University of Cincinnati guard Troy Caupain called it a mental toughness win and that was as good a way as any to describe it.

The Bearcats, who hadn’t won in Tampa since 2005, had to scrape and claw to extend their winning streak to 10 with a 61-54 victory over South Florida on Saturday before 5,322 fans in the Sun Dome.

Every time the Bearcats appeared on the verge of pulling away for a comfortable victory, the Bulls came back. But the flip side of that was that every time USF either tied the game or took a lead, UC responded with a big shot or a defensive stand.

“We’ve just got to continue to keep being strong mentally and continue to keep playing defense,” said senior guard Sean Kilpatrick.

The 19th-ranked Bearcats did both to improve their record to 17-2, 6-0 in the American Athletic Conference. Kilpatrick led UC with 18 points and passed Roger McClendon for fifth place on UC’s career scoring list. Shaquille Thomas scored 10 points, all in the first half and Ge’Lawn Guyn scored eight, including two key 3-pointers late in the first half.

Javontae Hawkins scored a career-high 15 points to lead USF (10-8, 1-4).

The Bearcats led by 10 points midway through the first half, but were unable to put the game away until the closing minutes.

“We showed a lot of poise and it wasn’t always from Sean Kilpatrick,” said UC coach Mick Cronin. “It was good to see other guys step up for us and put the ball in the basket. That’s going to be important for us to continue to win. You can’t rely on one or two guys.”

After the Bulls tied the score at 47-47, UC went on an 11-2 run, taking a 58-49 lead on Justin Jackson’s dunk off an out-of-bounds play with 2:23 remaining.

“I thought we had a chance to get that play but then I saw John Egbunu standing by the rim and I thought, uh-oh, he’s going to get it blocked,” Cronin said. “And then Justin went into his Jason Maxiell impersonation. Jason was sitting in the front row, but he just told me he can’t jump like that anymore. Obviously that was a big play, a momentum swing. I think it rattled them a little bit.”

Still, the Bulls kept coming and trimmed UC’s lead to 58-54 with 1:09 remaining. The Bearcats then closed out the win with three free throws – one by Jackson and two by Kilpatrick.

UC was outrebounded, 36-30, by the bigger, stronger USF front line and when the Bearcats were unable to score in transition off turnovers, they were forced to slug it out in the half-court, something they had hoped to avoid.