In a season full of challenges, Cincinnati refuses to feel sorry for itself.
With senior forward Armein Kirkland lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, the Bearcats (13-3, 2-1 Big East) try to persevere as they face Syracuse on Saturday night.
The injury to Kirkland, suffered in Monday night’s 70-59 loss at No. 4 Connecticut, is just the latest obstacle for Cincinnati this season. Since coach Bob Huggins’ forced resignation in August, the Bearcats have dealt with player eligibility problems, an assistant coach’s drunk-driving arrest and injuries to Kirkland and Eric Hicks.
Through it all, Cincinnati had a 10-game winning streak prior to Monday and is ranked 25th in the nation.
“There’s always something in Bearcat land, like Huggs used to say,” said Hicks, who is playing with a sprained ankle. “You’ve just got to deal with it.
“First it’s the coach, then it’s the assistant coach, then players. It’s something every time. We’re used to it by now. We’re just going to make this thing work.”
Hicks had 14 points and 11 rebounds Monday night, his fourth consecutive double-double. James White led the Bearcats with 18 points, and Kirkland added 14 before his injury.
“Our guys are pretty resilient and they fought especially hard,” interim coach Andy Kennedy said. “Tonight we were stacked against some very difficult odds.”
Kirkland, who had been the tallest of Cincinnati’s starters at 6-foot-8, was just beginning to play to expectations when he got hurt. He hit 52.9 percent from the field in the last two games, emerging from a season-long shooting slump.
Kirkland, who was averaging 9.7 points and 3.4 rebounds, will stand behind his teammates despite his college career being over.
“I want to support them, let them know it’s going to be OK,” Kirkland said. “If they’ve got to play 40 minutes a game and they’re dead tired, just keep playing. Whatever they do, I don’t want them to quit.
“That’s the reality. It’s going to be real hard, but we can do it.”
The Orange (14-2, 2-0) come to town seeking their 12th straight victory after winning their first road game of the season, 88-82 at Notre Dame on Wednesday night. This is the fourth consecutive season in which Syracuse has had a winning streak of at least 11 games.
Gerry McNamara scored 25 points Wednesday to lead the Orange, including a layup with 14 seconds left to help put the game out of reach. It was McNamara’s 11th game in his four-year college career with at least 25 points.
“At the end of the game, Gerry is going to make plays like that,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.
Eric Devendorf, McNamara’s backcourt partner, added a career-high 23 points as both Syracuse guards got several easy baskets.
“That’s how we got the victory … we got to the bucket whenever we wanted,” said Devendorf, who has scored 16 points or more in three of his last four games.
With a win, the Orange can open their Big East schedule 3-0 for the third consecutive season. The road gets no easier for Syracuse next week with games against Connecticut and No. 3 Villanova.
This is the Orange’s first meeting with the Bearcats.