They won’t all be pretty.
Cincinnati (22-2, 11-0 American) missed 20 three pointers and shot just 35.9% from the field, but still managed to beat UCF (15-9, 6-6 American) 60-50 on Wednesday night. Kyle Washington led the Bearcats with an impressive all-around game, scoring 14 points and adding 11 rebounds, four blocks, and two steals. Washington helped neutralize the presence of 7’6’’ UCF center Tacko Fall by forcing Fall to choose between guarding the perimeter or staying inside. Ultimately the Knights had to switch to a zone defense to hide mismatch that Washington created on the offensive end.
Cincinnati jumped out to a 9-0 lead thanks to early three pointers from Washington and Troy Caupain, but UCF never went away. The Bearcats even stretched the lead to 32-18 late in the first half, but the Knights responded with a 10-2 run to end the half, giving the Bearcats just a 34-28 lead at halftime.
Cincinnati dominated the first half, but they struggled to make shots consistently and it cost them in the final three minutes. Despite their poor shooting, their last basket of the half was a Sports Center Top 10 worthy alley-oop from Troy Caupain to Jacob Evans that sent Fifth Third Bank Arena into a frenzy.
A pair of Kevin Johnson three pointers helped extend the lead to 12 points early in the second half, but the offensive and defensive dominance of Tacko Fall helped keep the game close. Fall scored 14 points on 7-7 shooting from the floor, adding 11 rebounds and two blocks. However, Fall turned the ball over six times, giving the Bearcats several opportunities for transition baskets. Turnovers were the big story of the contest, with UCF committing a total of 16, while the Bearcats committed just five.
UCF cut the lead to five points with just over 10 minutes remaining thanks to a Nick Banyard three pointer, but Cincinnati responded with an 11-3 run of their own. That seemed to finally crush the Knights’ comeback hopes and the Bearcats closed out the game relatively easily.
Jacob Evans also played well for the Bearcats, scoring 11 points along with four rebounds, six assists, four steals, and two blocks. It was an important game for Evans who has struggled of late, going scoreless in his last game and taking just three shots. He was aggressive both offensively and defensively, including this impressive steal midway through the second half.
Next up for the Bearcats is a visit to Dallas to face the 20-4 SMU Mustangs. Cincinnati beat SMU 66-64 back on January 12th. It was a game the Bearcats led early, but SMU responded with a late run and almost pulled off the massive road upset. The Mustangs still have a game against Temple before they face Cincinnati, but if all goes well for SMU then Saturday’s contest will be a battle for the AAC regular season championship.