Cincinnati, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Sporting a 10-game win streak, the 15th- ranked Cincinnati Bearcats continue American Athletic Conference action on Thursday night, as they play host to the UCF Knights at Fifth Third Arena.
Mick Cronin's Bearcats may be ranked 15th in the nation, but the team is still flying a bit under the radar, despite marquee wins over the likes of Pittsburgh and Memphis. Cincinnati sits all alone atop the AAC standings, moving to a perfect 6-0 with last weekend's 61-54 road win at South Florida. Cincinnati is a flawless 13-0 at home this season and the 17-2 start is the school's best since the 2001-02 campaign (26-2).
The Knights are fighting an uphill battle in this one, as Donnie Jones' squad tries to halt a three-game skid. UCF is 9-7 overall, but conference play has not been kind to the Knights, who fell to 1-4 in the league following last weekend's 58-46 setback against SMU.
This is just the second time these teams are meeting on the hardwood. Cincinnati won the first-ever meeting, 62-48 in the 1983 Citrus Bowl Classic.
The Knights have been a competitive squad this season, averaging a steady 75.4 ppg, while holding a +5.4 rebounding margin. The team does have some scoring depth, with four players currently averaging double figures. The versatile Isaiah Sykes leads the way with 15.4 ppg. He is the only player in the AAC to rank among the top 15 in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and field-goal percentage. However, Sykes is questionable for this contest with a head injury. Calvin Newell is next in line at 12.3 ppg, followed by Tristan Spurlock and Kasey Wilson, at 11.8 and 10.5 ppg, respectively.
Sykes left the SMU game due to injury with the Knights leading by two points. His exit spelled doom for UCF, which dropped a 12-point decision to the Mustangs. Overall, UCF shot a mere .313 from the floor, including an ugly 7- of-27 effort from behind the arc, while managing a mere 46 total points. Spurlock was the only Knight to finish in double figures in the loss, posting 11 points.
Defense is the name of the game for the Bearcats, who have held 26 straight opponents under 70 points, the longest active streak in the nation. The team ranks third nationally in scoring defense (56.2 ppg) and 16th in field-goal percentage defense (.383), while maintaining a +4.9 rebounding advantage and an impressive +5.0 turnover margin. Offensively, the Bearcats look to star guard Sean Kilpatrick to lead the way. He has done just that, pacing the entire conference in scoring at a healthy 18.6 ppg. Justin Jackson is a strong complement to Kilpatrick with his versatility up front. The 6-foot-8 senior is averaging 11.6 ppg, while pacing the team in both rebounding (7.5 rpg) and blocked shots (3.3 bpg). His 63 blocks on the year ranks fifth in the nation.
Cincinnati didn't have its best offensive game last time out, shooting a rather tepid .429 from the floor against USF, but the Bearcats did hold the Bulls to a mere .392 effort, including a 2-of-9 showing from 3-point range. Kilpatrick led all scorers with 18 points on 7-of-17 shooting. Shaquille Thomas finished with 10 points, while Jackson netted nine.