Yancy Gates gets Cincinnati to semis

NEW YORK -- Yancy Gates knew what was coming. In a few hours, maybe less, the adrenaline would wear off, the ice wrapped around his knee would be discarded, and then there it would be, the memories of going one-on-one with Henry Sims for 50 minutes.

“Yeah, I’ll more than likely be a little stiff,” the Cincinnati senior said, smiling.

It will be the best pain Gates has felt.

Four years ago the Cincinnati-born player signed with his hometown team, dreaming of bringing the Bearcats back to national prominence.

Most people might have thought he did that a year ago, when Cincinnati earned its way back to the NCAA tournament.

Not Gates and not his coach. Here, at least the measure of a man and more the barometer for a team is not just becoming one of the final 68 invited to play.

It’s sticking around in New York.

Cincinnati is now on its longest March vacation in the Big Apple, beating Georgetown 72-70 in double overtime to advance to the Big East tournament semifinals for the first time in school history.

The Bearcats will play top-seeded Syracuse at 7 Friday night.

“Every team in the Big East, they don’t even think about the NCAA tournament when the Big East tournament [starts],” Gates said. “The Big East is so tough, so competitive. It’s just fun overall, and it’s a great experience. So every team comes with that mindset of trying to make it to the last game.”

There was, of course, a time when Gates thought his last game might have come a lot sooner. The central figure in the brawl against Xavier, he was held up to public flogging for his behavior and suspended six games, although plenty thought he deserved more.

Gates apologized in word immediately and in his actions since, stoically going about his business, trying to play the physical game of a big man without raising an eyebrow.

He has been this season as he has been for much of his career -- occasionally powerful and occasionally underwhelming.

“He’s been called upon to do a lot, too much really, in rebuilding our program," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “It was really unfair. He’s been through a lot. So for me, two things: I’m happy for him, but also as a coach, it’s great when you know you’ve got a horse, and you get him the ball and he’s delivering."

There were two horses in this game, Gates and Sims, two big men playing an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better game for 50 minutes. Gates finished with 23 points and eight rebounds, his yeoman’s efforts helping the Bearcats erase an 11-point deficit with nine minutes to play.

Sims ended up with 22 and 15, including a pretty drive to the bucket to force the second overtime.

“He not only can score, he’s like their point guard," Gates said of Sims.

Sims tried to send it to a third extra period, but his jumper at the top of the key missed to the left, sending the Hoyas home and the Bearcats on.

Only six conference schools have never played for, let alone won, a Big East title. Cincinnati would like to shrink the number.

“That would mean a lot, especially it being my senior year," Gates said. “For Coach, for rebuilding the program. What better way to rebuild the program than to win the Big East tournament championship?"