Maybe opponents are starting to figure out the University of Cincinnati’s defense. If that’s the case, it’s a good thing the Bearcats are showing signs of becoming a better offensive team as the postseason approaches.

UC has been rock-solid defensively for most of the season but has allowed each of its last two opponents to shoot over 50 percent. The result last week was a loss at SMU. On Saturday, the Bearcats avoided a second straight defeat because they were able to generate some offense of their own and because they regained their defensive touch over the last six minutes and 41 seconds.

A rare Fifth Third Arena sellout crowd of 13,176 – the first since Feb. 23, 2012 vs. Louisville - watched a tense back-and-forth game that featured six ties and 23 lead changes before the Bearcats, behind 28 points from Sean Kilpatrick and two key 3-pointers from Ge’Lawn Guyn, took charge down the stretch to post a 73-62 victory.

“It was a great experience for us today to have to execute the way we had to execute to win this game in the second half,” said UC coach Mick Cronin. “They were highly efficient offensively until we were able to lock in defensively late in the game. It was good for us to have to deal with that. I think it makes us a better team.”

UC outscored Houston, 16-5, after the score was tied at 57-57 with 6:29 to play and held the Cougars without a field goal for more than five minutes.

No. 10 UC (23-3 overall, 12-1 in the American Athletic Conference) has won 19 straight home games. Houston (12-13, 4-8) has lost six of its last seven.

Jackson scored 13 points with five rebounds, all in the second half, after he got into early foul trouble in the first half. Shaquille Thomas scored 11 points and was more assertive offensively than he’s been in a long time.

Kilpatrick led the Bearcats in scoring for the 12th straight game and the 23rd time in 26 games this year. He also went over the 500-point mark for the season to join Oscar Robertson and Danny Fortson as the only players in school history to score 500 points in three different seasons. And he set a UC record for consecutive games played with 132.

If all that weren’t enough for one day’s work, he recorded six assists, including a pass to Guyn, whose 3-pointer with 2:54 to go gave UC a 64-58 lead. Moments later Guyn buried another trey to give the Bearcats a 9-point lead.

“I knew they were going to wind up collapsing on me,” Kilpatrick said. “As soon as I saw him open in the corner, I threw it to him and said shoot it. He’s a shooter and every time we pass him the ball, we yell at him and say shoot because we know he’s a guy that can really knock down threes and open the gap for us.”

Houston shot 53.3 percent for the game and 61.9 percent in the second half after making nine of its first 10 shots to start the half. But UC was also efficient on offense, shooting 50.9 percent for the game and 60.7 percent in the second half.

“We worked this week really hard on our execution and passing,” Cronin said. “We only had four turnovers and we pretty much were getting the shots we wanted all day. When you get to March, you have to win in a multitude of ways. You’re not going to shut everybody out.”

The contribution from Thomas was especially welcome as Cronin continues to search for the key to unlock his vast potential.

“I made a commitment this week to ride him like Secretariat,” Cronin said.

Apparently, Thomas got the message. He was driving to the basket looking to score every time he touched the ball in the first half.

“The last couple of games I’ve been struggling,” Thomas said. “All week I’ve been in the gym getting up shots and just working on my game. I just came out tonight and tried to be assertive. I need to be more consistent and just keep on working.”