With a 69-66 win at the Yum! Center, Cincinnati moved to 9-0 in conference play, putting them 2.5 games ahead of Louisville and Memphis in the conference race. With both the Tigers and the Cardinals still set to come to their building, the Bearcats are in the driver's seat for the first conference championship in the history of The American.
Mick Cronin's team hasn't gotten a whole ton of press this season, but he has big and athletic players at every position, and his team plays a brand of physical, intense defense that wears on opponents over the course of 40 minutes. Cincinnati isn't trying to out-skill you and win a finesse game; they are trying to beat you up, give you a wedgie and take your lunch money.
This is how they started the game, just to let Louisville know whats up. The key player for Cincinnati was Sean Kilpatrick, who had 28 points and 5 bounds on Thursday. As a 24-year old still hanging around a college campus, he gets to play against guys a half-generation younger than him. Not a bad scam, if you can get in on it.
The Bearcats can throw waves of athletes at opponents, with guys such as Justin Jackson (6'8 230), Titus Rubles (6'7 220) and Shaquille Thomas (6'7 205) all capable of throwing their weight around. If you look at their roster, you see a guys from places such as Far Rockaway, Yonkers, Oakland and South Dallas, so you know they are going to be a tough team. Huggy Bear would be proud.
Louisville was able to exploit the team's lack of size up front with a big game for Montrezl Harrell, who had 18 points, 6 bounds and 2 blocks on 9-of-13 shooting. However, there aren't many future NBA big men in the college game and a high seed can go pretty deep into the Tourney before they see one. For now, it's all optimism in Cincinnati.
UCLA holds on
After blowing a 10-point lead to Oregon with 6 minutes left, UCLA rallied on the road to pull out a dramatic 70-68 victory in the final seconds. Jordan Adams was stripped of the ball on his way to the basket, but one of the Wear twins, I do not care enough to know which, was in the right place at the right time.
The win moves the Bruins to 6-2 in conference play, a full game ahead of Arizona State and Cal. They have established themselves as the clear No. 2 behind Arizona and they seem to be getting better by the week. When Adams, Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine are in the game, UCLA has three future first-round picks on the perimeter, all of whom can kill you in different ways.
Going forward, the key for them will be how much they get from Tony Parker, who gives UCLA some size and athleticism protecting the rim, which has never been a strong suit of the Wears. There's still a long way to go, but Steve Alford looks like he has things headed in the right direction in Westwood.
Around the country
Nebraska rallied from 16 down to beat Indiana, 60-55, in Lincoln, giving the Huskers three solid home wins this season -- Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio State. Nebraska lost to Michigan, 71-70, earlier in the month; pull that one off and we would really be talking about them. At Nebraska is no longer a guaranteed win in the Big Ten.
Florida moved to 18-2 and 7-0 in SEC play with a tough win against a surprisingly-game Mississippi State team, which was down only one at the half. If Chris Walker can give the Gators anything, Florida is going to be an extremely tough out in March.