(11) Cincinnati (24-4) at Connecticut (22-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 1, 12 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: XL Center (16,294) -- Hartford, Connecticut. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Cincinnati 17-1, UConn 13-3. Away Record: Cincinnati 6-2, UConn 6-3. Neutral Record: Cincinnati 1-1, UConn 3-0. Conference Record: Cincinnati 13-2, UConn 10-5. Series Record: Connecticut leads, 8-5.
GAME NOTES: The 11th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats hope to maintain their presence atop the American Athletic Conference standings, as they visit the Connecticut Huskies on Saturday afternoon.
Cincinnati, which is off to its best start in more than a decade, comes in sporting an impressive 24-4 overall record, which includes a 13-2 league ledger. The Bearcats are tied with Louisville for first place in the AAC, as they dropped a 58-57 decision to the Cardinals last Saturday. Following this clash, UC has just two games remaining -- vs. Memphis, and at Rutgers.
Connecticut posted a 61-56 win in its most recent outing at South Florida on Wednesday night, improving the team to 22-6 on the season and 10-5 in conference. The Huskies have won five of their last six games, and they will face Rutgers at home, and Louisville on the road to close out the regular season.
These two teams met on Cincinnati's home floor back on Feb. 6, with the Bearcats prevailing in a 63-58 final. Still, UConn owns an 8-5 edge in the all-time series.
Despite boasting the American's top scorer, Cincinnati is anything but an explosive offensive team. The Bearcats are producing just 69.2 ppg, and they are shooting 42.8 percent from the field, which includes a 33.1 percent showing from 3-point range. All three figures rank UC ninth in the 10-team conference. Where the Bearcats really earn their keep is at the defensive end, as foes are scoring just 57.4 ppg, which not only leads the league but also ranks the Bearcats fourth in the country. Sean Kilpatrick is netting 20.5 ppg, which is nearly three points higher than UConn's Shabazz Napier (17.8 ppg) in the race for the AAC scoring title. Justin Jackson (11.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 84 blocks) is Cincinnati's only other double-digit scorer, and he heads the team's rebounding effort while also ranking among the national leaders in blocked shots.
Kilpatrick, a finalist for the Oscar Robertson Award, poured in 28 points and grabbed six rebounds, but he was the only player to reach double digits in the Bearcats' recent loss to Louisville. Titus Rubles pulled down 14 boards for Cincinnati, which shot a dismal 28.6 percent from the field, but did go 20- of-25 at the free-throw line. The Cardinals were limited to 40 percent field goal efficiency, which included a lackluster 3-of-11 effort from beyond the arc, and they missed half of their 22 foul shots. The Bearcats, who failed to register a single point on the break, won the battle on the boards (44-36), but were outscored in the paint (34-14).
In addition to the scoring Napier brings to the table, the senior guard also does a fine job on the glass (5.9 rpg) while serving as the AAC's top assist man (5.5 apg). Ryan Boatright (12.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and DeAndre Daniels (12.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg) provide support for the Huskies, who are putting up 74.4 ppg in hitting 45.5 percent of their total shots, which encompasses their near-40 percent performance from 3-point range. Favorable, albeit slight, margins in both rebounding (+1.5) and turnovers (+1.8). along with a scoring defense that permits just 63.5 ppg, helps UConn come out on top more times than not.
In Connecticut's recent win at South Florida, Napier finished with 17 points, seven assists and four rebounds, while Boatright tacked on 14 points and Niels Giffey had 11. The Huskies, who got off to a slow start, made good on 42.9 percent of their total shots, which was elevated by the fact that 9-of-18 3- point tries found the bottom of the net. Conversely, the Bulls were credited with only three treys, and shot just 37.7 percent from the floor overall.
Both teams can play stingy defense, with the Bearcats actually using that aspect of their game almost exclusively to earn their share of wins. Stopping Kilpatrick is paramount for the Huskies, and while they aren't likely to shut him down completely, they should be able to do enough, at both ends of the floor, to come away victorious.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Connecticut 65, Cincinnati 63
03/01 10:15:05 ET