By Ryan Roberts
Fort Worth- The Bearcats took the floor on Saturday afternoon at Dickie's Arena against not only the number one seed in the tournament, but also the number one team in the entire country. The Cougars entered the game with a gaudy 30-2 record and riding a 12 game win streak after yesterday's 60-44 win over East Carolina. If the Bearcats were going to pull an upset and advance to the American Athletic Conference Championship, they would need to have a similar performance to what we saw in yesterday's 84-54 win over Temple.
Through the first 3:03 of the game, things didn't look good for Cincinnati. Houston opened the game on a 9-2 run on 4 of 7 shooting. Cincinnati was forcing missed shots but second chance opportunities were being converted n to points for Houston, forcing Wes Miller to use a timeout.
Things continued to snowball for the Bearcats over the next 5 minutes. Houston extended their lead out to 17-7 during a Bearcat scoring drought that lasted 2:45. With 11:57 remaining in the first half, Cincinnati was 3 of 9 from the field, while Houston was 8 of 12 and out rebounding UC 8-3. Cincinnati also wasn't able to capitalize on 4 Houston turnovers.
Offensively, Cincinnati was struggling to get anything in the half court. A Dan Skillings Jr 3 pointer with 8:49 remaining cut the Houston lead to 20-12 after yet another field goal drought that lasted 5:53. The Bearcats missed 6 consecutive shots during the span, and were unable to capitalize on a 1 for 7 shooting slump by Houston that lasted 2:07. Jarace Walker and J'wan Roberts were the two constants for the Coogs to that point with 14 combined points inside.
Houston continued to pile on over the next 5:53. Four consecutive field goals, capped off by a Terrance Arecenuax and one, extended Houston's lead to 33-20 with 2:56 left in the half. UC continued to struggle from the field but also were struggling from the free throw line, as they were 4 of 11. In a game where scoring in the half court was difficult because of how aggressive Houston was playing, you had to take advantage of the free opportunities and that simply wasn't happening.
Cincinnati closed the final 3:22 of the half without a field goal and went in to the locker room trailing #1 Houston 38-23. The story of the first half was the inside play of Houston. They got to the rim at will and outscored UC 26-2 in the paint and out rebounded the Cats 24-14. Jarace Walker led Houston in the first half with 9 points, 7 rebounds while Landers Nolley had a team high 8 points. Cincinnati finished 7 of 15 from the charity stripe during the first 20 minutes of the game and 6 of 23 from the field for 26%.
The second half started much better for the Bearcats than what was seen at the beginning of the game. David Dejulius got aggressive going to the rim, drawing fouls, which opened things up inside for Ody Oguama. The two combined for 9 points during the first 3:39 and Cincinnati cut the Houston lead to 10, 42-32 with 16:21 remaining.
Landers Nolley made a 3 pointer at the 15:17 mark of the second half to cut the Houston lead to 9, 44-35, but Houston answered with an 8-2 run to push the lead back to 17, 52-37 WITH 11:52 left in the game. During the run, Jamal Shead had 5 of the 8 points with the other 3 coming from J'Wan Roberts inside on a bucket and free throw.
Houston would extended their lead out to 22, 60-38, with 8 minutes left as Cincinnati continued to struggle to get anything going offensively. A scoring drought that lasted 2:59 saw Cincinnati miss 11 of 12 shots, including 7 straight. With time winding down and it getting later in the second half, it was looking like Cincinnati's final game as a member of the American Athletic Conference would be a loss to the #1 team in the country, Houston. Sometimes you simply get beat by a better team and that was very much the case in this semi final match up.
Houston improved to 31-2 with the 69-48 win over the Bearcats. The Coogs made 29 of their 57 shot attempts on the day for 51%. J'wan Roberts and Jamal Shead both finished with 16 points to lead Houston. Jarace Walker had 13 points to go with 8 rebounds.
Cincinnati was led by Landers Nolley's 14 points in the loss, as no other Bearcat reached double figures. For the game, Cincinnati made just 13 of 51 field goal attempts and 6 of 28 three point attempts. They also struggled from the free throw line with a 16 of 28 showing.
The biggest difference in the game was Houston's aggressive play in the paint. The Cougars outscored Cincinnati 38-12 in the paint and out-rebounded the Cats 44-32.
With the loss, UC drops to 21-12 with their hopes of an additional game depending on the NIT draw tomorrow night.