Feb 15, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin talks to forward Titus Rubles (2) in the first half against the Houston Cougars at FifthThird Arena. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Frank Victores / USA TODAY Sports
After seeing its 15-game winning streak snapped, Cincinnati bounced back with an impressive victory its last time out to remain in first place in the American Athletic Conference.
The seventh-ranked Bearcats will look to start a new streak when they travel to take on Central Florida on Wednesday night in a historic game for the Knights program.
Led by Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati (23-3, 12-1) returned to its winning ways Saturday with a 73-62 victory over Houston. The game was the first for the Bearcats following a 21-point loss at SMU on Feb. 8.
Kilpatrick scored 28 points and handed out six assists, and was especially effective after halftime. The senior guard scored 19 points following the break, helping the Bearcats pull away after being ahead by just a point after the first half.
"Protecting our home gym is something that we really talk about the whole year. If you protect your home gym, everything else will fall into place," Kilpatrick said. "We were able to tighten things up at halftime and make adjustments and that was all that mattered."
The Bearcats have been winning with a suffocating defense, limiting opponents to 57.7 points per game and 39.7 percent shooting, but they allowed SMU to shoot 54.3 percent and Houston made 53.3 percent of its field-goal attempts. Cincinnati has allowed just two other opponents to shoot at least 50.0 percent.
The Knights (10-13, 2-10) shot 50.9 percent and stopped a nine-game losing streak with Saturday's 75-74 win at South Florida. Isaiah Sykes sank a layup in the final seconds and finished with 27 points, including 21 in the second half, and five assists.
Wednesday's contest will be the first time in UCF history that it has hosted an opponent ranked in the top 10.
"I think you have to understand the opponent and their mindset. It's a huge game for Central Florida," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "Any time you have a top-10 team coming, it's a chance for a big win."
UCF has dropped five straight at home against ranked teams since beating No. 25 Charleston 82-64 on Dec. 12, 2002. The Knights have lost such contests this season to Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut.
With No. 11 Louisville next on the schedule for the Bearcats, Cronin said the key for his team will be maintaining focus and not starting to look ahead.
"This time of year, you see this go on quite a bit," he said. "Teams come out and lay an egg, so to speak. So we have to understand that Central Florida can beat us, and if we don't play well, we will get beat."
The Bearcats have taken both meetings in the all-time series, winning 69-51 behind 19 points from Kilpatrick on Jan. 23. Sykes, who leads UCF with 16.1 points per game, was held to nine on 2-of-12 shooting.