Odds stacked against UConn men in visit to No. 11 Cincinnati
Don't count on UConn sending a thank you note to Wichita State anytime soon.
The Shockers didn't do UConn any favors by beating Cincinnati on Sunday.
The result ended Cincinnati's nation-leading 39-game home winning streak. It also sent the Bearcats to their season-high tying second straight loss.
And it certainly put them in a foul mood just in time for UConn to visit Thursday for an American Athletic Conference game at BB&T Arena, their temporary home this season in Highland Heights, Ky., while Fifth Third Arena undergoes renovations.
"We are just not in a good place right now," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin told reporters after Sunday's defeat. "I haven't slept much. We are not in a good place for a lot of reasons. ... We have lost focus on how we have been winning so many games, which is defense and rebounding. We have too many guys that are concerned with the offensive end. ... We better get back to realizing what makes a team a good team — unselfish play, toughness, defending and rebounding."
By the way, Cincinnati ranks second in the nation in field goal percentage defense (37.1) and scoring defense (57.1 points per game). The Bearcats also are seventh in rebounding margin (8.1).
Cronin sounds determined to get the 11th-ranked Bearcats (23-4, 12-2) back on track. With four regular-season games left, they're still in first place in the AAC, trying to hold off Houston and Wichita State, which shared second prior to Wednesday. The Huskies (13-14, 6-8), who reside in eighth, are shooting to improve their seeding position for the upcoming AAC tournament.
Odds are against UConn emerging with a win on Thursday.
The Huskies are riding a 13-game losing streak against ranked opponents dating back to the 2015-16 season. They've lost six of the last seven in the series and haven't won at Cincinnati since 2011. This season, they've captured just two true road games, including Sunday's 84-80 win at East Carolina.
To continue the theme, they're 1-8 against teams above them in the AAC standings.
In the first meeting on Feb. 3 in Storrs, UConn played hard but never led and fell behind by as many as 19 before making a late charge and losing 65-57. The Huskies were competitive on the boards, losing the battle 38-33, and held the Bearcats to 38 percent shooting.
After the game, Cronin said that UConn could be one of best five teams in the conference come AAC tournament time, if the Huskies stayed healthy.
That hasn't happened despite the fact that they've had everyone healthy this month with the exception of Alterique Gilbert, out with season-ending shoulder surgery.
It seems when UConn plugs one leak, another springs up.
Take what's transpired in recent games.
Offensively, the Huskies have improved. They've posted their two best shooting performances of the season in the last four games during which they've converted 49.5 percent from the field and averaged 74.3 points — both numbers well-above their season averages. They're also taking better care of the basketball and playing more unselfishly, registering more assists than turnovers in a season-high three straight games.
But they're going in the opposite directions as far as defense and rebounding. Opponents have averaged 82.7 points and 51.8 percent from the field in the last three games. They've been out-rebounded by a margin of 6.6 in the last five games.
Until the Huskies shake their inconsistent habits, they'll continue down a path that usually leads to defeat. They've won just three of their last 10 games.
Time is running out on the season. After visiting Cincinnati, UConn hosts Memphis Sunday and Temple Wednesday, both in Storrs, before traveling to Houston to close out the regular season.
UCONN at No. 11 CINCINNATI
Location: BB&T Arena, Highland Heights, Ky.
Tip: 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Records: UConn 13-14, 6-8; Cincinnati 23-4, 12-2
Last game: UConn won at East Carolina, 84-80, Sunday; Cincinnati lost to Wichita St., 76-72, Sunday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-3 jr. guard Jalen Adams (17.8 pts, 4.3 rebs, 4.5 assists), 6-2 so. guard Christian Vital (14.8 pts, 5.2 rebs), 6-8 r-jr. forward Terry Larrier (14 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-8 r-fr. forward Mamadou Diarra (2.7 pts, 2.6 rebs), 6-9 freshman forward Josh Carlton (4.6 pts, 3.9 rebs)
Cincinnati, 5-10 jr. guard Justin Jenifer (5.2 pts), 6-5 so. guard Jarron Cumberland (11.1 pts, 3.9 rebs), 6-6 jr. forward Jacob Evans III (13.7 pts, 4.4 rebs), 6-8 sr. forward Gary Clark (12.8 pts, 8.7 rebs), 6-9 sr. forward Kyle Washington (11.3 pts, 5.4 rebs)
Noteworthy: UConn 2-5 in last seven games. AAC leader Cincy dropped two straight. ... Huskies own 13-game losing streak vs. ranked teams, 0-6 this season. ... Series: UConn leads, 13-12, but lost six of last seven including 65-57 on Feb. 3 in Storrs. Huskies never led, shot 36.4 percent from field. Vital and Adams combined for 38 pts. ... Top reserve: jr. guard Cane Broome (7.8 pts, 3.1 assists) of East Hartford. ... Cincy second in nation in FG percentage defense (37.1) and scoring defense (57.1 pts). Scoring average of 75.8 pts is the most for the program since the 2004-05 season (75.9). ... Clark ranks among the league leaders in eight categories. ... Fifth Third Arena undergoing renovation, so BB&T Arena temporary home court. ... Huskies 2-7 in true road games, Bearcats 13-1 at home. ... Hot: UConn shooting 46.8 percent from field in last five games. Cold: Fr. Isaiah Whaley with six pts in last six games. ... Huskies with more assists than turnovers in season-high three straight games. ... Fr. Tyler Polley with 20 points in last two games, best scoring stretch of season. Also 6-for-6 from 3-pt range. ... Up next: UConn hosts Memphis Sunday at 4 p.m. in Storrs.
— Gavin Keefe
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