Storrs, CT – The 13th-ranked Connecticut Huskies put their unblemished home record on the line this evening, as they welcome the Cincinnati Bearcats to Storrs, for a Big East affair at Gampel Pavilion.
Mick Cronin's Bearcats have certainly had their ups and downs this season, including an ugly brawl in early December with city rival Xavier. Since then, the team has been on a tear, winning nine of its last 10 games. Cincinnati moved to 4-1 in the Big East this past weekend with an 82-78 win at home over Villanova.
The defending national champions opened the 2011-12 campaign with 12 wins in the first 13 games. However, the Big East slate always presents challenges and Jim Calhoun's Huskies felt the brunt of that with back-to-back losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers following the turn of the calendar year. UConn has gotten back to its winning ways of late, posting consecutive wins over West Virginia (64-57) and Notre Dame (67-53) to move to 4-2 in league play.
This is the 10th all-time meeting between these two teams. Connecticut has won seven of the previous nine meetings, and has won each of the last two matchups, including a 69-58 victory in the second-round of last year's NCAA Tournament.
The Bearcats overcame a superhuman effort from Villanova's Maalik Wayns (39 points), coming from behind to post a four-point win over the Wildcats this past weekend at Fifth Third Arena. Dion Dixon led the way for Cincinnati with 22 points. Yancy Gates poured in 16 points in support, while Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright chimed in with 14 and 11 points, respectively. The Bearcats aren't really known as an explosive offensive team this season, rather relying heavily on the play at the defensive end. Cincinnati is 21st nationally in scoring defense (58.8 ppg), holding opponents to just .403 shooting overall. In addition, the team forces just over 16 turnovers per game. The Bearcats do have several options at the offensive end, with four of the five starters currently averaging double figures, led by Kilpatrick's 16.2 ppg. Kilpatrick is responsible for more than a third of the team's total three-pointers (144), amassing 50 treys thus far. Dixon is next in the scoring column at 14.1 ppg. Yates is the resident muscle down low with 12.3 points and a team-best 8.9 rebounds per game. Wright adds 10.3 ppg and is the team's top distributor at 4.8 apg.
Connecticut already possesses a dynamic backcourt with All-American candidate Jeremy Lamb and sophomore sensation Shabazz Napier, but as the season wears on, it is apparent that freshman center Andre Drummond is going to provide the kind of dominance down low that will give the defending champs great balance. Recently named the Big East Rookie of the Week for the fourth time this season, Drummond is starting to feel his own in the middle. The 6-10, 270- pound youngster has played extremely well of late, upping his numbers to 10.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 45 blocks. Of course, the offense funnels through Lamb and Napier. Lamb is still shooting over 50 percent from the floor at this late juncture and is averaging 17.9 ppg. Napier has the ability to both fill up the basket (13.9 ppg) and get others involved (6.2 apg). Napier led the way in the win over Notre Dame last time out, finishing with 16 points and five assists. Alex Oriakhi added 12 points and seven rebounds to the cause. Drummond and Roscoe Smith both chipped in with 10 points, with Drummond completing a double-double with 13 rebounds. Lamb played the entire 40 minutes, but was neutralized, going 3-of-11 from the floor and finishing with just six points.