UConn men prepare for tough test against Cincinnati
Back in October, Cincinnati men's basketball coach Mick Cronin talked about what he missed while sitting out most of last season due to health issues.
Cronin brought up the intense rivalry between Cincinnati and UConn.
"I'm looking forward to getting back to our typical games with UConn — somebody wins by three — and seeing all the love that the UConn student section shows me," Cronin said during American Athletic Conference media day. "I never thought I'd miss that so much."
Cronin brings his Bearcats to the XL Center Thursday for a 7 p.m. conference game.
If series history is any indication, the game will be another rugged tug of war, with both sides fighting to the final seconds.
Eight of the last nine meetings between the two former Big East foes have been decided by seven points or less.
"It's probably another dogfight," UConn senior Phil Nolan said.
For the Huskies (14-5, 4-2) to stay in the thick of the AAC regular season title race, protecting their home court is a must. So far, they've done that, going 10-1 overall.
The surging Bearcats (15-6, 5-3) are gaining steam, winning four of their last five.
Neither team has mastered the art of offensive consistency.
So don't expect any style points.
Cincinnati and UConn rank first and second, respectively, in scoring defense in the league.
"The rivalry is awesome," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said Wednesday. "It's two tough teams. Mick has done a great job with that program and just the identity. It just always comes down to the last possession. It's the team that's going to be the toughest team, that's going to be warriors and going to get on the floor and get the 50-50 balls.
"If you're coming to the game for style, this is probably not the game to come to. They're going to throw it off the rim and try to outrebound you and outtough you. That's what we got to do."
UConn has won ugly during its current three-game winning streak.
In Saturday's 68-62 win over Georgetown, the Huskies won despite making only four field goals and shooting 19 percent in the second half.
They've recently overcome an icy shooting percentage by embracing the old-school formula of relying on superior rebounding, accurate free throw shooting and gritty defense.
"This team is playing with heart and playing with tenacity," Ollie said. "It's not predicated on our offense, because we've been struggling on offense. We've been playing some serious defense. Hopefully, that keeps up (Thursday) night."
The physical Bearcats surely can relate. They generate a good chunk of points from offensive rebounds (13.5 per game) and cashing in on turnovers.
Their active 1-3-1 matchup zone can send an opponent into a funk. UConn's goal will be try to spend as little time as possible in the halfcourt, looking to crank up the transition game.
"Nothing is going to come easy," UConn forward Shonn Miller said. "We've just got to be tough throughout the whole game, mentally and physically."
News and notes
• Ollie responded to a question about athletic director Warde Manuel reportedly leaving for the same position at Michigan, his alma mater.
"He did a great job here at this university. He gave me an opportunity and I really appreciate him for that. I wish him the best of luck, whatever he decides."
Ollie has a clause in his contract that allows him to take another job without paying a buyout a year from the day Manuel leaves UConn.
"I'm going to be coaching this team for a long time," Ollie said. "Nobody is making any decisions about that. ... I don't even know about that opt-out clause."
... Highly-regarded junior Zach Brown, who gave UConn a verbal commitment last week, has left Miami Beach Senior High School in Florida and transferred to Putnam Science Academy. He could be ready to play for Putnam against Lee Academy on Saturday night.
Location: XL Center, Hartford
Tip-off: 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Records: UConn 14-5, 4-2; Cincinnati 15-6, 5-3
Last game: UConn beat Georgetown, 68-62, Saturday; Cincinnati defeated Tulane, 97-75, Sunday
Probable starters: Cincinnati, 6-4 jr. guard Troy Caupain (11.3 pts, 4.6 assists), 6-1 sr. guard Farad Cobb (11.7 pts), 6-7 sr. forward Shaq Thomas (7.8 pts, 4.4 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Gary Clark (10.1 pts, 8.4 rebs), 6-10 sr. forward Octavius Ellis (9.8 pts, 6.8 rebs)
UConn, 6-2 grad. guard Sterling Gibbs (13.1 pts), 6-5 sr. guard Omar Calhoun (4.3 pts), 6-7 so. forward Daniel Hamilton (12.1 pts, 8.6 rebs, 4.7 assists), 6-7 grad. forward Shonn Miller (13.6 pts, 5.6 rebs), 6-10 sr. forward Phil Nolan (1.9 pts, 1.7 rebs)
Noteworthy: Game pits fourth- (UConn) and fifth-place teams in AAC. ... Series: UConn leads 12-6 winning two out of three meetings last season including 57-54 in AAC tourney quarterfinals last March in Hartford. ... Eight of last nine matchups decided by seven points or less. ... Top reserve: 6-6 fr. forward Jacob Evans III (6.9 pts, 4.2 rebs). ... Bearcats won four of their last five. ... Farad first in AAC in 3-point FG percentage at .450. ... Cincy first in scoring defense in league at 62.4 points per game, UConn 2nd at 62.6. ... Ellis a preseason All-AAC first team pick. ... Bearcats with AAC-best 8.5 steals per game. ... Hot: Huskies shooting 82.1 percent from FT line in AAC games. Cold: UConn's foes shooting 35.2 from field in AAC. ... Injury news: UConn center Amida Brimah (broken finger) out. ... Huskies 10-1 at home. ... Up next: UConn plays three of next four on the road, visiting Central Florida Sunday.
— Gavin Keefe
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