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UConn men look to pull off upset at No. 14 Cincinnati

From the magical moment his miraculous three-quarter court buzzer-beating shot went in and ignited a wild celebration last March, his life forever changed.

Jalen Adams rescued UConn and raised his profile that day during the third overtime of the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal at Amway Arena in Orlando, Fla.

The Huskies won the classic game, 104-97, in four overtimes, eventually propelling them to the program's first AAC championship title and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

Months later, walking around the Storrs campus, Adams heard talking people about what he called easily the best moment of his career, one that belongs with the great plays in UConn basketball history.

"You just hear people (say), 'Oh my God, it's Jalen Adams, that's the one who made the shot,' " Adams said earlier this season. "That's pretty cool, but hopefully I can do something, or this team can do something, that's much bigger than just one shot this year."

While Adams will always be known for making that crazy shot, he's accomplished his goal as far as making a name for himself, averaging career highs in points (a team-best 15.0), assists (an AAC leading 6.7) and rebounds (4.7) heading into Saturday's road showdown against No. 14 Cincinnati (20-2, 9-0), the AAC leader. Game time is 4 p.m. at sold-out Fifth Third Arena.

"With them, it all still starts with Jalen Adams," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin told reporters in Cincinnati on Friday. "If you don't control him, you're going to have problems. You've got to throw his numbers out because he's the focal point of everybody's game plan against UConn. You've got to keep Adams under control the best you can."

Injuries have prevented the Huskies (10-11, 5-4) from living up to their own lofty expectations this season, but they're making progress, riding a season-high three-game winning streak.

To secure their biggest victory this season, UConn must survive a toughness test with the Bearcats, who've won 13 straight overall and 21 in a row at home.

"We know it's going to be a war," coach Kevin Ollie said. "But I think our guys are ready for it. We're going to go out there and play hard and we're just going to keep playing together."

Cincinnati, the preseason favorite to win the title, has lost just once — at Butler — since November. The Bearcats are more potent offensively than in the past but still rely on a stingy defense and physical play.

In overall games, the Bearcats rank first in the AAC in scoring (77.5), scoring margin (16.1) and field goal percentage (47.6). They're in the top three in key defensive categories of field goal percentage (2nd, 36.9) and scoring (3rd, 61.5).

During their week between games, the Huskies got a bit healthier. After playing the last three games with only six healthy scholarship players, there's a possibility that Juwan Durham (ankle) and fellow reserve Steven Enoch (foot) will play. They both went through light workouts on Friday.

Cronin isn't underestimating the short-handed Huskies.

"They've been through so much as a team, that it takes you to a place where you've figured out exactly who you need to be to win," Cronin said. "I think they know that. They know if they don't play really hard and play really physical they can't win.

"A team like UConn, obviously pride is a huge thing with them, in who they are and what they represent. I'm well aware of who their coach is. He's not going to let them give in or give an inch."

The Huskies are playing their best all-around basketball at the right time, climbing to sixth place in the conference standings. They've received vital contributions from every available player and are playing with a competitive spirit.

"I just appreciate them," Ollie said. "We're still standing after all the things we've been through this whole season. We're still believing in each other. It's just their will. I just appreciate the effort. ... Something about this group, it's a special group. They're hanging together.

"... I'm really, really proud of them."

g.keefe@theday.com

UCONN at NO. 14 CINCINNATI

Location: Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati

Tip: 4 p.m. (ESPN2)

Records: UConn 10-11, 5-4; Cincinnati 20-2, 9-0

Last game: UConn beat Tulane, 78-68, Saturday; Cincinnati won at Tulsa, 57-55, Wednesday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-3 so. guard Jalen Adams (15 pts, 4.7 rebs, 6.7 assists), 6-4 r-sr. guard Rodney Purvis (12.4 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-8 fr. forward Vance Jackson (8 pts), 6-10 sr. forward Kentan Facey (9 pts, 7.5 rebs), 7-0 sr. center Amida Brimah (7.6 pts, 5.8 rebs, 3 blks)

Cincinnati, 6-4 sr. guard Troy Caupain (10.9 pts, 5 rebs, 4.5 assists), 6-6 so. guard Jacob Evans (14.1 pts, 4.2 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward Gary Clark (9.8 pts, 7.4 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Kyle Washington (13.1 pts, 7 rebs), 6-9 jr. forward Kevin Johnson (8.3 pts)

Noteworthy: UConn on season-high 3-game unbeaten streak, AAC leader Cincy won 13 in a row. ... Series: UConn leads 13-8, winning last meeting 104-97 (4OT) in AAC tournament quarters in Orlando in March. Met more in AAC play – nine times – than any other two foes. ... Bearcats match 2013-14 team for best start under coach Mick Cronin. ... 11 of last 12 encounters decided by 7 pts or less. ... Cincy won 21 straight at home, Huskies lost four straight at Fifth Third Arena. ... Caupain preseason AAC co-player of year. ... Clark AAC career record holder in rebounds (698). ... Top reserve: 6-5 fr. guard Jarron Cumberland (7.3 pts). ... UConn 0-1 vs. ranked teams, losing to No. 13 Oregon in Maui Invite Nov. 23. ... Hot: UConn shooting 81.6 percent from line in last 3 games. Cold: Four Huskies shooting under 39 percent from field. ... Huskies 4-0 when Brimah and Facey both score in double digits, 8-3 when out-rebound an opponent. ... UConn 2-5 on the road. ... First of two meetings, with Cincy at Storrs March 5. ...   Up next: UConn hosts South Florida Wednesday in Storrs.

— Gavin Keefe

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