By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut
HARTFORD, Conn (CBS Connecticut) – Uconn knew it was going to take everything they had to beat a very tough Cincinnati team in their 3rd game in three days. Unfortunately for them, they were never able to get in any sort of rhythm as both Jalen Adams and Kenton Facey picked up their 3rd fouls in the first half and Uconn eventually fell to the Cincinnati Bearcats in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals, 81-71.
Once Adams picked up his 3rd foul and was sent to the bench, Cincinnati went on a 20-10 run to extend their lead from 21-19 to 41-29 at half time.
“It was tough,” Adams said when asked how difficult it was to sit on the bench at the end of the first half. “I see my guys out there fighting, trying to hold on and get the lead, get back in the game and I put myself – I put the team in a difficult position by getting those early fouls.”
“I think we did the best that we could as far as the foul trouble and things of that nature,” Senior Rodney Purvis added. “Like I said, the main thing we wanted to do was just try to get stops and get timely stops.”
Uconn head coach Kevin Ollie made sure to note that the refs did not cost the Huskies the game.
“Cincinnati, I give Mick (Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin) a ton of credit, though, so it’s not just the refs; I mean, they put our guys in position to foul,” Ollie said. “So, we have to show more resistance, but that’s a good team, it’s going to be a great Championship game, and both of those teams are going to represent the American Conference very well in the tournament.”
There were a record-breaking 56 personal fouls called in this contest. Seven of Uconn’s players finished the game with 4 or 5 fouls. Purvis was one of the players with 5, and was given a standing ovation as chants of “Rod-ney Pur-vis” reigned down from the crowd as he made his way to the bench. Cincinnati out shot Uconn at the foul line, 46-25.
None of that is to take away from the game that Cincinnati played. Every time Uconn made a run, Cincinnati had an answer. With 6:15 to play, Uconn cut the lead to 59-55 after 6 straight points by Jalen Adams. Troy Caupain and Jacob Evens then hit back to back three point baskets to extend the lead back to 10 in the blink of an eye. Uconn never got closer than 5 the rest of the way.
Last night’s hero, Kyle Washington was held scoreless for the Bearcats and played only 15 minutes due to his own foul trouble. This again speaks to the kind of depth Cincinnati has this season that will only help them both tomorrow and in the NCAA Tournament. Ten players received minutes tonight as opposed to 6 for SMU in their match up earlier in the day against Central Florida.
Cronin knows that whatever happened tonight doesn’t mean much come tomorrow though.
“Well, yesterday’s meaningless, come Sunday,” Cronin said. “So when Saturday becomes yesterday in March, it’s all a one game world. You better be ready to play if you’re trying to win a tournament. That said, SMU, in my opinion, is one of the best teams in the country. They’ve proven it all year.”
Cronin is right. SMU is one of the best teams in the country. But so is Cincinnati. And tomorrow’s American Championship rubber match is setting up to be one of the best games of the season.
Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter @MikeBachini for coverage of the AAC Men’s Basketball Tournament at the XL Center in Hartford all weekend long.