ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin didn’t hide his disappointment in his team’s defensive effort last week when it had to hang on after squandering a big lead against Houston.
The Bearcats appear to have learned their lesson.
Sean Kilpatrick hit six 3-pointers and scored 23 points as No. 7 Cincinnati forced 16 turnovers in dominating Central Florida during a 77-49 victory Wednesday night.
The Bearcats (24-3, 13-1 American Athletic) have won 17 of 18 going into their conference showdown with No. 11 Louisville on Saturday, a team they beat on the road last month.
"We were really unhappy with our defense against Houston. Nothing against Houston, they played great. We weren’t hungry defensively," Cronin said. "Anybody who’s seen us play knows we’re a much hungrier team defensively. And to do what we want to do, we have to be great defensively.
"The guys committed to that tonight."
Justin Jackson added 10 points and seven rebounds for Cincinnati, which beat UCF for the second time this season.
The Bearcats also shared the ball, with 17 assists to just six turnovers.
Central Florida’s offense struggled mightily in the first half, allowing Cincinnati to build an early 20-point lead. The struggling Knights never got it back to single digits in the second half, giving up 21 points off their turnovers.
UCF coach Donnie Jones thought Cincinnati was disruptive all night.
Like I keep telling him, I want to know who’s a better guard in America than Sean Kilpatrick?
"We didn’t play very well, but they had something to do with that," he said. "There is a reason they’re a Top 10 team in the country — the way they defend, the way they execute. Sean Kilpatrick is a terrific player and showed that tonight."
Isaiah Sykes led the Knights with 13 points and 10 rebounds. UCF (10-14, 2-11) has lost 10 of 11.
"We focused on their key shooters," Kilpatrick said. "We knew they were going to struggle a little bit, because we were packing it in a lot. We just focused on Sykes. … We were working on keeping him out of the lane and that was something that helped us."
While Kilpatrick was certainly involved in Cincinnati’s defensive performance, he also passed Steve Logan for second place on the school’s career scoring list. Kilpatrick entered the night 19 points behind Logan.
"Like I keep telling him, I want to know who’s a better guard in America than Sean Kilpatrick?" Cronin said.
Kilpatrick said he was unaware of the milestone until his teammates informed him later. Cronin said that’s indicative of the mindset Kilpatrick has had throughout his career.
"It’s a little nostalgia for me because I recruited Steve," Cronin said. "Very similar guys. Lot of pride in who they are as a player. Their happiness is wrapped up in whether their team wins (rather) than if they play well. It’s the necessary chip that you have to have to be great. SK’s got it. Steve had unbelievable heart and SK has the same thing."
Cincinnati took a 40-18 lead into halftime, taking advantage of UCF’s poor shooting. The Knights connected on just one of their first 18 field goal attempts and went more than 4 minutes without a basket as the Bearcats built a lead that swelled to as many as 25 points.
UCF also turned it over 10 times in the first half, leading to 17 Cincinnati points.
The Bearcats did most of their damage in the paint, where they scored 16 points before halftime. But they also connected on five 3s, which kept the Knights’ defense scrambling for most of the half.
With the rematch against Louisville up next, Kilpatrick said he feels as though the entire Bearcats team welcomes the challenge.
"With us and them it’s going to always be a Big East rival," he said. "We don’t really lag back against anyone we’re going to play. They’re ready just as much as we are.
"I’ve been dreaming about this. This is something that really helps me and gets me motivated, especially late during the season. Having a big game like this, it’s something that I really look forward to."
Cronin doesn’t expect to have the element of surprise against the Cardinals the way his team might have in the first meeting.
"We’ve got to have great humility and understand how great we’re going to have to play to win," Cronin said. "If we don’t, we’re in trouble. We failed that test against SMU the second game. Now is another chance to understand that beating a team twice of that caliber is tough."