Cincinnati-Pittsburgh Preview

The Associated Press

Coming off back-to-back ugly offensive efforts, Pittsburgh finds itself on the verge of its first three-game skid in almost four years.

While the No. 22 Panthers have controlled this series of late, getting back on track Sunday night could prove difficult with surprisingly hot Cincinnati coming to town.

Four days after shooting a season-worst 39.6 percent in a 59-54 loss to Wagner, Pittsburgh (11-3, 0-1 Big East) made 40.0 percent from the field during a 72-59 defeat at Notre Dame on Tuesday.

The Panthers, who went a combined 3 for 29 from 3-point range in those two losses, haven't dropped three in a row since Feb. 15-24, 2008. They haven't opened 0-2 in conference play since losing their first five league games in 1999-00.

"We need to play better, we will play better and that's what we have to work on," coach Jamie Dixon said. "We are a team that has a lot of things to improve on and we will get there and we know we've got things to work on."

Pittsburgh most recently defeated Cincinnati 71-59 on Feb. 5 to extend its winning streak in the series to five.

The Bearcats (10-3), though, enter Sunday with plenty of momentum after concluding their non-conference schedule on a season-best five-game winning streak.

Cincinnati, averaging 86.2 points during its run - 23.9 more than it scored over its first eight games - has thrived since going to a guard-heavy lineup with big men Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis serving six-game suspensions for their roles in a brawl against Xavier on Dec. 10.

The Bearcats rallied from a 12-point deficit with six minutes remaining to defeat Oklahoma 56-55 on Thursday, getting the winning layup from Cashmere Wright with 8.8 seconds to go.

"We're just really trying to believe in each other and keep digging and fighting," coach Mick Cronin said. "That is what you have to do in the Big East. This is life in our conference.

"I couldn't be more proud of our guys right now."

Sophomore Sean Kilpatrick, who leads the team with 15.5 points per game, scored 17 and added 10 rebounds for the first double-double of his career.

"They say that we are the smallest team in the country but if you have heart, you can rebound with anyone," Kilpatrick said. "That is what UC basketball is all about. We grind out any win any way we can. We scrap and we just run."

With Cincinnati rolling, Pittsburgh will likely need Travon Woodall to get going again. The junior, averaging 14.1 points and a team-best 8.3 assists before suffering groin and abdomen injuries, returned Thursday following a six-game absence but wasn't effective.

Woodall missed all five of his field-goal attempts and went 0 for 3 from 3-point range in 18 minutes off the bench. While he's all but certain to play Sunday, it's unknown if he'll rejoin the starting lineup.

"Obviously he is not where he needs to be," Dixon said. "There's no ideal situation to come back into. I don't think he feels any worse. Obviously he was not himself playing out there."

The Bearcats won their last four conference road games as the visiting team last season, one of them a 58-46 victory over then-No. 11 Georgetown on Feb. 23. That victory, though, is their only one in the last 22 road matchups with Top 25 foes.

Gates - averaging 13.5 points and a team-best 9.5 boards - Mbodj and Ellis are eligible to return Wednesday against the Irish.

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