A marquee matchup is one tap for Monday night at Fifth Third Arena, as the Cincinnati Bearcats entertain the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a Big East Conference showdown.
Since dropping a 79-70 decision in overtime to Saint Joseph's on Nov. 16, Notre Dame has ripped off 11 straight wins, its longest winning streak since claiming 12 straight during the 2006-07 season. The Irish most recently closed out a four-game homestand on Saturday afternoon with a convincing 93-74 win over Seton Hall. Although they've played three games on neutral floors this season, this bout marks their first true road test.
Cincinnati started the 2012-13 campaign as one of the nation's hottest squads, earning wins in each of its first 13 games, including victories over Iowa State (78-70), Oregon (77-66) and at Xavier 68-58. Things have not gone as well for the Bearcats since that fast start however, as they are losers of two of their last three, which includes a heartbreaking 53-52 home defeat on Saturday to St. John's.
Notre Dame owns an 8-4 advantage in the series with Cincinnati, but the Bearcats claimed a 71-55 victory in last year's lone meeting.
Notre Dame had one of its best shooting games of the season in the 19-point victory over Seton Hall, draining 56.5 percent of its field goal attempts, which included an outstanding 12-of-18 showing from 3-point range. Scott Martin led all scorers with 22 points, draining all but one of his seven attempts from beyond the arc. Eric Atkins tallied 17 points and 10 assists, and Jack Cooley also had a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Jerian Grant rounded out the solid team effort with 13 points and eight assists. The Irish are used to big offensive performances, as they net 77.6 ppg on 51.5 percent field goal efficiency, which ranks tied for fifth in the nation. They also play great defense, allowing opponents to tally fewer than 61 ppg. Anchoring the squad is one of the best power forwards in the nation in Cooley, as he racks up 15.5 ppg behind a stellar 63.7 percent shooting effort, all while also adding 11.4 rpg and 1.6 bpg to the mix. Jerian Grant (12.2 ppg, 5.5 apg) and Atkins (11.3 ppg, 7.4 apg) are outstanding distributors, while Cameron Biedscheid, Pat Connaughton, Garrick Sherman and Martin average between 8.6 and 9.5 ppg.
Although Cincinnati trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half against St. John's, it managed to climb all the way back to take a 52-51 lead with less than a minute remaining, but the Red Storm answered on their ensuing possession with a game-winning jumper. The Bearcats couldn't find their rhythm, connecting on only 31.7 percent of their field goal tries while committing 16 turnovers. Cashmere Wright logged a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Titus Rubles added 14 points coming off the bench, but the rest of the team combined for just 14 points. On the season, UC has been much better at the offensive end, putting up 75.6 ppg, albeit on a modest 42.9 percent shooting effort, and it too plays outstanding defense, yielding a .357 field goal percentage and only 57.4 ppg. Sean Kilpatrick has been one of the Big East's best guards, scoring 17.9 ppg while adding a team-best 5.8 rpg. Wright (14.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, 2.1 spg) is lights-out from 3-point range, making 42-of-91 from long range (.462), while JaQuon Parker (11.3 ppg) rounds out the unit's double-digit scorers.