HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — The Bearcats had three days to stew, and it showed when they took the court.
Gary Clark scored 10 of his 17 points during Cincinnati’s decisive opening spurt, and the 11th-ranked Bearcats shook off consecutive losses by beating short-handed Connecticut 77-52 on Thursday night for their fifth straight win over the Huskies.
The Bearcats (24-4, 13-2 American Athletic) recovered from a loss at Houston that ended their 16-game winning streak and a 76-72 loss to Wichita State that snapped their 39-game winning streak at home. They play back-to-back games against conference also-rans before finishing at Wichita State on March 4, a rematch that could decide the league title.
“Coming off two losses, you’ve got to come out with hunger,” Clark said. “Our season’s on the line. We’ve just got to try to get momentum going into the tournament and all of that.”
Clark had 10 points as Cincinnati surged ahead 34-19. The Bearcats got a lot of open shots against UConn’s zone defense and made 12 of their first 18 attempts. They led by double digits the rest of the way, a pleasing outcome after those two losses.
“Coach has been challenging us as a team and as individuals,” said Cane Broome, who had 13 points. “We can get better in certain areas. It’s not about this game; it’s for the rest of the season.”
The Huskies (13-15, 6-9) struggle on offense and were missing top scorer Jalen Adams, who was sick. Adams averages 17.8 points and 4.5 assists per game.
Christian Vital scored 15 points and Terry Larrier had 14 for the Huskies, who shot 29.5 percent from the field against the nation’s second-stingiest defense. Cincinnati dominated inside, getting 33 points in the paint while allowing only 16.
“The game plan was being unselfish and shortening the game, and I thought we took some bad shots that led to run-outs for them,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “I don’t care if it’s anyone playing — if it’s the walk-ons playing — you have to follow the game plan.”
Despite the score, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin wasn’t pleased with his team’s defense. The Bearcats gave up a lot of open shots that the short-handed Huskies missed.
“Those same shots got us beat the last two games,” Cronin said. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near where I need to get our team defensively, and that’s just the truth.”
Connecticut: The Huskies have lost eight of 11 as the season winds down, matching their conference loss total from a year ago. They went 16-17 overall and 9-9 in the AAC last season.
Cincinnati: After the loss to Wichita State, Cronin bemoaned his team’s defensive breakdowns and rebounding. Cincinnati’s defense and rebounding were still an issue, though not as glaring. UConn got eight offensive rebounds in the first half while outrebounding the Bearcats 19-18.
Cincinnati’s Nysier Brooks and UConn’s Kwintin Williams got technical fouls in the first half. Williams committed a foul as Brooks went up for a dunk, and they exchanged words. It was Williams’ third foul, landing him on the bench. Cronin also got one for complaining about calls with 4:28 left and Cincinnati up by 25 points.
UConn made a season-high 13 3-pointers and shot 58 percent overall during an 84-80 win at East Carolina on Sunday. The Huskies lost their touch against the Bearcats, going 6 of 22 from beyond the arc. Larrier missed all five of his 3-point tries.
Cincinnati’s five straight wins against the Huskies are their most in the series. They’ve also won seven of eight.
UConn got only five points off its bench. Cincinnati had 40 from its non-starters.
“When people ask what’s going to get us farther in March, it’s our bench,” Clark said.