Preview: Rejuvenated B.J. Taylor, UCF try to knock off No. 6 Cincinnati

B.J. Taylor had missed 16 games with a foot injury before making his return against Cincinnati and after scoring six points. He's averaging 18.0 points in the Knights' last four games.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS Sports

TIME: 7 p.m.

No. 6 Cincinnati looks to stay perfect in American Athletic Conference play Tuesday night when the Bearcats play Central Florida.

A victory Saturday at Connecticut improved Cincinnati’s record to 10-0 in AAC play and extended the Bearcats’ winning streak to 14 games — the third-longest active streak nationally this season.

The Bearcats and UCF have faced off once already this season, with Cincinnati winning 49-39 on Jan. 16 in Orlando, Fla.

UCF lost starting center Tacko Fall in that game and have been without their second-leading scorer (11.3 points per game) and rebounder (7.3/game) ever since.

Still, the Knights have held their own, going 2-2 since losing Fall, despite allowing 70 points per game in his absence.

“They’re different in two ways,” Bearcats coach Mick Cronin told the Cincinnati Enquirer on Monday. “No Tacko, but B.J. Taylor, their first team all-league player, is back.”

Taylor had missed 16 games with a foot injury before making his return against Cincinnati and after scoring six points. He’s averaging 18.0 points in the Knights’ last four games.

“Taylor is starting to play well again,” Cronin said. “They’re obviously not as big, but they’re faster.

“They’re giving up more points but they’re scoring more points. No Tacko, so that slowed them down a tad. More scoring punch with Taylor in the lineup. They’re a totally different team. I can’t tell you if that’s good or bad for us.”

Defense carried UCF in the last meeting. The Knights held the Bearcats, who were averaging 78.9 points per game at that point, to 23 percent shooting in the opening half and didn’t allow a field goal for the first three minutes of the second half.

But the Knights didn’t fare much better, connecting at a 30 percent flip for the game while going to the free throw line only eight times and connecting on just three.

“They just made a few more plays than we made in both halves,” UCF coach Johnny Dawson said after that game. “I think in the second half, especially (Gary) Clark, you really felt his presence out there as a senior and he really stepped up and made a lot of big plays for them in the second half.”

A victory Tuesday night would equal the Bearcats’ longest winning streak under Cronin, whose teams won 15 consecutive games three times, including last season.

And after moving up to No. 6 in the polls Monday, Cincinnati has its highest ranking since Jan. 20, 2004, when the Bearcats were also ranked sixth under former coach Bob Huggins.

“I mean, we know it, but we just want to keep on going,” senior forward Kyle Washington said. “There’s no complacency in this group. It’s a matter of, hey, how we can get better at this and how can we get better at that?”

The Bearcats have also won 38 consecutive home games, including 12 this season at Northern Kentucky University, where they’re playing this season while Fifth Third Arena undergoes renovation.