UConn Basketball: 5 Keys to Beating Cincinnati Bearcats in Big East Matchup
It's been an up and down past week for the UConn men's basketball team.
The Huskies (17-7, 7-5 Big East) scored their biggest win of the season last Wednesday night at Hartford, upending then No. 6 Syracuse 66-58 in Hartford.
It was a statement win for Kevin Ollie's young group and provided momentum heading into another rivalry clash with Villanova on Saturday.
But that game provided a big letdown for the Huskies as they dropped a 70-61 decision in a game they should've won.
The quest for a 20 win season under their freshman head coach continues Wednesday night as they face the unranked, but extremely dangerous, Cincinnati Bearcats (19-7, 7-6 Big East) in what should be a difficult conference game.
These are the five keys for the Huskies to get back on track and snag win number 18 of the season.
Who Is Going to Shutdown Sean Kilpatrick?
Cincinnati junior guard Sean Kilpatrick is having some season as the primary scoring threat for the Bearcats.
He averages an even 18 points-per-game and has been solid on the board grabbing just over five per game on average.
The Bearcats recent struggles—they've lost three of their last four including at Providence—have been keyed by poor shooting from Kilpatrick.
In the losses to Providence, Pitt and Georgetown those teams have held him to under 40 percent shooting from the floor.
This is a strategy the Huskies will need to replicate and hope that Shabazz Napier can stick in his face all night and force him to take bad shots.
Bounce Back Games from Napier and Boatright
Remember how good Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier were against Syracuse?
Well they were just as bad against Villanova.
The backcourt tandem combined for a grand total of six, count em' six, points against Villanova on a dismal 3 of 15 shooting from the floor.
While Napier did contribute 10 assists, these types of performances from both guys in the same game just aren't gonna get the job done.
The Bearcats are an NCAA tournament team and have solid guards of their own. It's crucial that both Napier and Boatright put their last game in the rear view and get on track again.
Continue Riding Omar Calhoun
Omar Calhoun gets so much ink around here you'd think he was on the payroll.
But all joking aside, the Huskies freshman guard is on the cusp of establishing himself as a superstar in his own right in an already crowded backcourt.
It's a testament to his work ethic and talent that he's rightfully mentioned alongside Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier as a key cog in the Huskies backcourt.
Calhoun has really come into his own over the past few weeks and has upped his season average to 11.5 points-per-game. What's more is his apparent propensity to hit clutch shots (just ask Syracuse), slash to the basket and get to the line.
He was the lone Husky guard to play well against Villanova. He dropped 16 points, including nine from the charity stripe, and has averaged 15.5 points over his last four games.
The Huskies should keep the ball in his hands as long as he's scoring.
Play with Intensity
When UConn beat Syracuse last Wednesday they did it with hustle and intensity, particularly on the boards where they narrowly out-rebounded the Orange.
The opposite was the case on Saturday against Villanova.
The Huskies were beaten 40-24 on the glass and looked at times to lack the fire they brought with them into the rivalry game with Syracuse.
That type of effort cannot continue this week if they hope to upset the Bearcats.
Cincinnati is one of the best rebounding teams in the country—eighth overall in the nation as of this writing—and can dominate a game with their second chance points and size.
The only way to combat that, with the lack of big physical players, is with intensity and effort. That will be key on Wednesday.
Will the UConn that beat Syracuse show up or will the team that lost a ho-hum affair to Villanova?
Get to the Line
UConn, led by its trio of guards, is a very solid free-throw shooting team. And that, a lot of times, is what wins games, particularly close ones down the stretch.
The Huskies only got to the line 14 times against Villanova, and nine of those were by Omar Calhoun who hit all of his shots from the line, but that won't work against the Bearcats.
UConn needs to be more aggressive, slash to the basket and draw the foul on offense. It's something that good teams do.
And it's something this team with Napier, Boatright and Calhoun is more than capable of doing on a night in, night out basis.