(The Sports Network)
With a record-setting 11 teams from the Big East Conference extended invitations to this year's NCAA Tournament it was bound to happen sooner or later, as the Connecticut Huskies meet the Cincinnati Bearcats in third-round action tonight at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
It was less than three weeks ago that these two programs clashed at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati where the Huskies picked up a 67-59 win to extend their advantage in the all-time series to 6-2 over the Bearcats, so they are by no means strangers to each other.
On Thursday the Huskies, the third seed in the West Region, continued their improbable run of success with their sixth straight win in a span of nine days with an 81-52 thrashing of Bucknell in the second round of the tourney. The victory was the 850th in the career of legendary head coach Jim Calhoun and also moved the program to 47-28 in the tournament overall.
As for the sixth-seeded Bearcats, they took care of Missouri two days ago with a 78-63 triumph, giving the program a mark of 41-23 all-time in the event. Like UConn, which won the national championship in both 1999 and 2004, Cincinnati has trophies stemming from the years of 1961 and 1962, a time when the team made it to the Final Four in five straight seasons.
Not only are the Bearcats familiar with UConn, they also know what it is like to mix it up against a Big East foe in this very building after taking down the Georgetown Hoyas here on February 23rd in a 58-46 decision.
The winner of this game will meet up with the survivor of the Temple/San Diego State contest in the "Sweet 16" next week.
The offense started out very slow for Cincinnati on Thursday as the team fell behind by a 9-2 score three minutes in, but from there Missouri couldn't keep up and the Bearcats built their 11-point halftime lead into a 15-point victory in the nation's capital. Yancy Gates led four UC players in double figures as he registered a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Dion Dixon contributed 16 points and six boards of his own. Cashmere Wright tallied 11 points and half of the unit's 14 assists, while Sean Kilpatrick pitched in 10 points off the bench for a team that shot 53.7 percent from the floor. Gates leads the group in both scoring and rebounding through 34 games with averages of 11.9 points and seven rebounds per outing, but in terms of scoring Dixon is hot on his heels with 11.8 ppg. The balanced scoring attack generates a solid 69.2 ppg, but it is the defense that does most of the hard work for the Bearcats by limiting foes to 59.3 ppg on 41.0 percent shooting from the floor.
Kemba Walker handed out a career-high 12 assists and recorded another double- double on the season on Thursday thanks to his 18 points in the 29-point victory over the Bison. Walker, who had a hand in more than half of the team's 32 made field goals, set a UConn NCAA Tournament record with his 12 dishes which goes to show that he is much more than just a scoring threat every time he brings the ball down the floor. Walker also added eight rebounds, which was second only to Alex Oriakhi who tallied nine points and a team-best 12 boards in the triumph. Roscoe Smith accounted for 17 points and seven rebounds and Jeremy Lamb 16 points in the win as well, as the team turned the ball over just six times and held a huge 49-23 advantage on the glass. The Huskies have been a dominant group on the glass this season, coming in with close to 40 rpg right now and that's a huge plus for a team that is shooting just 33.3 percent from three-point range. Walker, who is 34.0 percent accurate out on the perimeter, is one of the top scorers in the nation with 23.4 ppg, but he is also a key figure in the passing game with 162 assists through 36 starts.
Certainly the familiarity between these two programs will make for an interesting matchup, but like most schools, just because Cincinnati has seen Walker before doesn't mean the Bearcats are any better equipped to stop him.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Connecticut 68, Cincinnati 62