One down, three to go. The UConn Huskies blew the doors off the USF Bulls last night, 69-43 behind 20 points from the conference rookie of the year Daniel Hamilton to go along with double digit scoring from Ryan Boatright and Rodney Purvis. The trio combined to go 10-16 from three point land, continuing their hot shooting on this floor in the XL Center. UConn got stellar contributions from Omar Calhoun, Phillip Nolan, and Amida Brimah, each of whom impacted the game in different ways. Calhoun had nine points on 4-6 shooting including three tough runners in the first half. Nolan had a season-high seven rebounds while Amida Brimah blocked five shots despite altering countless. UConn's defense as a team was nothing short of stifling, holding USF to 31% shooting for 43 points, both season lows for Huskies' opponents.
USF was the perfect tune-up for the test the Huskies face tonight. This blossoming rivalry between UConn and Cincinnati will add another chapter in what will be a gritty classic between the two blue chip programs of the conference. Cincinnati is incredibly deep and plays the best defense in the conference, and arguably America. Ranking 6th in scoring defense and 22nd in field goal percentage defense, the Bearcats have the length and numbers to keep up with any offense in the country.
Offensively, the Bearcats are led in scoring by 6'10 forward Octavius Ellis at 10.0 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game and 2.1 block per game. He leads a front court also consisting of talented 6'7 forwards Shaq Thomas and Gary Clark. Thomas thrives on the offensive glass while Clark does everything for the Bearcats, averaging almost 8 points per game and 7 rebounds per game with the ability to run the floor and hit from mid range. If Kentan Facey once again can't go, Amida Brimah, Phillip Nolan, and even Rakim Lubin are going to have their hands full. Ollie has been begging the Huskies' bigs to get better on the boards, and that message was received yesterday, where Nolan, Brimah, and Lubin combined for 14 rebounds, but tonight the challenge is certainly elevated.
The battle of the back court is where this game could be won for the Huskies. Cincinnati is led by point guard Troy Caupain, who averages 9.4 points and 3.6 assists per game and was the Bearcats' leading scorer in both previous contests between these two squads earlier this year. For UConn to win this game, it is going to need to do a better job on Caupain. Ryan Boatright and Terrance Samuel will primarily be guarding Cinci's leader, and the two have played sensational defense over the last month. Other perimeter threats for Concinnati include the sharp-shooting duo of Farad Cobb and Kevin Johnson. Neither are too much of a threat off the dribble, but keeping these two Bearcats off the three point line will certainly be in the Huskies game plan tonight.
UConn has shown they can beat Cincinnati in this building before with its 62-56 win back on January 10th, and I have no doubts that they can complete this feat tonight. The key will be keeping turnovers down against this suffocating defense and making the most of open shot opportunities, something the Huskies excelled at last night. Daniel Hamilton, Rodney Purvis, and Ryan Boatright have all been playing some of their best basketball of their careers in recent games, and when the three can all put it together in one night, great things happen. Expect the XL center to be rocking tonight and if you haven't bought your ticket yet, you best get moving.
Here's to the journey continuing.
Prediction: UConn 60 Cincinnati 57