhorns by 13 points while he was in the game. Cashmere will need to avoid foul trouble in Sunday’s game against Florida State.
“In the Big East, you can grab people while they’re running and when they try to get away, you can hold them,” said Wright. “There’s not too much of that right now. You actually have to stay away from them because every foul is a foul.”
“Dion Dixon can play the point for us, but that’s what Cashmere Wright is – he is a point guard,” said assistant coach Larry Davis. “When he plays well, we are going to play well. It’s no knock against Dion, but Cash understands that position the best.”
Coach Davis has known Wright for nearly 10 years and played a key role in getting the Georgia native to sign with Cincinnati in 2008.
“I actually saw him when he was a freshman in high school,” Davis told me. “I was the head coach at Furman University and I was down there looking at another kid and the principal of the school said, ‘We have a freshman here who is really good.’ Cash was a skinny, long-armed, wide-eyed little guy. You can ask him – the first recruiting letter he ever got was from me at Furman.”
Wright was part of the same recruiting class as Gates and Dion Dixon but had to sit out his freshman year after tearing his ACL in a preseason workout. Even though Cashmere has another year of eligibility to look forward to, he shares a bond with the seniors who are trying to extend their college careers.
“I posted a thing on Twitter today about the original ’08 class,” said Wright. “When we came here, our goal together was to go as far as we can go. We feel like this isn’t as far as we can go. We came here with a goal of at least getting to the Final Four and that’s what we are trying to achieve right now. It ain’t about next year. It’s about the original ’08 class and what we are trying to do for this team.”
Cincinnati’s destiny could depend on Wright’s intensity.
“He always plays hard – it’s not that – it’s more about being mentally intense,” said Coach Davis. “When he does that, he is a very good player. A very good player.”
“The thing about Cash is, when he is intense, he stays focused and makes the right plays,” said Gates. “Sometimes he kind of fades away and makes plays where you think, ‘What’s he doing?’ When Cash is intense, he is just as good as anybody.”
I talked to Wright on Saturday about the third-round matchup against Florida State. Here’s a link to the video
If you haven’t seen Florida State play this year, the Seminoles are HUGE.
Their five starters are 6’5”, 6’5”, 6’5”, 6’10”, and 6’11”, and two of their top four subs are 6’8” and 7’0”.
That’s a gigantic reason (no pun intended) why Florida State ranked 5th in the country in field goal percentage defense this year after leading the nation in each of the previous two seasons.
“It’s really hard to get a basket in the paint,” said Coach Cronin. “That’s what Florida State is great at – they don’t give you anything easy. Fundamentally, they are as good as you are going to see. And it’s every year with them – they are in the Top 5 or 10 every year with their field goal percentage defense. They can suffocate you. We have to understand that when we are struggling to score, it is time to get fouled…it’s time to get a lay-up…it’s time to get Yancy the ball down low or beat our man off the dribble – it’s not time to settle for another jump shot.
“Hopefully our quickness can be an advantage for us. We have to spread them out and try to make them play individual defense and not team defense. They are a great team defensive team and we have to try to get some guys in some space where we can beat Florida State off the dribble. But then we have to make the right pass, because when we did that against Louisville, we took bad shots because we didn’t make the right pass. Our offense is going to be put to the test.”
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