GAME NOTES: The Cincinnati Bearcats will try to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume' as they venture into the KFC Yum! Center for a Big East Conference matchup with the Louisville Cardinals.
This will be the 97th meeting in history between these schools on the hardwood. The Cardinals hold a 54-42 all-time series lead after defeating Cincinnati, 50-44, in last season's Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden.
Once a member of the top-25, Cincinnati is now trying to keep itself in position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament after losing five of its last seven games. The Bearcats ended a three-game slide on Saturday with a much-needed, 61-56, victory over Connecticut at Fifth Third Arena. Sean Kilpatrick led the way with 20 points, while Cashmere Wright was unable to snap out of his shooting slump and finished 2-of-14 from the field.
Kilpatrick has been one of the most reliable scorers in the nation for Cincinnati this season and he enters Monday with a team-leading average of 17.7 ppg. His backcourt mate Wright has not returned to full form since missing the Marquette game on Jan. 19 with a sprained knee. He has since shot just 21.1 percent from the field to average 8.2 ppg in the 10 games since his return. JaQuon Parker has increased his scoring output over the last five games, averaging 13.2 points - second most on the team during the stretch. He is shooting 46.2 percent from the field (24-of-52) and 45.5 percent from 3- point range (5-of-11). He also ranks third on the team in rebounding with 4.6 boards during the span. While the Bearcats are a middle of the road team in the Big East offensively with an average of 68.4 ppg, they are the fourth best on the defensive end with only 59.1 allowed points per tilt.
Wright will need to regain his shooting touch for Cincy in this one if it hopes to knock off the red-hot Cardinals. Louisville picked up its fifth win in a row on Saturday as it invaded the Carrier Dome to down Syracuse, 58-53. Rick Pitino's squad still has a chance of winning the Big East regular season title outright, but it will need to win out and hope Georgetown falls twice in a row to close out the regular season. Two wins by Louisville and one loss by the Hoyas would give the Cardinals a share of the title, but not the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament.
Louisville enters Monday leading the Big East in scoring (73.8 points per game), scoring margin (+15.5) and turnover margin (+5.97). Louisville also ranks third in scoring defense (58.3), rebounding offense (38.2), rebounding margin (+4.6) and offensive rebounds (14.0). Russ Smith is likely going to earn All-Conference accolades as he paces the squad with 18.4 points and 2.1 steals per tilt. Chane Benhanan and Gorgui Dieng provide Pitino with exceptional frontcourt play, while Peyton Siva contributes 9.8 points and 6.0 assists per game, running the show from the point guard position.
The Cardinals' only loss at home this season came to Syracuse in a very hard- fought affair. Sine Jan. 28, they have only lost one time and that setback came in a thrilling bout against Notre Dame that went to five overtimes with both sides missing out on multiple opportunities before the conclusion. Cincy took a step in the right direction when it downed UConn on Saturday, but it will need to make a huge leap to challenge the Cardinals.