Orlando, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The 22nd-ranked Connecticut Huskies close out a two-game road swing on Sunday evening when they head to CFE Arena to take on the UCF Knights in American Athletic Conference action.
In a showdown at No. 7 Cincinnati on Thursday night, UConn fell on the wrong end of a hard-fought 63-58 battle to snap a three-game winning streak. The Huskies are still an impressive 17-5 overall this season, which includes a 5-4 mark in the AAC, and they have split their six road games.
UCF, meanwhile, has struggled mightily since the start of conference play, as its 1-8 record places it tied for last place in the AAC with Temple. The Knights most recently dropped a heartbreaking 79-78 overtime decision at home to USF on Wednesday for their seventh consecutive loss, dropping them to 9-11 overall.
UConn took care of business at home versus UCF back on Jan. 11, 84-61, in the teams' first matchup as conference foes. The Huskies lead the all-time series with the Knights, 4-1.
The Huskies led for the majority of their most recent contest, including by five midway through the second half, but Cincinnati took control of the game with a 12-2 run and eventually saddled the Huskies with a five-point loss. They shot just 39.2 percent from the field, including a dreadful 5-of-21 from 3-point range, while allowing the Bearcats to make good on 46 percent of their field goal tries. Shabazz Napier poured in a game-high 16 points but he did so on only 5-of-19 from the floor (2-of-12 from beyond the arc). Lasan Kromah and Niels Giffey netted 13 and 10 points, respectively.
Luckily UConn doesn't have to play the stout Cincinnati defense every time out. Its offensive attack this season has been stellar, as it shoots 46.2 percent from the field for 75.3 ppg, and things have gone smoothly on the defensive end of the court as well (.389, 64.8 ppg). Napier is not only the team's leading scorer with 17.8 ppg on 40.4 percent from 3-point range and 88 percent at the foul line, but he also hands out 5.6 apg and swipes nearly two steals per outing. DeAndre Daniels (13.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg) has missed the last two games with back spasms. Ryan Boatright (12.2 ppg) rounds out the double-digit scorers.
After coughing up a late second-half lead, UCF bounced back to force overtime on a Victor Rudd layup with nine seconds left, but with the score tied at 78 with just one second left in the extra session, it sent USF to the foul line and Shemiye McLendon drained the first free throw to deliver to crushing blow. It shot an impressive 51.7 percent from the field in the loss but was only 9- of-18 at the free-throw line and lost the rebounding battle, 41-32. Isaiah Sykes shined with 24 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, while Matt Williams (12 points) and Kasey Wilson (11) were both solid off the bench.
Despite the Knights' lackluster record, they are still able to score more points (73.2 ppg) than they allow (71.8 ppg) this season and own a +4.1 rebounding margin. They shoot a modest 44 percent from the field, but its free-throw percentage (.600) ranks amongst the worst in the nation. Sykes fills up the stat sheet on a regular basis with 15.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.6 apg and 1.5 spg, all while shooting nearly 48 percent from the field. Calvin Newell brings 11.5 ppg to the table, while Tristan Spurlock (10.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Wilson (10.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) have been solid as well.