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What we learned from Cincinnati Bearcats Big 12 win vs. UCF Saturday at Fifth Third Arena

In a crucial Big 12 home date Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd, the Cincinnati Bearcats dug a massive halftime hole, then played a demonstrative second half to notch a Big 12 win over UCF, 68-57.

The Bearcats trailed by a season-high dozen at the half.

"We're showing some resilience over the last few weeks," UC coach Wes Miller said. "I don't like ever being down 12 in a league game but I am pleased with the way we responded."

The Bearcats outscored the Knights 43-18 in the second half, holding them to less than 21% shooting and denying veteran coach Johnny Dawkins his 300th career win.

Guard Day Day Thomas (1) celebrates with John Newman III in the second half. The Bearcats had to fight back from a 12-point halftime deficit for their third Big 12 victory. UC is now 14-6 and 3-4 in the Big 12.
Guard Day Day Thomas (1) celebrates with John Newman III in the second half. The Bearcats had to fight back from a 12-point halftime deficit for their third Big 12 victory. UC is now 14-6 and 3-4 in the Big 12.

"We're playing now in a different conference," Dawkins said of playing a Big 12 game here compared to the old AAC. "With the conference being as deep as it is, everybody from top to bottom, that changes some. As far as the atmosphere here, it's always electric."

Dan Skillings Jr. led UC with 21 points and seven rebounds with John Newman III adding 19 points and seven boards. Both had rim-rattling dunks that had the announced crowd of 12,112 out of their seats.

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UC was without starter Viktor Lakhin who was ill, while UCF was down starters Shemarri Allen and C.J. Walker due to injury. The Bearcats are 14-6 (3-4 Big 12) and are now tied with BYU, Texas, Oklahoma and UCF in the league.

"We've been really sick," Miller said. "All of us, coaches, players over the last week and a half. It bubbled up so much over the last week we barely got to practice. Vik (Lakhin) tried to practice through it. He tried to go through shoot-around and just couldn't do it. I was proud of him for doing it. He's pretty down and out with whatever illness is going around the team."

5 reasons UC racked up another Big 12 home win

1. All 40 minutes of an NCAA game count

UC surged early with Simas Lukošius hitting a 3-pointer 13 seconds into the game. In a little over three minutes the Bearcats led 15-6, putting the fans in an early lather. UC then went scoreless for over five minutes and UCF grabbed the lead. By the half, they were down 12 at 39-27. It was the eighth straight game without a halftime lead.

With under eight minutes to go, Day Day Thomas gave the Bearcats a brief lead, then Skillings put them up for good with 2:57 remaining on a driving lay-up. UC was up by as many as 13 points before walking off to cheers with an 11-point triumph.

"I'm pleased that our guys dug in and found a way to win," Miller said. "The quality of digging away and figuring it out is more important than anything X and O-wise."

Dan Skillings led the Bearcats with 21 points and seven rebounds. He made eight of his 14 shots, including going 2-for-6 from three-point range.
Dan Skillings led the Bearcats with 21 points and seven rebounds. He made eight of his 14 shots, including going 2-for-6 from three-point range.

2. Birthday boy Dan Skillings Jr. scores his age

Sophomore Skillings Jr. had eight points in the game's early minutes, then didn't score for over 19 minutes until a fast break drive. He added 11 more points, including seven in the game's final three minutes to ice the victory. One of those was the icing on the birthday cake dunk to bring the house down.

"I didn't let the birthday gig get all ahead of me," Skillings said. "I was just playing with my team and letting the shots come to me. I'm learning my game a lot more. The more I force things the more it goes the other way. I just try to let it happen."

Bearcats guard John Newman III (15) dunks over UCF Knights forward Omar Payne (5) in the second half. Newman finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and this thunderous dunk.
Bearcats guard John Newman III (15) dunks over UCF Knights forward Omar Payne (5) in the second half. Newman finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and this thunderous dunk.

3. John "The Warrior" Newman III

"I thought John Newman was an absolute warrior!" Miller said. "That'll be a game when I tell stories about John Newman years from now, which I will, that'll be one of the games that I talk about."

Newman's 19 points were one off his season-high of 20 in the TCU game. After his own thunderous southpaw slam tied the game at 52, he had five points in the final minutes to earn the hard-fought victory.

"My job is to be aggressive," Newman said. "I think the second half we showed a lot better. We got the ball moving. This was definitely a must-win for us for our mojo, for our swagger."

4. Oguama fills the void

Minus Lakhin's 12.7 points and 7.5 rebounds, UC started Skillings with Aziz Bandaogo who finished with eight points and seven rebounds. When Jamille Reynolds struggled, Ody Oguama played nearly 11 minutes with four points, missing one shot with six rebounds. Oguama started 21 games last season and seven this season before Bandaogo and Reynolds became eligible.

Ody Oguama stepped up for the Bearcats, who were playing with out big-man starter Viktor Lakhin. Oguama had four points and six rebounds in 11 minutes.
Ody Oguama stepped up for the Bearcats, who were playing with out big-man starter Viktor Lakhin. Oguama had four points and six rebounds in 11 minutes.

"I couldn't be more proud of Ody Oguama," Miller said. "He hasn't been playing in the games. All he's done is come in the gym every day, have a great attitude and keep working. His ability to match up when they went small were really important to us having success."

5. No bench? No problem

Oddly, UC outscored No. 7 Kansas 32-2 in bench points Monday and lost. Saturday, with Lakhin out, Oguama's four points were all they had off the bench compared to UCF's 29 from the pine.

Jizzle James was held scoreless for the first time in his college career. Reynolds and Josh Reed were also part of the "goose egg" club.

Next game

UC travels to Morgantown to face West Virginia Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Mountaineers lost at Oklahoma State 70-66 Saturday.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: How did Cincinnati Bearcats basketball win their Big 12 game vs. UCF?