UC gives UConn payback in marquee American matchup

Bearcats forward Gary Clark recorded his second double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

CINCINNATI –€“ The last three times the University of Cincinnati had played Connecticut the Bearcats lost by a total of 14 points. That was a sore spot for UC, especially the last loss, a 62-56 UConn win 19 days ago in Hartford.

Rivals don’t like losing to one another. It strikes a little deeper than other losses.

UC struck back Thursday night, scoring the first seven points of the game and never trailing in what turned into a 70-58 win in front of 11,092 at Fifth Third Arena. UC had a White Out in the stands for the program that won the national title last season is its chief rival in the fledgling American Athletic Conference, and the players responded in kind against the Huskies.

With all due regards to the rest of the American, this is the marquee matchup of the league.

Tulsa is the surprise of the conference, having won its first eight games to take hold of first place. Southern Methodist showed last season it has raised its level and is going to be tough for anyone to beat. Memphis and Temple each have their own histories of excellence but when it comes to the American looking for a showcase rivalry it was on display in Cincinnati Thursday.

This round went to UC.

"I don’t know that defending national champs had a whole lot to do with it," said associate head coach Larry Davis. "The fact that they beat us up there had more to do with it than anything. We’re at home. If you’re going to be in the race for the league you’ve got to hold home court advantage. You’ve got to hold service at home and our guys know that. They were not happy about the loss up there and the way we loss. We felt we did some things that made it easier for them to win, so tonight they were ready for a little payback."

Sophomore guard Troy Caupain scored a career-high 20 points before picking up his second technical of the game with two minutes, 24 seconds left to play. Caupain hit a short baseline jumper off an inbounds play to beat the shot clock and give UC a 66-52 lead. Caupain got overly exuberant in the mind of referee James Breeding who, given the intensity of the game and the fact that Caupain had previously started a fracas under the basket after scoring and staring down UConn’s Rodney Purvis, went to the whistle and booted Caupain from the game.

UC’s lead was comfortable enough to withstand UConn getting as close as eight points after the loss of Caupain. The Bearcats held Ryan Boatright, the leading scorer in the AAC at 16.5 points a game, without a field goal until 12:59 remained in the game. He still ended up with 22 points but had just two assists. In UConn’s win in Hartford, Boatright had 18 points and eight assists.

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Caupain had 14 points in that game but was just 6-of-15 from the floor as UC shot 39.6 percent as a team. He made eight of the nine shots he took Thursday. UC shot 48.9 percent (23-of-47) as a team.

"I kind of took that game real personal," said Caupain. "(Boatright) is a great player and matchups like that is what you come to college basketball for. Playing against Boatright and having a wonderful game is what’s been running through my mind since practice. Every day I wanted to go out there and get this dub (W). UConn-Cincinnati, Big East to the American Conference is a game that I’ll never forget.

"Right now, this is the rivalry."

UConn may just be 11-8 on the season but it is still the program that won the national championship last year, beating Kentucky in the title game. It is still the program that owns four national titles.

"This has developed into a great rivalry," said Davis. "It’s one that’s good for our league and I’m excited about the fact that there are rivalries developing in the league, that you get those kinds of crowds and that kind of atmosphere."

The last time the teams played UC turned the ball over 15 times. The Bearcats turned it over 15 times again this time around but after being outscored 32-22 in the paint in the first game and 11-9 on second-chance points, UC flipped those numbers on UConn Thursday. The Bearcats outscored the Huskies on the inside, 32-20, and had a 19-9 advantage on second-chance points.

Freshman forward Gary Clark had his second double-double of the season, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He also had four steals and two blocked shots. The Bearcats had to play without starting forward Octavius Ellis nearly half of the game because of foul trouble. Junior Corey DeBerry played 19 minutes, the most he’s played since early December, and produced six points, three rebounds and two blocked shots.

Clark had just two points and five rebounds in the first UConn game.

"We needed Corey and he stepped up," said Clark. "Me personally, I felt like I had to rebound the ball better than I did the first game. I felt like I let my team down the first time at UConn. I’m expected to do what I did tonight."

The win was the fourth in a row for UC. The Bearcats are now 15-5 overall, 6-2 in the American. They still trail Tulsa and SMU in the standings but there is time to gain ground.

On this night, all that mattered was they provided their rivals a little payback. 

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