A few paragraphs couldn’t do last night’s win over the Cardinals justice. So here are several more including highlights of the game for you to peruse on this Friday.
The defense clamped down and the Cardinals went oh for the field in the final five minutes, committing a turnover to boot. The Bearcats unleashed what is turning out to be the Bearcats best offensive strategy. Drive it hard to the hoop, and play for the foul or offensive rebound. SK forced the issue got a foul and Justin Jackson got himself an impressive tip in to retake the lead. From there Kila nursed home the biggest win of the season for the Bearcats. This game had everything, including the first tangible demonstration of the growth of this team. Phenomenal win.
Unfazed despite blowing a 17-point lead in the second half, the first-place Bearcats (20-2, 9-0 American Athletic Conference) regrouped to hold the Cardinals to just two free throws in the final five minutes to win the conference showdown with a big hand from Kilpatrick.
The Bearcats switched on ball screens and formed a nearly impenetrable wall in front of the basket, forcing the ice-cold Cards to settle for 3-point shots. Normally that’s not a great defensive strategy — U of L is one of the nation’s better 3-point shooting teams — but it worked for a while Thursday.
But ultimately Jackson (11 points, 9 rebounds) and Kilpatrick (28 points) provided the heroics to secure a 69-66 victory, the team’s 13th in a row. This became the fourth consecutive season the Bearcats reached the 20-win mark, but the first time they got there before February since 2001-02. They have won their first nine games in the American and own a 2½-game lead over the Cardinals (17-4, 6-2) and Memphis.
Kilpatrick went 11-for-11 from the foul line, all in the second half, including four in the final nine seconds. Other than muttering to himself before each shot, his free throw stroke was an artwork of minimalism, with no wasted movements and hardly any rim involved.
In basketball, however, it is ugly to do what Cincinnati is managing with its halfcourt defense. On the KenPom.com web site, there is the statistical glory of ranking No. 5 in the nation in defensive efficiency, but that’s about as good as it gets.
Cincinnati ranked No. 5 in adjusted defense efficiency on kenpom.com before the game, thanks in large part to the country’s second-best two-point field goal percentage against (40.2) and seventh-best steal percentage (13.2). The Bearcats looked every part the dominant defense in the first half, holding high-powered Louisville to 20 points on 8-of-26 from the floor while forcing nine turnovers.