UCF no match for red-hot Cincinnati in blowout loss

Cincinnati Bearcats guard Jacob Evans (1) shoots the ball past UCF Knights guard Dayon Griffin (10) during the first half,
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — Another dominating defensive performance extended a streak that’s become Cincinnati‘s point of pride.

Kyle Washington scored 13 points, Gary Clark added 12, and the sixth-ranked Bearcats routed Central Florida 77-40 on Tuesday night to remain perfect at home.

The Bearcats (22-2, 11-0 American Athletic) dug in against a low-scoring team and extended the nation’s longest active home-court winning streak to 39 games. Their younger players inherited the streak, which has spanned two courts and three seasons.

“This home win streak started before we got here,” junior point guard Justin Jenifer said. “Us being here and continuing it is real special. It’s what we’re looking for the rest of the way, being undefeated at home.”

Their defense kept it going.

The Knights managed only 13 points in the first half, matching the fewest that Cincinnati has allowed in an opening half during coach Mick Cronin’s 12 seasons. UCF (14-9, 5-6) was 0 for 14 beyond the arc overall. In the first half, the Knights went more than 12 minutes without scoring.

Ceasar DeJesus had 12 points for the Knights, who shot 28 percent overall.

“I think they are just very active defensively,” UCF coach Johnny Dawkins said. “You can tell they all know the game plan very well. That’s something they take pride in. That’s something we take pride in, so I know both sides of it. They did a good job of executing their game plan.”

Clark failed to score in the first half, but made Cincinnati’s first 10 points in the second half for a 43-15 lead.

The game matched two of the nation’s top defensive teams. It showed the last time they played, with Cincinnati grinding out a 49-38 win at UCF on Jan. 16.

The rematch followed the form at the outset. UCF went 12 minutes, 36 seconds without scoring — the Knights missed 14 shots and turned it over six times — as Cincinnati pulled ahead 18-2. The Bearcats led 33-13 at halftime despite shooting 32 percent.

“You give yourself a chance when you play hard on the defensive end,” Cronin said. “The fallacy in college basketball is in order to get to the NBA and play professionally, you’ve got to score points. It’s a joke. I’ve never had one scout ask me a guy’s points per game.”

BIG PICTURE

UCF: The Knights were hoping their offense got a boost when point guard B.J. Taylor returned after missing the first 15 games with a foot injury, but he suffered another setback. Taylor went to the bench with 3:33 left in the first half, got his right ankle examined and didn’t return. He missed all of his five shots and didn’t score. Taylor had scored in double figures in each of the four previous games.

Cincinnati: The last time the Bearcats were ranked No. 6 was Jan. 20, 2004. They haven’t been ranked higher since the 2001-02 season, when they got as high as No. 4 after opening the season unranked.

HOME SWEET HOME

The Bearcats are 13-0 at Northern Kentucky’s BB&T Arena, where they’re playing while their on-campus arena is renovated. They went 18-0 at Fifth Third Arena last season. Their last home-court loss was 77-70 against Temple on Dec. 29, 2015.

DEE-FENSE

Heading into the game, the Bearcats ranked second nationally on defense, allowing 56.8 points per game. UCF was close behind, allowing 60.6 per game.

NO O

It was the fourth time this season that UCF has been held to 45 points or fewer.

JENIFER RE-EMERGES

Jenifer had nine points in the first half, one more than he had in his last eight games combined. He finished with 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting. He had hurt the thumb on his shooting hand, contributing to the recent slump.

“I had to get back in the gym and get my mechanics right,” he said.

UP NEXT

UCF: Plays its second straight road game at Memphis. The Knights beat the Tigers 65-55 on Jan. 3.

Cincinnati: Plays at Southern Methodist. The Bearcats beat SMU 76-56 on Jan. 7.