CINCINNATI, Ohio — Point guard Cashmere Wright had missed all but one of his shots, failing miserably from every part of the floor. In the final minute, he had to make one to complete Cincinnati's furious comeback.
He made layup, then another.
Wright's three-point play completed Cincinnati's comeback from a 12-point deficit in the final 6 minutes on Thursday night, and his driving layup with 8.8 seconds finished a 56-55 victory over stunned Oklahoma.
The Bearcats (10-3) went to a full-court press to make their comeback, then left the game in the hands of their cold-shooting point guard. He came through at an off-campus arena where Cincinnati has won its last 17 games.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin encouraged Wright to get through his 3-for-14 shooting night by being confident down the stretch.
"I told him, 'You can't hang your head. You're a leader of this team. The ball's going to be in your hands at the end of the game,'" Cronin said.
Wright took advantage of a defensive mix-up by the Sooners (9-2), who switched their coverage when they thought Wright was going to try to get a screen from a teammate. Instead, he drove past Romero Osby for an uncontested basket.
"My shot wasn't falling, but my teammates told me to keep being aggressive and it will be all right," said Wright, who finished with eight points. "No matter how much I missed, they told me not to worry about it."
Oklahoma had the final shot, but Steven Pledger missed a long 3 and the clock ran out as players chased the long rebound. Pledger, who averaged 19.8 points and led Division I guards with a 57.5 shooting percentage coming in, was just 4 of 12 for 11 points against the Bearcats.
Andrew Fitzgerald led the Sooners with a season-high 18 points. Osby added 12.
Dion Dixon had 18, and Sean Kilpatrick added 17 for Cincinnati, which shot only 27.9 percent from the field and went 7 of 30 from behind the arc.
Wright's three-point play gave Cincinnati only its second lead of the game, 54-53, with 39 seconds left. Osby made a layup that put Oklahoma back ahead with 20 seconds to go. Wright then took advantage of the Sooners' defensive lapse for the final basket.
"Their guys are quick," coach Lon Kruger said. "We've got to do a better job of staying in front of them."
Cincinnati hasn't lost at US Bank Arena since 1997. A crowd of 4,439 — the smallest for a Bearcats home game this season — reveled in the late comeback.
"It felt like we had 15,000 fans," Cronin said. "It was a great feeling, something I'd love to see — that kind of energy from our fans."
Cincinnati was playing its first challenging game since a 23-point loss at Xavier on Dec. 10, which ended with a brawl and eight players suspended in all. With starting forward Yancy Gates and center Cheikh Mbodj serving six-game suspensions, the Bearcats have reinvented themselves, going to a four-guard offense that worked well against overmatched opponents.
The Bearcats won handily against Wright State (6-8), Radford (1-11), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-9) and Chicago State (0-13), scoring 297 points in the last three games. Gates and Mbodj will serve out their suspensions in their Big East opener at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Against the Sooners, the fire-away approach fizzled until the final minutes. The Bearcats led for only 17 seconds in the first half, which ended with Oklahoma ahead 24-19. Cincinnati had as many field goals as turnovers — seven each — in the half.
"We got a little bit of a break in that they weren't shooting the ball as well as they have been," Kruger said.
Fitzgerald had six points during a 16-5 run that gave the Sooners a double-digit lead that vanished down the stretch. Oklahoma twice missed the front end in the bonus, fueling a 14-2 spurt by Cincinnati that made it come down to the final minute.
"If there's more than a minute, that's like eternity," Kilpatrick said. "Anything can happen in that minute."