CINCINNATI -- Going into Wednesday night's game against Central Florida, No. 11 Cincinnati predictably focused its game plan on containing 7-foot-6 UCF center Tacko Fall. From the start, the Bearcats swarmed Fall every time he touched the ball and played keep-away behind the arc at the other end. And from the start, it proved to be an effective strategy. Cincinnati never trailed in a 60-50 victory over UCF at Fifth Third Arena. "When you saw (Fall) in the game, it looked like he was playing on a Nerf hoop," Cincinnati forward Kyle Washington said. "It's crazy. He's a huge human being. The game plan was to straddle him and stay on his legs and kind of keep him uncomfortable, keep him outside of the paint, because he has such an easy finish on the inside." The win helped Cincinnati (22-2, 11-0 American Athletic Conference) extend its winning streak to 15 games and its home win streak to 23. Washington finished with 14 points for Cincinnati. UCF guard B.J. Taylor and Fall each scored 14 points, with all seven of Fall's field goals being dunks or tip-ins. Facing off against Fall, the tallest player in college basketball this season, Cincinnati started the first half by taking 12 of its first 14 shots from behind the 3-point line. Keeping the ball out of the paint helped Cincinnati control the pace of the game and jump to a quick 10-point lead. "It's an interesting game," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "You don't play games like that, where you can't take the ball in at them, but they're just giving you open shots -- you have an open shot almost every time down the floor. We won anyway, despite our struggles from the field, and most of them were wide-open looks." In a battle of two of the country's top defenses -- UCF is first in the nation in field-goal percentage defense and Cincinnati is third -- both teams shot well below their season averages. Cincinnati took an eight-point lead into halftime and kept a double-digit lead for much of the second half, despite shooting just 35.4 percent from the field. "Looking at their percentages, I thought we played good enough defense, both field-goal percentage defense and 3-point percentage defense," UCF coach Johnny Dawkins said. "When you hold a team in the 60s that averages in the 70s, you have a chance to win. I just don't think we were efficient enough on offense." Even while struggling against the Knights' defense, the Bearcats neutralized UCF's advantage on the boards. UCF (15-9, 6-6 AAC) entered Wednesday's game second in the country in rebounds (43.2 rebounds per game) and rebounding margin (plus-11.1), but Cincinnati jumped to a 21-19 advantage on the boards in the first half. The Knights finished the game with a plus-two rebounding edge, but Cincinnati still finished with a 13-7 advantage in offensive rebounds. The Bearcats also forced Fall to turn the ball over six times and capitalized on a plus-11 turnover margin. "There's still a lot of learning going on, like where we can deliver the ball to Tacko so he can be effective," Dawkins said. "We didn't differentiate between if he's too far out and not throwing it, or if he's deep enough, being confident and throwing it in there. He had six of our 16 turnovers, so coming from one position and from a guy that doesn't touch the ball very much, that's always difficult." NOTES: Cincinnati entered Wednesday's game averaging 7.5 3-pointers per game, but made six in the first half alone and nine total. ... Cincinnati has not lost at home since Dec. 29, 2015, against Temple. ... UCF has lost five of its last six games.
Cincinnati beats Central Florida for 15th straight win
The Sports Xchange | Feb 9