Cincinnati, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - The 10th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats will attempt to put some distance between themselves and their first loss in two months, as they welcome the Houston Cougars to Fifth Third Arena for an American Athletic Conference clash.
Mick Cronin's Bearcats were humbled last weekend in a 76-55 drubbing at the hands of SMU on the road. The loss was the first in conference play for Cincinnati and its first setback since Dec. 14 against Xavier, ending a 15- game win streak. Still, at 22-3 overall and 11-1 in conference play, the Bearcats still hold a firm grip atop the AAC standings.
James Dickey's Cougars are well out of the conference chase at just 4-7 in the AAC. The sub par play in-conference has spoiled a solid non-conference run and leaves the team at just 12-12 overall. Houston was able to end a five-game skid last weekend, with an 88-74 besting of Temple.
Cincinnati has dominated this series, winning 23 of the 24 all-time meetings. The Bearcats have won 11 straight meetings and are seeking the regular-season sweep after earning a tough 61-60 decision at Houston on Jan. 7.
In looking at the numbers, it isn't hard to see why inconsistency has plagued the Cougars this season. Houston is currently saddled with a -1.5 scoring margin, a -1.1 rebounding margin and a -0.9 turnover margin. The team is far from an offensive juggernaut, posting modest totals at 69.6 ppg on .446 shooting. Junior forward TaShawn Thomas however, has been one of the league's top performers, shooting .607 from the field, while averaging team-highs with 16.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.04 blocks per game. Fellow forward Danuel House and guard Jherrod Stiggers provide some scoring depth with 12.9 and 10.0 ppg, respectively.
Thomas had another dominant performance in the win over Temple last weekend, as he finished the game with 25 points, nine rebounds and six blocks. Stiggers poured in 20 points off the bench, while L.J. Rose and Brandon Morris tacked on 16 and 15 points, respectively. The Owls posed little threat in the game, as Houston converted a scorching 54 percent from the floor, including 11-of-24 from behind the arc.
Points are usually at a premium against Cincinnati, which ranks among the nation's best in scoring defense (57.6 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (.392). The team also enjoys comfortable margins in rebounding (+4.8) and turnovers (+3.5). Offensively, the Bearcats look to All-American candidate Sean Kilpatrick to lead the charge. He has done just that with a conference- best 19.8 ppg. While Kilpatrick headlines the play in the backcourt, forward Justin Jackson is the perfect complement in the frontcourt. One of the most improved players in the league, 6-foot-8 senior is averaging 11.4 ppg on .569 shooting, while pulling down a team-high 7.0 rpg and registering 3.16 bpg.
Not many teams can claim to get the better of Cincinnati this season, but SMU somehow found a way to shoot a scorching 54.3 percent from the field against the usually stingy Bearcats and cruise to victory at Moody Coliseum last weekend. Kilpatrick led Cincinnati in defeat with 22 points, but was only 5- of-18 from the floor. Jackson just missed a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds, but was guilty of six of the team's 19 turnovers in the game.