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Dan Skillings Jr. scores 25, Cincinnati beats short-handed No. 16 Kansas 72-52 in Big 12 Tournament

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Cincinnati coach Wes Miller admitted he was up late preparing to face No. 16 Kansas in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament, and a big reason why was he didn't know how the Jayhawks would play without Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr.

The conference's two leading scorers were out with injuries Wednesday night.

“It was hard. You take out two guys who have done so much all year, both ends of the floor, you don't know how they're going to adjust. That part is difficult,” Miller said. “I thought our guys did a nice job with the game plan.”

So nice, in fact, the Bearcats were able to empty their bench in the final minute.

Dan Skillings Jr. poured in 25 points, John Newman III added 12 and the No. 11 seed Bearcats rolled to a 72-52 victory, picking up another important win for their resume as they try to elbow their way into the NCAA Tournament.

Up next for Cincinnati (20-14) is No. 14 Baylor — the third seed in the league tourney — in the quarterfinals Thursday.

“We didn't start the year to say, ‘Hey, the goal is to get to 20 wins.' We’re not popping champagne or anything like that,” Miller said. “You do recognize things that have value, and getting 20 wins is something.”

Dickinson missed the game after dislocating his shoulder in a 30-point loss to Houston last weekend, while McCullar has been dealing with a knee injury. Coach Bill Self expects both to practice Monday ahead of the NCAA Tournament, but that didn't help the 12-time Big 12 Tournament champions when they stepped on the floor against the Bearcats.

In fact, the situation grew more dire for the Jayhawks when, trailing 43-38 with just over 10 minutes left, they watched Elmarko Jackson come up hobbling, then saw KJ Adams Jr. crash to the floor defending a fast break and briefly leave the game.

Adams returned to lead No. 6 seed Kansas (22-10) with 22 points. Jackson also was able to finish and scored five.

“Obviously we were bad offensively and didn't make shots — didn't make any shots,” Self said, “and today was a night that things had to go a lot better for us shooting the basketball to have a chance.”

The fact that the Jayhawks were close at all in the second half was noteworthy.

Day Day Thomas, who hit seven 3s and scored 29 points in Cincinnati's opening win over West Virginia, remained hot from behind the arc in the first half. Simas Lukosius, who also had seven 3s and scored 31 a day earlier, did some damage at the rim. And by the time the Jayhawks came up empty on a final possession of the first half, they were facing a 38-25 hole.

Kansas dug out by holding the Bearcats to a 1-for-13 start from the field in the second half, and they were helped by a heavily pro-Jayhawks crowd inside T-Mobile Center that roared when their team closed within 40-38 with 13:30 to go.

But Kansas kept missing open looks, and that gave the Bearcats an opportunity to rebuild their lead.

"That start of the second half, we just got really stagnant. We had some good looks early, they didn't go, and we got a little tight and stopped playing aggressively," Miller said. "I thought our guys looked around and said, 'We’re going to go do it,’ and we got aggressive again, and then we had some good things happen.”

SILVER LINING

Self was back on the sideline after missing last year's Big 12 tourney when he was hospitalized with a heart issue. Kansas went to the finals without him, losing there to Texas, before playing without the Hall of Fame coach in the NCAA Tournament.

“Yeah, a year ago today I was messed up,” Self said. “So yeah, from that standpoint, I feel a heck of a lot better than a year ago, and today I'm not exactly happy or feeling great.”

UP NEXT

Cincinnati lost 62-59 at Baylor on Jan. 13 when Lukosius missed two 3s in the closing seconds. The rematch will be even tougher with the Bears rested and the Bearcats playing for the third time in three days.

Kansas was once considered a potential No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Now, it could be looking at the No. 4 or 5 line on Selection Sunday. The big question is how much the selection committee will weigh the Jayhawks' injuries.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball