21st-ranked Bearcats open season against visiting Hornets

Nov 13, 2011 - 3:50 PM Cincinnati, OH (Sports Network) - The 21st-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats are set to open the 2011-12 season tonight, as they entertain the Alabama State Hornets this evening at Fifth Third Arena.

Alabama State began its season on Friday with a 67-49 loss to Marshall. Members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the Hornets were never really fully healthy last year, but still managed to win 11 games in league action, so it is evident there is talent on the roster. Lewis Jackson is in his seventh season as head coach of the program, and he was a star player for Alabama State as well.

The Bearcats were nearly perfect in non-conference play last season, streaking out to a 15-0 mark heading into the second week of January, but that's when the specter of playing in the Big East caught up with the team and slowly the cracks began to show. Still, Mick Cronin pushed his crew to a 26-9 record overall and 11 wins in 18 tries versus the rest of the league, good enough to earn UC a trip to the Big Dance for the first time since 1995. The Bearcats won't sneak up on any opponent this season, as there is a wealth of returning talent in place.

This game marks the first-ever meeting between Cincinnati and Alabama State on the hardwood.

Taking a look at the final stats from Friday's matchup with Marshall, it is clear why Alabama State fell short. The Hornets shot just 39.1 percent from the floor and a brutal 33.3 percent from the foul line in the first half en route to a 10-poimt deficit at intermission. Over the final 20 minutes nothing seemed to change, as Alabama State made good on just 34.8 percent of its field goal attempts and 7-of-16 foul shots. The fact that the Hornets finished the game with a mere seven assists against 22 turnovers was highly disappointing, and it certainly didn't help matters that they were outrebounded by a 40-27 margin.

Senior forward Yancy Gates is the go-to guy for Cincinnati, and he brings tremendous toughness to the court. Gates led the team in scoring last season with 11.9 ppg and was also first on the glass with close to seven rebounds per contest, not to mention recording a team-best 43 blocked shots. He is a solid shooter close to the rim, hitting his field goals at a 51.1 percent clip, but his accuracy at the free-throw line is a much different story (.579) and that's something the 'Cats need to correct before it becomes an even bigger issue. Senior guard Dion Dixon (11.6 ppg) brings leadership to the backcourt and even though he's not the most accurate shooter from the floor (.415), he was still allowed to take just enough shots from three-point range to lead the group with 48 triples. Cashmere Wright (8.9 ppg) is the right man for the job when it comes to distributing the ball, his 138 assists last year giving him a nearly 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

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