MEMPHIS — Central Florida pushed top seed and 13th-ranked Cincinnati to the brink of an upset, but the Bearcats held on Thursday for a 61-58 victory in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference.
Guard Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati with 21 points and forward Justin Jackson added 14, although he was 0-for-5 from the free-throw line. For UCF, guard Isaiah Sykes finished with 21 before departing with 11.8 seconds left to an apparent right ankle injury. Forward Kasey Wilson scored 11 and guard Calvin Newell had 10.
The Bearcats pushed their second-half lead to 45-35 after two free throws by Kilpatrick, but UCF put together an 11-2 run, which ended on a 3-pointer in the right corner by forward Kasey Wilson to trim the UC lead to one (47-46).
A box-and-one defense — with Newell blanketing Kilpatrick — slowed the AAC first-team selection in the second half. Kilpatrick took nine shots in the first half, but was limited to three in the second half.
UCF eventually tied the game at 53-53 with 2:55 left when Sykes dropped in a free throw to complete a three-point play.
The Bearcats’ Jackson scored in the paint with 1:37 to go for a 55-53 lead. After UCF center Justin McBride missed two free throws with 1:21 remaining and Wilson missed a 3-point try, Cincinnati guard Kevin Johnson calmly dropped in a 3-pointer from the right corner for a 58-53 advantage with 35.1 seconds left. Kilpatrick added three free throws to cap the UC scoring.
Cincinnati threatened to pull away in the opening half, but UCF fought back to close the gap to 30-27 at halftime.
Jackson and Kilpatrick each had 12 in the first half to pace the Bearcats, who shot 40 percent. Sykes led UCF with 10.
After falling behind 10-4 in the opening minutes, the Bearcats put together an 11-0 run to go up 15-10 and eventually expanded the advantage to 12 points (26-14) on a basket in the paint by Jackson.
But the Knights stayed close and trimmed the margin to three as the half approached on consecutive layups by Sykes after he gained possession on wild scrambles.
Six of the Bearcats’ 22 rebounds in the first half were on the offensive boards and Cincinnati enjoyed a 22-13 overall rebounding advantage.
NOTES: UCF entered the game having scored 104 and 94 points in back-to-back games. It represented the first time the Knights have scored 90 or more points in consecutive games since 2001. … Cincinnati G Sean Kilpatrick finished first in scoring in the conference during the regular season with a 20.9 average. He also led in 3-pointers made per game (2.8). … UCF has led the league in rebounding most of the season and entered the game averaging 38.4 boards, tops in the AAC.
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