FRIDAY, 2-7-14. The age old phrase “Defense wins championships” was never more evident that last night at Fifth Third Arena where AAC leader Cincinnati turned up the defensive intensity in the last 22 minutes to edge UConn 63-58. It wasn’t a championship game, not this early in the season by any means, but it was a textbook example of the way defense can turn a game around.
For the first 18 minutes, the Huskies were the better team. They led 31-21, they had held Cincy star Sean Kilpatrick in check, were winning the battle of the boards and basically doing all the things a team has to do to win on the road. But Cincinnati scored the final five points of the first half, holding UConn without a point for the final 2:15 of the half, and then after intermission, the game belonged to Kilpatrick and his team. The fifth year senior was brilliant in the final 20 minutes, scoring 17 points , not forcing shots but letting them come to him. His 3 off an inbounds with 5:21 to go gave Cincinnati a lead it would never lose. Cincinnati shot 52% in the second half,and their shot selection was a big reason for that
But it was at the other end of the floor that the Bearcats won the game. In the final 15 minutes after taking a 46-41 lead, UConn managed just 3 field goals in 12 attempts, and making just one of five attempts from three point range. Coach Kevin Ollie says his team “settled” in the second half and they didn’t look as good running their offense. Give Cincinnati some credit for that but the Huskies didn’t execute in the final 15 minutes.
Without DeAndre Daniels, who missed the game with back spasms, both Niels Giffey and Lasan Kromah had to play extended minutes, 38 and 37 respectively. Napier, who was played physically, played 39. Perhaps fatigue did have something to do with the poor second half shooting. But in the final 30 seconds, UConn forced a pair of game tying threes. Fatigue wasn’t a factor there. UConn had no inside game at all and Cincinnati outscored them in the paint 34-20, another key factor to the outcome.
So now thru the first half of the conference season, UConn is 1-3 against the best teams in the league. The only win came on the road at Memphis. The Huskies get the Tigers, Cincinnati and Memphis at home and have to travel to Louisville. With a league that is RPI challenged, last night’s win would have been a great one for the post season resume.
Next up, a flight to Orlando and a game against a struggling UCF team that has lost seven in a row. Game time is 6 pm on Sunday night and our pre game begins at 5:30.