Surging Big East newcomer Cincinnati started Monday by finding out it had jumped into the AP poll. That came hours before the Bearcats were to face their toughest test of the season so far in fourth-ranked Connecticut.
The No. 25 Bearcats (13-2, 2-0) look to extend their winning streak to 11 games when they visit the Hartford Civic Center to face the Huskies (12-1, 0-1).
Cincinnati will be making its first Monday night television appearance as part of the Big East’s national cable package—exactly the kind of exposure the Bearcats craved when they made the jump from Conference USA this season.
Cincinnati’s Eric Hicks will be looking to repeat his performance from his last game in front of a national audience. He notched his first career triple-double with 22 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high 10 blocks to lead the Bearcats to a 70-66 win over Marquette on Saturday.
Hicks became the fifth Bearcat in school history to record a triple-double, and the first since Kenny Satterfield on Jan. 29, 2001 against Tulane.
“I just didn’t want to lose,” Hicks said. “I wanted to be 2-0 in conference. I thought this was a game we should win.”
Cincinnati had a school-record 18 blocks against Marquette, limiting the Golden Eagles to less than 38 percent shooting. The Bearcats won despite an off night from leading scorer James White, who shot 4-of-13 and finished with 12 points.
White is shooting nearly 51 percent and averaging 17.5 points.
“The will to win is pretty strong in this group,” Cincinnati first-year coach Andy Kennedy said. “That certainly was not our best game.”
Another major reason the Bearcats moved to the Big East was to play a tougher conference schedule. UConn is likely to provide them with just what they are looking for.
The Huskies lead the nation with 8.9 blocks per game, with center Hilton Armstrong and forward Josh Boone combining to average nearly five per contest.
UConn bounced back from being upset 94-79 by Marquette in its conference opener Wednesday by rallying from a 14-point deficit for a 67-66 win over LSU on Saturday.
Armstrong scored six of his 11 points in the final four minutes, and finished with four of his team’s 11 blocks.
“It has a lot to do with confidence. If I get the ball under the rim … I just go up strong,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong is averaging 15.0 points in the last four games after averaging only 6.9 in the Huskies’ first nine contests.
Star forward Rudy Gay broke out of a minor slump Saturday with a team-high 19 points. He had managed a total of 17 in the two previous games.
Gay, though, is shooting only 34.5 percent over the last four contests. UConn coach Jim Calhoun was still encouraged by Gay’s effort against Marquette.
“That’s the toughest I’ve ever seen Rudy Gay play,” Calhoun said. “Not the best, the toughest. He was tough.”
Huskies point guard Marcus Williams scored 13 points in his second game back after being suspended for the first semester over theft of laptops from a dormitory.
Tuesday’s game will be the second meeting between Cincinnati and Connecticut, which won 96-91 in the second round of the 1995 NCAA tournament.