Cincinnati Gets Tested, Escapes With Win

The Bearcats know that the targets are now on their backs being ranked 7th in the country. UC will get each remaining team's best punch to knock them off their range and end their winning streak.

So far, the Bearcats know what has been coming to them...and they have passed every test thus far....15 tests to be exact. The most recent? A 63-58 victory over the 22nd ranked UConn Huskies, and this win was anything but easy being down by as many as 10 and a five-point halftime deficit. With the production of guard Sean Kilpatrick, who recorded a double-double (26 points and 12 rebounds) and forward Justin Jackson who notched 15 points of his own along with 2 monster blocks, Cincinnati rallied around their senior leaders and showed the nation just how tough the Bearcats can be against elite competition.

"This team is proof of the fight within them," said Coach Mick Cronin. "These guys also have a level-headed ego....especially with these seniors, all they care about is winning. Only stat that matters to them is the W. And once you have those type of guys in your locker room, you have a great team on your hands."

The Cincinnati Bearcats (22-2 overall; 11-0 American) faced a tough Connecticut Huskies (17-5 overall; 5-4 American) team with a lethal frontcourt attack with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and a gritty backcourt with Amida Brimah as the anchor.

With 2:18 remaining in the first half, the Huskies were on a 5-0 run and capped it off with a three-point shot from Niels Giffey to put UConn ahead 31-21, UC's largest deficit of the game. But less than a minute later Ge'Lawn Guyn answered with his own three-pointer and later a layup from Justin Jackson and the Bearcats were down 31-26 at halftime. Kilpatrick and Jackson had 9 and 8 points respectively. But with the trio of Napier, Giffey and Boatright, the momentum was clearly in the Huskies' favor.

Then came the second half.

The Bearcats knew that the Huskies were not going to slow down, nor back down. So Cincinnati did what they have been doing all season: they stepped up. And so did the Huskies, sinking four of their first six shots in the second half to hold the lead. Omar Calhoun's baseline jumper put the Huskies ahead 42-34.

But the Bearcats were not going to lie down without a fight. Jackson led Cincy on a 13-4 run. But perhaps the biggest play during that run with 9:18 remaining was Jackson's vicious block on Lasan Kromah which resulted in a scrum down court with Kilpatrick coming up with the ball and slamming it home to pull UC within three. Jackson on the next possession slammed a putback off a miss to pull within one at 46-45. After a block from Guyn on the next possession, Jackson sank a tough layup to give UC it's first lead since the opening five minutes of the game.

The Huskies then sank two free throws to regain the lead 48-47 with less than six minutes left to play in the game. On UC's next possession, Kilpatrick hit a crucial three-point shot to give Cincinnati the 50-48 lead, as the crowd began to chant "MVP" for #23. When asked about the MVP chants, Kilpatrick simply stated, "Honestly, I'm not the MVP. Our whole team should be MVP."

The Huskies pulled it to within one point 59-58 with 21 seconds remaining via Shabazz Napier's three-pointer. But that was as close as the Huskies would get as Kilpatrick and Jermaine Sanders drained crucial free throws down the stretch as UC came away with the five-point victory in front of a frenzied season-high crowd of 12,432 at Fifth Third Arena. Titus Rubles talked how much of a factor the crowd was in Fifth Third, "That's all we have been hoping for, giving hope in Cincinnati basketball," he said. "And with a crowd like this tonight, there's nothing like it. The crowd was definitely a factor in our energy on both sides of the ball."

In the post-game interview with Kilpatrick was asked if this win felt bigger than the others, he simply replied, "No. Because we know that this comes with the territory, he explained. "As a team we're on a mission. In order to get where we want to go, we'll have to play teams like this and when we go to their place, we know that every team is going to give their all. We've got SMU Saturday {in Dallas} and we know that it won't be an easy task."

And Jackson finally closed with his thoughts on how experience played a factor in the Bearcats' comeback.

"Honestly you just have to keep your composure and keep grinding it out every play," said Jackson. "Then in the end, everything will fall like it's supposed to. We don't care about the rankings right now. I know that being ranked is cool and all, but we are just focused on playing Cincinnati basketball and keep these wins coming. Our journey is far from over."


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