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ORLANDO, Fla. - The Cincinnati Bearcats may have lost a bid to the NCAA Tournament with their heartbreaking four-overtime loss to UConn in their conference tournament opener Friday afternoon.
But that would be a shame after the amazing back-and-forth prizefight the two teams staged, how close UC came to winning it and the clock fiasco that lost it.
With both teams fighting for their NCAA lives, it was UConn who got in the last punch, rallying for a 104-97 victory on a miracle 60-foot shot and a mind-boggling OT performance by freshman guard Jalen Adams, who saved UConn from losing three times.
It looked like UC was going to win for sure at the end of the third OT, when Kevin Johnson hit a 3 with eight-tenths of a second left for a 75-72 lead. But Adams caught the inbounds pass, took two steps and two-handed a buzzer beater that bounced off the backboard and went in to send the game into another overtime.
Video clearly showed the clock didn't start until Adams took two steps after catching the inbounds pass, but the no-call stood.
Adams then scored eight points in the fourth OT - including 4-for-4 free throws in the final 33 seconds to seal the win.
UC's Troy Caupain scored a career-high 37 points, including the tying free throws at the end of regulation. He also hit a jumper with 15 seconds left in the second OT to give UC a 75-73 lead, but Adams made a layup with five seconds left to tie it.
Afterward, an angry UC coach Mick Cronin at first refused to take a question about UC's chances to make the NCAA Tournament.
"Not at this moment, no," he said. But he quickly changed his mind.
"I don't know why anybody would even ask us the question based on what we've accomplished this year versus the rest of the field. But I understand our conference doesn't get as much respect by the people on TV a lot," Cronin said.
The loss had to be especially sickening for Cronin because the Bearcats (22-10) led by 13 with 2:06 to go in the first half and by nine at halftime. UConn outscored them 38-18 during a long stretch of clutch UConn shooting and bad UC defense.
"It wasn't our best defensive effort," Cronin said. "They scored 44 points in the last 20 minutes before overtime. That's not who we are."
UC's biggest defensive breakdown came in the last second of the third OT, when they were still celebrating Johnson's 3 and nobody checked Adams or defensed the inbounds pass on the baseline.
Caupain carried the load on offense - "Troy played great," Cronin said - but he might have tried to do too much. He hit 11 of 30 shots (36.7%) and missed six straight in the first OT.
UC's Farad Cobb hit some big 3s in the second half to get the Bearcats back in the game. He finished with 14 points. Octavius Ellis had 13 and Gary Clark added 12.
Daniel Hamilton had 32 to lead UConn. Adams had 22 after coming off the bench.
When UConn went up 60-53 with 4:30 left in the second half, UC looked beat. But Cobb hit his fourth 3-pointer from the corner to cut UConn's lead to 62-60 with two minutes to go, and Caupain made free throws with seven seconds left to force the overtime.
Caupain was asked what his takeaway from game was and he invoked the immortal Yogi Berra.
"The game's never over until it's over. Until one team wins," Caupin said. "But we thought the game was over too early and he hit a shot that put it into another overtime, which let us know that the game wasn't over and we had to fight another round, another battle. I wouldn't say that we gave up. We fought to the finish."
Now comes the hard part - bracket watching.
Both UC and UConn are on the bubble when it comes to an NCAA berth, according to the bracketologists.
There had been speculation that the UC-UConn winner was in and the loser was out, that the NCAA Selection Committee would take one but not both. Friday's epic four overtimes might change that. But if that's what it comes down to, UC could be in trouble.
UConn (22-10) clearly boosted its NCAA resume after Friday's game, jumping from 59th to 45th in the NCAA RPI. On the other hand, UC fell from 40th to 47th. The teams now have identical records, and the Bearcats' two regular-season wins over UConn probably don't mean so much.
And now, UConn gets to play top-seeded Temple Saturday, and a win would nail down the Huskies' spot in the bracket. If UC fans give a hoot, they will root for the Owls.
Meanwhile, it will be a long for 48 hours for Cronin and his team until the expanded, two-hour NCAA Selection Show at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
Last Sunday, Cronin said he thought the Bearcats should have locked up an NCAA berth after beating No. 24 SMU.
"We play in a league with five teams that are tournament teams," Cronin said then. " ... How we can be in a league with that many good teams, be 22-9, and not get in, would be mind-boggling to me.”
If UC doesn't get in, it will get a NIT bid, but that's never much of a consolation prize, especially after making five straight trips to the NCAAs like the Bearcats have.
No, after Friday's disputed defeat, that wouldn't be any consolation at all.