Orlando, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Two teams at opposite ends of the American Athletic Conference standings get together on Wednesday night, as the seventh- ranked Cincinnati Bearcats pay a visit to the UCF Knights.
Winners of 16 of their last 17 games, the Bearcats come into this clash with a record of 23-3 overall and 12-1 in conference. They are in first place in the AAC, just ahead of Louisville, but not out of reach of foes like SMU, which handed UC its only league loss just last week, UConn and Memphis. Cincinnati took down Houston at home last Saturday, 73-62, in its first game since the loss to the Mustangs.
UCF picked up a 75-74 win at Sunshine State rival USF last Saturday, snapping a nine-game losing streak and inching closer to .500 on the season (10-13). It was only the second win in 12 chances against the rest of the AAC for the Knights, who will try to improve to 9-6 at home with a win tonight.
These two teams met in Cincinnati on Jan. 23, with the Bearcats prevailing in a 69-51 final. As a result, the all-time series now stands at 2-0 in favor of UC, which also won the first encounter in the 1983 Citrus Bowl Classic, 62-48.
With the American's top scorer on the roster, Cincinnati is putting up 69.4 ppg in hitting 43.1 percent of its total shots, which includes a 32.8 percent showing from 3-point range. Sean Kilpatrick is averaging 20.1 ppg, while also proving his worth in other areas with 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Justin Jackson is the only other Bearcat netting double digits, but his 11.4 ppg isn't going to scare many opponents. The real key to Cincinnati's success this season lies in its ability to play shutdown defense, as foes are scoring just 57.7 ppg (fifth-lowest yield in the country), in hitting only 39.7 percent of their field goal attempts. UC also owns favorable margins in both rebounding (+4.8) and turnovers (+3.7).
The Bearcats made good on 50.9 percent of their total shots and went 12-of-15 at the free-throw line in thwarting the upset bid of the visiting Houston Cougars over the weekend. Kilpatrick shot 9-of-18 from the floor and 8-of-9 at the charity stripe in pouring in 28 points. He also added six assists, four rebounds and a steal to his stat line, while Jackson tacked on 13 points and Shaquille Thomas pitched in with 11. Houston actually shot better from the field (.523), but committed 13 turnovers and came away with only 21 rebounds.
UCF isn't the highest scoring team around, but it's 72.3 ppg is respectable. Unfortunately, it is netting only 65.2 ppg against league foes. Isaiah Sykes (16.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.7 apg, .471 FG percentage) continues to pace the Knights in scoring, rebounds, assists and shooting among the regulars. The one area in which he does not shine is a the free-throw line (.526), the team as a whole converting a dismal 60.0 percent of its foul shots on the season. Tristan Spurlock (11.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Calvin Newell (10.3 ppg, 3.1 apg) round out the double-digit scorers for a squad that is giving up 72.2 ppg, with that figure climbing to 76.8 ppg in conference play.
Sykes hit the game-winning shot in UCF's most recent outing against USF, ending the team's lengthy losing streak in the process. The Knights' leading scorer finished with 27 points by going 11-of-24 from the field, while also adding five assists. Spurlock added 16 points and eight rebounds, while Staphon Blair hit all six of his field goal attempts to tally 12 points. As a team, UCF knocked down roughly 51 percent of its total shots, and it claimed a 50-34 edge in points in the paint, as well as a 19-13 advantage in points off turnovers.