In a battle of American Athletic Conference player of the year candidates, the University of Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick clearly outplayed Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier.

Not that it mattered one iota to Kilpatrick.

“I’m just playing to win,” Kilpatrick said. “I don’t care about points. I don’t care about any of that. Leaders don’t go out there and try to compete against the other teams’ best players.”

Playing to win is what Kilpatrick and this UC team are all about, and the Bearcats did it again Thursday with a hard-fought 63-58 victory over the Huskies before 12,432 fans – the largest crowd of the season at Fifth Third Arena that included both Oscar Robertson and Pete Rose.

Kilpatrick produced his second double-double of the season and the fourth of his career with 26 points and 12 rebounds to go with six assists, and made the game-clinching free throws with 4.3 seconds left. Napier scored 16 points for UConn, but made only 5 of 19 shots and was 2-for-12 from long range.

Justin Jackson scored 15 points with six rebounds for the Bearcats, who held the Huskies 18 points below their offensive average.

No.7 UC (22-2, 11-0 in the American) extended its winning streak to 15 games. No.22 UConn (17-5, 5-4) had won six of its last seven.

The Bearcats led for all of 20 seconds in the first half and were down by as many as 10 with 2:18 left in the half. They were still down by eight five minutes into the second half but never lost the resolve that has served them so well during this winning streak.

“In the first half, they were the more aggressive team,” UC coach Mick Cronin said of UConn. “They took the game to us at the outset. We struggled on offense in the first half and I thought we let that affect our defense. We were demoralized. But as the game went on, we shared the ball more. We moved the ball better and shot a much higher percentage (52.2) in the second half. Holding them to 58 points is a tremendous accomplishment.”

The Bearcats finally caught up to the Huskies and took a 47-46 lead with 7:34 to play. They led by five with 4:31 left, but the Huskies would not go away. Titus Rubles made two clutch free throws with 25.8 seconds left with a verbal assist from Jackson after he had missed two seconds earlier. That gave UC a 59-55 lead.

“He said ‘this is easy,’” Rubles said. “‘You do this all the time,’ I said ‘you’re right’ and I knocked them down.”

But Ryan Boatright buried a three six seconds later to draw UConn within one. Jermaine Sanders made two free throws for UC with 18.5 seconds to play to put UC ahead by three.

UConn then called timeout with 16 seconds left. With Napier and Boatright covered, Niels Giffey launched an errant 3-pointer that was rebounded by Kilpatrick, who made two free throws with 4.3 seconds left to seal the victory.

“You just have to keep your composure and keep grinding,” Jackson said. “Everybody expects to win when you step on the court. It’s what you’re going to do about it that counts.”