GAME NOTES: Two of the top backcourts in the nation will clash again as the Connecticut Huskies visit Fifth Third Arena for a Big East Conference matchup against the Cincinnati Bearcats.
This will be the second bout of the season between these schools. UConn outlasted the Bearcats for a 73-66 overtime victory at the XL Center on Feb. 21, as Shabazz Napier scored 11 of his 27 points in the extra session to lead the Huskies' charge. Sean Kilpatrick tallied 18 points and seven boards for Cincy in the setback. UConn's win improved it to 8-3 all-time versus Cincinnati.
Kevin Ollie's Huskies are coming off a tough, 79-78 double-overtime loss to the No. 7 Georgetown Hoyas at home. The loss snapped UConn's two-game win streak and dropped it to a 19-8 overall record. Sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels posted 25 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in 49 minutes versus Georgetown, while the Huskies' talented backcourt of Napier (16 points, six assists), Omar Calhoun (13 points, seven rebounds) and Ryan Boatright (11 points, eight assists) all registered at least 46 minutes each.
The close loss to the red-hot Hoyas does not downgrade what UConn has done recently. The Huskies finished with more assists than turnovers and connected on at least 10 shots from beyond the arc for the third game in a row against Georgetown. Napier continued to make a strong case for himself for All-Big East accolades and has netted 23.7 points, 4.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game over the span of his last three outings. Boatright has been solid as well to contribute 15.0 points and 4.4 assists per game. The Huskies are the fifth most productive team in the Big East offensively with 71.3 ppg, but they are just 12th defensively with an allowed average of 65.8 ppg.
Once a member of the top-25, Cincinnati is now trying to keep itself in position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament after losing five of its last six games. The Bearcats followed their setback to UConn with a disappointing, 62-41 loss at Notre Dame three days later. Mick Cronin's star-studded backcourt of Cashmere Wright, Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker went a collective 8-of-27 from the field and while Wright was held scoreless, the other two combined to net just 18 points.
Despite the poor showing against the Fighting Irish, the Bearcats' array of guards have shown the ability to take over games on plenty of occasions this season. Kilpatrick is scoring 17.6 ppg on 40.8 percent shooting from the field. Wright's fruitless outing versus Notre Dame dropped his season averages to 12.7 points and 3.3 assists per tilt. Parker has chipped in 15 ppg with 53.6 percent efficiency from the floor over his past four games.
These teams have similar builds and are on par with one another in terms of talent. The homecourt edge swung things in the Huskies' favor in the first matchup, but the Bearcats seemed to take a step back after the setback. Cincinnati will need to find a way to extinguish the red-hot Napier or its losing streak will grow to four.