This is going to be a tough one. Not necessarily because of the degree of difficulty of the opponent but because this is the last home game for Gary Clark and Kyle Washington as members of the Cincinnati Bearcats.
On senior day, as we prepare to say farewell to Clark and Washington, the No. 11 Bearcats will accept a challenge from the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at BB&T Arena Sunday afternoon.
Who are the Tulsa Golden Hurricane?
Facing an American Athletic Conference opponent for the first time this late in the season is a bit of an oddity for the Bearcats. Usually late February is the time for rematches, but due to how the schedule shook out, this is the one and only regular season matchup between these two programs. So let’s get to know Tulsa.
This has been a bounce-back season to some degree for Frank Haith and his squad. After going 15-17 overall last season, the Golden Hurricane are sporting a perfectly respectable 17-10 mark this year, including a 10-5 record against the rest of the league. Improved offensive production has been a key, as they are averaging 73.7 points per game after being held to 67.4 in 206-17. Of course, that offensive improvement doesn’t mean UC will be dealing with an offensive juggernaut. Tulsa is ranked just 124th in the country in adjusted offense and 113th overall by KenPom. But, it is scoring more, so there’s that.
The Golden Hurricane are also on a nice winning streak, having come out on top in their last six games. Junior Etou has paved the way to many victories, including those during this run of triumphs. The senior forward is averaging 16.0 points and 9.7 rebounds per game while shooting 48.3 percent from the floor during the last six tilts. He has been the best Tulsa player beyond that, leading the team in scoring (15.4 PPG), rebounding (7.8 RPG) and win shares (3.4).
Etou has some solid sidekicks as well. DaQuan Jeffries leads the squad in PER (23.6) and offensive rating (123.2) and just put up a team-high 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the Golden Hurricanes’ 70-61 win over UCF last time out. Sterling Taplin (12.0 PPG, 4.4 APG) can score and get open looks for his teammates and Corey Henderson (9.8 PPG) and Martins Igbanu (9 PPG, 5.1 RPG) are steady contributors as well.
You almost have to pity the UConn Huskies. They had the unfortunate task of facing the Bearcats at perhaps their most motivated state, serving as the opponent after two very disappointing losses. Even if the 77-52 rout the Bearcats (24-4, 13-2 AAC) put on the Huskies won’t make up for the losses to Wichita State and Houston in the games before that, it still allowed them to maintain their edge in the league standings by a game and remind people who the real bully in the AAC is.
If you’re looking for a specific area that UC dominated in the victory, you can take your pick. The Bearcats had massive advantages in points off turnovers (23-3), bench scoring (40-5), fast break points (17-2) and points in the paint (33-16).
Clark was unstoppable in pushing them forward, scoring 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, while Cane Broome put forth a second-straight clinic off the bench, with 13 points and four assists. Trevor Moore’s four three-pointers also played a big role, as did the return to defense. UC is still ranked No. 2 in the country in adjusted defense and UConn was reminded why, as it was held to 29.5 percent shooting and an offensive rating of 76.5.
Clark and Washington’s Last Home Rodeo
It would be pretty difficult to imagine a more perfect Bearcat than Clark. He has been a consistently excellent player for Mick Cronin over the last four years and although he doesn’t always get the national attention, everyone in Clifton knows who The Problem is. We’ll definitely have more time to appreciate Clark’s efforts in the coming months, so for now let’s try to steel ourselves emotionally to say goodbye to a player that has meant more to the program than just his strong numbers (12.9 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, .519/.429/.752 this season).
As for Washington, there may be a bit less fanfare since he has only played two seasons with the Bearcats, but they have two incredible campaigns. Since Washington came over from NC State, the Bearcats have gone 54-10 (not including the season he sat out due to transfer rules) while the 6’9” forward has become a fan favorite and taken on the Mean Face Helm, which was previously held by Justin Jackson.
Clearly the Bearcats are not going to accept the abuse they took after losing back-to-back games lying down. This is still a team that can defend as well as any in the country and has depth, especially as Broome has flipped the switch. Tulsa will be more of a challenge than UConn to be sure, especially if Etou keeps up his hot streak, but if you think UC is losing on Gary Clark’s senior day, then you are grossly mistaken.
Cincinnati 81 Tulsa 67