UCF’s Fall presents big obstacle for No. 11 Cincinnati

CINCINNATI — Central Florida will present unique challenges for No. 11 Cincinnati on Wednesday night at Fifth Third Arena, not the least of which is 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall.

“There’s no way to simulate (him) in practice, that’s the issue,” said Bearcats coach Mick Cronin, who considered having a player stand on a stool to mimic Fall’s height.

Fall, from Senegal, averages 12.3 points, which ranks third on the team, and he paces the Knights with 9.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. He shoots 74.7 percent from the floor, which ranks No. 2 nationally.

A less-polished Fall scored two points with eight rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes off the bench in last year’s meeting in Orlando. This year, Fall is averaging 26 minutes per game.

“He’s much improved on offense,” Cronin said. “If he catches it close to the basket, he’s going to dunk it. He throws you off on defense.”

The Bearcats (21-2, 10-0 American Athletic Conference) have won 14 straight games and are among just six teams in the nation that are unbeaten in conference play.

Cincinnati has won 22 straight at home, the longest home winning streak during Cronin’s 11-year tenure. The Bearcats haven’t lost at home since falling to Temple 77-70 on Dec. 29, 2015.

The much-improved Knights will look at end that streak on Wednesday.

UCF (15-8, 6-5 American) snapped a four-game losing streak on Saturday with a 72-57 victory over Memphis, a team the Knights had defeated just once in 22 meetings. UCF raced to a 14-0 lead then held off the Tigers’ late rally.

“I think it was one of our best performances this year,” Knights coach Johnny Dawkins said. “It was sharing the basketball and playing together. It was just a really good team win.”

The Knights already have eclipsed last season’s win total in Dawkins’ first season with the program.

B.J. Taylor leads UCF with 17 points per game, and Matt Williams averages 16.3 for the Knights. The team produces 68.7 points per contest.

“They play at a slow pace, which is comfortable for them,” Cronin said. “They need a low-scoring game, I would say.”

Cincinnati, meanwhile, can play most styles and win.

The Bearcats have won scoring 93 points and have won scoring just 55. They can beat opponents in the halfcourt with athletic big men Gary Clark and Kyle Washington, or they can outshoot foes in a perimeter game with guards Jacob Evans, a finalist for the Jerry West shooting guard of the year award, point guard Troy Caupain and dynamic freshman Jarron Cumberland, who scores 7.7 points of the bench.

Washington averages 13.7 points and seven rebounds. Clark scores 10.2 points with a team-leading 7.5 rebounds. They both were named to the American Athletic Conference weekly honor roll this week.

Cincinnati likely will be without freshman center Nysier Brooks, who has missed three consecutive games due to a knee injury.

“I wouldn’t think he would play (Wednesday),” Cronin said.

The Bearcats lead the all-time series 7-0. UCF has faced only one other ranked opponent this season, losing to then-No. 3 Villanova 67-57 in November.