No. 20 Cincinnati braces for tough test from Temple

CINCINNATI — No. 20 Cincinnati has every reason to look past Wednesday night’s game at Fifth Third Arena against the Temple Owls.

Well, except one: The Bearcats know better.

Cincinnati enters the contest on an eight-game winning streak that includes key American Athletic Conference wins over Houston and SMU. The Bearcats’ RPI soared to 16 this week and their NCAA Tournament resume is stronger than ever.

Temple, meanwhile, has lost five of six.

But, don’t be fooled. Coming into this season, the Owls had defeated Cincinnati in three straight games and six of the previous 10.

Bearcats coach Mick Cronin knows those tough-minded kids from Philadelphia won’t be a tough out.

“They fight you as hard as they can fight you,” Cronin said.

Temple (10-9, 1-5 AAC) has two top-25 wins among its nine victories, having defeated Florida State and West Virginia earlier this season. The Owls defeated three ranked teams last year and 10th-ranked Kansas the year before.

“This is a good time for us to turn it around,” Temple guard Shizz Alston told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The first meeting this season was a tight affair. When the teams played on Dec. 28, Jacob Evans and Gary Clark each scored nine of their 11 points in the second half to help Cincinnati hold off the Owls 65-60. A Bearcats’ 10-0 run in the second half helped them go ahead by eight points with seven minutes remaining.

Cronin believes that when teams play for the second time in a season, the advantage goes to the club that lost the first game.

“They’re the ones who think they have to play better to win,” he said. “It’s just human nature. You have to rely on your veteran leadership.”

Cincinnati (15-2, 5-0 AAC) has won 18 consecutive games at home. The last team to beat the Bearcats on their home court? You guessed it. Temple won 77-70 at Fifth Third Arena on Dec. 29, 2015.

The Bearcats often are known for their tenacious defense and this season has been no different. Cincinnati ranks second nationally in field goal percentage defense (35.6), 10th in scoring defense (60.6), and fifth in 3-point percentage defense (30.1).

Temple shoots an AAC-best 34.8 percent from 3-point range. The Owls also average more than 70 points per game. In the first meeting, the Bearcats held Temple to just 60 points and 5-for-26 from 3-point range.

During the eight-game winning streak, Evans led Cincinnati with 12.5 points per game followed by Clark’s 12.1. Opponents have scored just 61.4 points and shot 32 percent.

Temple is paced by Obi Enechionyia, who averaged 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. Alston, who’s coming off a 25-point performance in a loss to Tulsa, averages 13.3 points for the Owls.

Cincinnati leads the series 17-9, including a 7-2 mark at home. Temple was picked in the preseason to finish sixth in the AAC while the Bearcats were picked to win the league.

“(Temple) is extremely well coached,” Cronin said. “They have played by far the hardest schedule in our conference. It’s always tough to beat a team two times in the same year.”