Coming off its first loss, Cincinnati will look to bounce back against a much less threatening opponent before one of its toughest stretches of the season.
The No. 25 Bearcats are unlikely to overlook struggling South Florida, though, when the teams meet Wednesday night at Fifth Third Arena.
After starting 15-0 for the first time since 1998-99, the Bearcats (15-1, 2-1 Big East) fell to No. 7 Villanova 72-61 on Sunday behind a poor start and an awful shooting display from 3-point range.
Coach Mick Cronin’s team scored a season-low 23 points in the first half and went 2 of 20 from long distance - its worst effort from beyond the arc since going 0 of 9 on Feb. 24 against DePaul.
“We understand in the Big East, we’re not going to go undefeated. We understand why we lost and we’re not going to let it happen Wednesday night,” Cronin said. “One loss can become three real quick, so you have to get your guys back upbeat and make sure we come out with tremendous hustle (against South Florida).”
South Florida (6-11, 0-4) has lost a season-worst six consecutive games, but it has alternated wins and losses against the Bearcats over the last eight meetings, including a 65-57 victory Feb. 16 in the most recent one.
The Bulls’ last two losses in Cincinnati have come by an average of just 4.5 points, but they haven’t had much success against ranked opponents, going 11-87 all-time. They have lost 14 of 15 to Top 25 Bearcats teams.
Cincinnati has outscored its opponents by an average of 20.8 points during its 12-0 start at home. After Wednesday’s contest, however, the Bearcats face a stretch of road games against No. 4 Syracuse, No. 9 Notre Dame and St. John’s, and Cronin is hoping his team can first take care of business on its home court.
“In this league, you better win at home, especially us,” Cronin said. “If you look at the way the schedule shakes out, we have some pretty daunting road games. We drew the short end of the straw with who we got on the road.”
Cincinnati’s Dion Dixon, averaging a team-high 12.6 points, was held to eight on 3-of-14 shooting from the field versus Villanova. He could be in for another tough night against a Bulls team that has held him to 4.3 points per game on 25.0 percent shooting in three career meetings.
The Bearcats, meanwhile, will certainly pay attention to Augustus Gilchrist, who leads South Florida with 13.0 points per game. Following a 16-point, 10-rebound performance in an 83-71 loss to Villanova on Thursday, Gilchrist recorded a season-high 25 points and 10 rebounds off the bench during an 86-77 loss to Louisville on Sunday.
South Florida’s Shaun Noriega, registering 4.9 points per game, is averaging 13.5 while seeing increased minutes over his last two.
Despite the Bulls’ poor record, 10 of their 11 losses have come by single digits - including all six of their defeats on the road - and coach Stan Heath believes that after numerous close games, his team is on the verge of turning things around.
“I’m proud of our guys, we’re playing hard and we’re not putting our heads down,” Heath said. “We’re playing against some really, really good basketball teams and we’re (eventually) going to turn this corner and win some games.”
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