Cincinnati beats UConn, continues to dominate a conference it’s desperate to leave

At a press conference announcing the hiring of a new athletic director Thursday afternoon, Cincinnati president Santa J. Ono explained he chose Mike Bohn because he thinks Bohn can lead the Bearcats into a different conference the way he once did with Colorado.

The way Cincinnati is thriving in its debut season in the oft-maligned American Athletic Conference, however, Mick Cronin might be wondering what's the rush?

In front of a crowd at Fifth Third Arena that included Cincinnati luminaries Pete Rose and Oscar Robertson, the Bearcats came from behind to grind out a 63-58 victory over a UConn team that had won three in a row. Sean Kilpatrick was the catalyst for Cincinnati's rally from a five-point halftime deficit, bolstering his case for conference player of the year honors with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists.

Cincinnati's victory lifted the Bearcats to their best start since the 2001-02 season and further validated them as a team that can make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. At 22-2 overall and 11-0 in the AAC, Cincinnati is 2.5 games ahead of second-place Louisville and three or more ahead of the rest of the league's contenders.

With UConn already not effective on the glass and also playing without forward Deandre Daniels on Thursday, Cincinnati figured to have a field day on the offensive boards but it didn't materialize. The Bearcats managed just six offensive rebounds, the same number as the Huskies grabbed.

What made the difference for Cincinnati instead was stifling defense and offense fueled by Kilpatrick and forward Justin Jackson.

UConn's Shabazz Napier needed 19 shots to score 16 points and displayed the questionable shot selection that was a staple of his game earlier in his career, attempting 12 threes and only sinking two of them. Napier's struggles were the biggest reason the Huskies shot only 39.2 percent from the field.

The duo of Kilpatrick and Jackson was far more efficient. Jackson had 15 points on 7 of 10 shooting, while Kilpatrick was so locked in that Robertson kept motioning to him from the crowd to keep shooting.

A handful of challenging games remain on the schedule for Cincinnati, but the Bearcats can take a big step toward securing the AAC title with a victory at SMU this weekend.

Cincinnati might prefer to be in the ACC or the Big 12 in the longterm, but the first-ever AAC conference championship trophy would surely be a nice consolation prize.