Over the course of seven years - from 1995-96 through 2001-02 - the University of Cincinnati basketball program produced the Conference USA player of the year five times.

Danny Fortson won the award in 1996 and 1997, Kenyon Martin in 2000 and Steve Logan in 2001 and 2002. No UC player has won a conference player of the year award since then.

But it appears that’s about to change.

With nine conference games remaining, Sean Kilpatrick has to be considered the favorite to win the first American Athletic Conference player of the year award. The senior guard leads the league in scoring with 19.5 points per game and shoots 86.2 percent from the free throw line.

More important than his numbers is the fact that he’s the best player on what so far has been the best team in the league. Kilpatrick rescued the Bearcats last Sunday at Temple when they blew a 19-point second-half lead but held on to win thanks to his 29 points and two free throws with the score tied in the closing seconds.

He staged an encore of that performance Thursday night at Louisville, when he scored 28 points and made four free throws in the final seconds to help the 13th-ranked Bearcats knock off the 12th-ranked Cardinals, 69-66, at the KFC Yum! Center after UC lost another substantial lead, this time of 17 points.

Those are the kind of things that conference players of the year do. And no one has done them better in the American this season than Kilpatrick.

UC freshman guard Troy Caupain calls him a “reliever.”

“When you need a bucket, he’ll get you a bucket,” Caupain said. “He gives everybody relief, the whole team. He’ll score a three, knock down free throws. Every time he got to the free throw line I knew it was good. It’s nothing new.”

When Kilpatrick announced at the team banquet last spring that he planned to return to UC for his senior year, one of the first things UC coach Mick Cronin talked about was the potential for Kilpatrick to be one of the best players in the new league. That’s exactly how it has played out.

Kilpatrick has never been more valuable than he was against the Cardinals.

“I probably asked him to do too much handling the ball against their press,” Cronin said after the Louisville game. “At times he got tired and I should have got him more rest in the first half. People think he’s not an NBA player? I don’t know how they could think that. He does so much for our team.”

Kilpatrick ended up playing 37 minutes against Louisville. He was one of three UC starters – all seniors – who logged more than 35 minutes.

With freshman forward Jermaine Lawrence still sidelined because of a turf toe injury, UC entered the game with only nine scholarship players. Cronin played only eight of them. David Nyarsuk never got off the bench and Kevin Johnson played only one minute, so essentially UC beat Louisville with a seven-man rotation.