Cincinnati Bearcats jump to No. 7 in AP, USA TODAY polls

Kilpatrick's heroics earn AAC honor

CINCINNATI - The University of Cincinnati jumped all the way to seventh in both major basketball polls  – its highest ranking in 10 years – with its impressive victory at Louisville last week.
 
The Bearcats (21-2) haven’t been ranked this high in the Associated Press Top 25 since they were sixth in 2004. 

UC climbed from 13th in the AP poll and 15th in the USA TODAY coaches poll.

Not only that, the Bearcats are control of the American Athletic Conference with a 10-0 mark, in line to win its first regular season title.

"We're not done yet," said Justin Jackson, a senior who has developed into one of the conference's top forwards.  "We want to be on the big stage come March. That's our focus: When we come to March to have a good seed and do what we need to do."

The Bearcats have one more month to make their case for a high seed that could help them advance deep into the NCAA tournament. The challenge is to keep the momentum going with a short-handed roster that might be starting to wear down.

They've reached the tournament each of the last three seasons, making it to the round of 16 only one time.

"We understand the importance of seeding in the NCAA tournament," coach Mick Cronin said. "The last three years, we've had terrible draws."

A prime-time ESPN audience saw the Bearcats knock off then No. 12 Louisville 69-66 last Thursday for their 13th straight win.

UC followed up with its 14th straight Sunday, beating South Florida 50-45 at Fifth-Third Arena.

Cronin's biggest concern is his lack of depth on the front line.

Freshman forward Jermaine Lawrence has missed the last month with an injured toe, leaving Cincinnati with nine scholarship players available. The Bearcats' bench contributed only two points in the win over South Florida, a trend that can't continue. The front line seems to be wearing down.

"I worry about fatigue with this team, especially with Jermaine Lawrence (injured)," Cronin said. "As much as (Jackson) tells you he's a machine, he's tired. There's three times somebody jumped over him to get an offensive rebound, and that never happens."

Lawrence is expected to resume workouts this week, but the Bearcats have to go slow with him to avoid a setback

UC senior guard Sean Kilpatrick was named player of the week in the American Athletic Conference Monday after scoring  28 against Louisville and 18 against USF.

Kilpatrick moved into third place on the UC career scoring list with 1,891 points behind only the legendary Oscar Robertson (2,973) and Steve Logan (1,985).

Kilpatrick’s scoring average (19.4 points per game) leads the conference.

"He's maybe the most underrated great player who has ever played here," Cronin said. "I think Thursday (against Louisville) it woke people up nationally to who he is. He has definitely not gotten the attention.

"He's clearly the player of the year in this league, 10 games in, with everything he does for this team."

UC’s next game is 7 p.m. Thursday vs. Connecticut at Fifth-Third Arena.
 

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