No. 11 Cincinnati closes out home schedule vs. Tulsa

Cincinnati wraps up the home portion of its 2017-18 schedule Sunday afternoon when the No. 11 Bearcats take on Tulsa.

It’ll be an emotional affair for coach Mick Cronin, who will watch as forwards Gary Clark and Kyle Washington are feted as part of the school’s annual Senior Day festivities.

“Gary and Kyle as people are two of the best, most mature young people that I’ve ever coached,” Cronin said. “Our school has been very lucky to have them as representatives of our university, as well as our basketball program.”

Clark has been a starter since he arrived and will leave as the program’s career leader in starts. Cincinnati is 99-32 during Clark’s time and has qualifed for the NCAA Tournament in each of his four seasons — and the last eight seasons overall.

Clark is only the fifth player in program history with 1,000 and 1,000 rebounds, and is fifth with 172 career blocks while averaging a career-best 12.9 points this season.

“It’s been quite the journey, coming in as a freshman not expecting to play and then playing as much as I did,” Clark said. “This year, my senior year, has been the best year so far.”

Washington spent two seasons at North Carolina State before transferring to Cincinnati, where he has scored 777 career points and started 61 of 64 games.

He’s third in scoring this season, averaging 11.2 points, and fifth on the team in rebounds with 5.3.

“It just happened that we put together two pretty good seasons thus far,” Washington said. “What Gary and I built our senior year, I think we’re very proud of that in terms of team cohesiveness and how bad we want it.”

A victory would help Cincinnati (24-4, 13-2) keep its slim lead over Wichita State atop the American Athletic Conference. Winning the conference title — along with getting past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament — remain important goals for the senior duo.

“Those are also huge things for my team,” Clark said. “And, of course, maybe a Final Four and national championship. This is a team that can do it.”

The Bearcats will have a tough test against Tulsa (17-10, 10-5), an undersized but veteran team that comes to town riding a six-game winning streak that includes a 70-61 victory over Central Florida on Thursday.

“It was a great win,” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said. “I thought we had a gritty performance. We executed really well and had a lot of contributions from a lot of guys — not necessarily in points, but just doing solid things defensively, passing and rebounding the ball.”

The Golden Hurricane’s tallest starters are 6-foot-8 forwards Junior Etou and Martins Igbandu. Etou leads the team with 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds. Igbanu is averaging 9.0 points and 5.1 boards this season.

“Lately, I just want to go out there and give everything I’ve got,” Etou said. “I’ve got six, seven games left, so I’m, like, ‘Why are you overthinking about missing shots? Just go out there and do whatever it takes to help your team.'”

Junior point guard Sterling Taplin has stepped up for Tulsa this season, averaging 12.0 points, and he scored 30 earlier this month in a 73-71 win over Connecticut.