ORLANDO, Fla. — The University of Cincinnati has the stats to back claims that it’s one of the best defensive teams in the country, and it padded those Wednesday night against Central Florida.
The No. 7 Bearcats limited the Knights to 29.6 percent shooting, forced 16 turnovers and were never threatened in a 77-49 victory.
“To do what we want to do, we have to be great defensively,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “The guys committed to that tonight. The energy was great; the effort was great. The adherence to the scouting report was really good.”
The Bearcats weren’t bad offensively either, though they didn’t really have to be much more than patient. They shot 48.4 percent and handed out 17 assists on 31 field goals.
Guard Sean Kilpatrick hit 6 of 12 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 23 points and forward Justin Jackson added 10 points and seven rebounds. Cincinnati (24-3, 13-1 American Conference) has won 17 of its last 18, while UCF (10-14, 2-11) has lost 10 of its last 11.
Kilpatrick passed Steve Logan to move into second place on Cincinnati’s all-time scoring list, with 1,990 points. He trails only legendary Bearcat Oscar Robertson, who finished his career with 2,973.
“There’s a little bit of nostalgia there for me because I recruited Steve (Logan),” Cronin said. “They’re very similar guys with a lot of pride. Their happiness is wrapped in whether their team wins rather than if they play well.”
Central Florida got 13 points and 10 rebounds from forward Isaiah Sykes, but he was a one-man show for most of the game. The rest of the Knights started out nervously — UCF was 4-for-28 with 10 turnovers the first half — and never got much better.
“We just came off a hard-fought win over South Florida and I think our guys took a breath and thought and it was going to get easier now, but they’ve got to realize it’s never going to be easy,” UCF coach Donnie Jones said. “Cincinnati is a Top 10 team and they showed it tonight. The way they defend, the way they execute, they’re really good.”
Cincinnati allowed UCF only one field goal and six points the first 15 minutes of the game. The Bearcats held UCF to 1-for-17 shooting and rushed the Knights into eight turnovers during that stretch, giving themselves ample opportunity to build a big lead.
Kilpatrick scored 14 of his game-high 23 points in the first half and got support from Jackson and forward Shaquille Thomas, who combined for 14 points.
“We had 10 assists in the first half and that was big,” Kilpatrick said. “We play Louisville (Saturday) and we know they’re going to try and turn us over, but if we can take care of the ball and hit the first open man like we did tonight, we’ll be OK.”
Cincinnati did as it pleased in the first half, essentially settling the outcome in the first 15 minutes. The Bearcats shot 47.1 percent (16 of 34) and limited UCF to a paltry 17.4 percent (4 of 23). That included forcing UCF to miss its first 12 shots from behind the 3-point line, before Sykes and forward Tristan Spurlock hit back-to-back treys in the final minute of the half.
Central Florida hit its first two 3-point attempts in the second half and, after a layup from Spurlock, had the deficit down to 45-28 and the home crowd enthusiastic for the first time all game.
The enthusiasm was short-lived, however. Jackson, a spark early in the game, hit a follow shot to start a 12-4 run that ended with a driving layup from guard Kevin Johnson that made it 54-30 with 11:48 left in the game.
UCF never got closer than 18 the rest of the game and Cincinnati used the time to get playing experience for most of its team. The Bearcats got scoring from all 10 players, including nine from forward Jermaine Sanders and eight from Thomas.
Cincinnati’s only problem in the first half was making sure to rebound at the defensive end as UCF started the game 1-for-17 from the field, including 0-for-10 from 3-point territory.
The Bearcats were up to the task, outrebounding UCF 21-20 for the half and using the opportunities to go on
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