No. 18 Cincinnati closes home schedule against Houston (Mar 02, 2017)

CINCINNATI – No. 18 Cincinnati plays its final home game of the season on Thursday night versus Houston.

The game is significant for a few reasons.

It marks the final home game for Bearcats senior guards Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson, and popular walk-on Zack Tobler. It is also the last game at Fifth Third Arena before it closes for one year to undergo an $87 million renovation.

“Senior night is for the players,” Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin said. “The fans have grown up with these guys. They’ve won us a lot of games, obviously. They’ve been great ambassadors for our program in the community. They did a lot of things in the community people didn’t see.”

This year’s senior class has gone 97-32 overall and 54-16 in the American Athletic Conference. Cincinnati has reached the NCAA Tournament three straight years and likely will make it four trips during their careers.

Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2 American) is off to its best start to a season during the Cronin era. It marks the fourth time in the last seven years the Bearcats have won at least 25 games in a season and the 22nd time in program history.

The Bearcats hope to close the current version of Fifth Third Arena with a 26-game home winning streak. The current 25-game streak ranks second nationally behind Oregon, which has won 42 straight at home.

Houston (20-8, 11-5 American) has won back-to-back games and seven of its last eight.

“We’re still in the fight,” said Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson this week.

Junior guard Rob Gray leads the American Athletic Conference and ranks 28th in the nation with 20.3 points per game. He entered the week shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from 3-point range.

“It’s real hard to guard Rob Gray one-on-one, nearly impossible,” Cronin said.

Senior guard Damyean Dotson entered the week ranked fourth in the AAC and fourth in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage at 46.5.

Cincinnati leads the all-time series 28-2, including a 14-0 record at home. The Bearcats won 67-58 in Houston earlier this season.

A big part of Cincinnati’s success this season has been the steady play of Caupain, who entered this week ranked first in the AAC and fourth nationally with a 4-to-1 assists to turnover ratio. He also ranks third in the AAC with 4.7 assists per game.

Junior forward Kyle Washington has scored in double figures in seven of eight games while shooting a team-best 47.3 percent. Sophomore guard Jacob Evans has scored in double figures in a team-high 26 games and ranks among the league leaders in 3-point field goal percentage (fifth at 39.0), steals (T-10th at 1.3), 3-pointers made (12th at 1.9), scoring (T-11th at 13.6 points) and field goal percentage (13th at 46.6) entering Wednesday.

Cincinnati will play its home games next season at Northern Kentucky University’s Bank of Kentucky Center before returning to Fifth Third Arena in 2018-19. It’s the first major overhaul of the arena since it opened in 1989.

“I’m excited about the arena project,” Cronin said. “It’s much-needed. The guys that have sweated for the program should be proud to be getting a new arena.”