Cincinnati’s days in the Top 25 appear to be numbered. That could be the least of its worries.
The 25th-ranked Bearcats look to avoid a third consecutive loss as they host Lipscomb on Saturday.
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Cincinnati (6-3) moved into the Top 25 after making an impressive run to the title game of the Maui Invitational last month. The Bearcats lost that championship contest 61-59 in overtime to then-unranked Gonzaga, but made enough of an impression on the voters to be ranked in a national poll for the first time since Jan. 9, 2006.
The Bearcats then won consecutive games against Texas Southern and Miami of Ohio before hitting their current rough patch.
Cincinnati remained in the Top 25 despite an 83-79 double-overtime loss at Xavier on Saturday in the annual Crosstown Shootout. Its overall effort in a 64-47 defeat at UAB on Wednesday, however, will likely drop it from the rankings no matter what happens in this first-ever meeting with Lipscomb (4-5).
Cincinnati shot a season-low 31.7 percent, was outrebounded 47-34, had 17 turnovers and trailed by as many as 25 points against the Blazers.
“We’ve been doing this all year,” said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, whose team is shooting 35.2 percent from the field, including 17.8 from 3-point range in the last two games. “Just giving possessions away. We’ve just outrebounded everybody and it’s made up for it. We played like a team that wasn’t interested in coming out (Wednesday).”
Making matters worse, leading scorer Lance Stephenson (12.3 points per game) injured his ankle early in the game and had trouble with his mobility when he returned. The freshman swingman finished with eight points before fouling out with 4:35 left in the game. His status for this contest is uncertain.
Sophomore Dion Dixon had 13 points and was the only Bearcat in double figures Wednesday. Dixon didn’t believe his team was still reeling from that close loss to Xavier.
“Nah, that didn’t have anything to do with it,” said Dixon, who’s averaging 7.7 points off the bench. “We just couldn’t get in a groove as a team. We’re a young team.”
If the Bearcats didn’t have any lingering effects after the Xavier loss, they certainly can’t afford to heading into this contest. This game and Tuesday’s home contest versus Winthrop are good chances for the Bearcats to steady themselves ahead of their Big East opener against No. 14 Connecticut on Dec. 30.
Lipscomb, out of the Atlantic Sun Conference, faces its second ranked opponent after losing 84-64 at then-No. 17 Ohio State on Nov. 24.
The Bisons have won four of five since that loss, including 105-68 over Division II Oakland City College last Saturday.
Adnan Hodzic scored 25 points as Lipscomb shot a season-high 56.9 percent and used a 49-9 second-half run to pull away for its second straight victory.
“We have gotten better,” said Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson, whose team also lost 95-73 at Vanderbilt on Nov. 16. “We still have things to work on.”
The 6-foot-9 Hodzic is averaging 21.8 points on 61.4 percent shooting.