CINCINNATI (AP) — After leading most of the game, No. 22 Connecticut had a chance to finish off a big upset. The Huskies got a little too anxious.
They couldn’t figure out how to stop Sean Kilpatrick, either.
Kilpatrick had 26 points and 12 rebounds on Thursday night as No. 7 Cincinnati rallied for a 63-58 win, its 15th in a row. His two free throws in the closing seconds sent the Huskies (17-5, 5-4 American Athletic) to their second loss in eight games, both against ranked teams.
“They did whatever they wanted to do in the second half,” coach Kevin Ollie said.
The Bearcats (22-2, 11-0) trailed for most of the game, their first with a No. 7 ranking that is their highest in 10 years. A crowd of 12,432 — their biggest of the season — watched them win.
Cincinnati has won 18 straight at home, including all 16 this season. The Bearcats are off to their best start in 12 years.
“That’s what we’ve been hoping for,” Cincinnati forward Titus Rubles said. “It’s good to see the city excited for Cincinnati basketball again. We definitely enjoyed the crowd today. It was a big factor in helping us with our energy.”
Justin Jackson had six of his 15 points and blocked a shot during a 13-4 run that rallied Cincinnati midway through the second half. Jermaine Sanders’ two free throws with 18.5 seconds left gave Cincinnati a 61-58 lead.
UConn’s Niels Giffey missed a 3-point shot, and Kilpatrick got the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws.
“The mark of great players is that they rise to the occasion,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “He has the ability to rise to the occasion.”
Shabazz Napier scored 16 points for the Huskies, who were playing their highest-ranked opponent this season. They are 2-2 against Top 25 teams, with wins over Florida and Memphis and losses to Louisville and Cincinnati.
Two hours before tip-off, Cincinnati introduced Mike Bohn as its next athletic director. His top priority: Get the Bearcats into a better conference. Cincinnati and Connecticut tried to move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, but were rebuffed. Instead, Louisville will move from the American Athletic into the ACC next season.
The game matched two of the AAC’s top guards. Kilpatrick leads the league at 19.4 points per game, while Napier averages 17.9 points and 6.0 rebounds. Shabazz got the better of it early. Kilpatrick, who played all 40 minutes, rallied the Bearcats at the end.
“Justin Jackson and Kilpatrick took over the game,” Ollie said. “It was a heck of a performance by (Kilpatrick). We couldn’t get him out of the game. They just took it to us in the second half.”
Napier went only 2 of 12 beyond the arc and missed a tough 3-point attempt that could have put the Huskies ahead with 30 seconds to go.
“We can’t shoot 30-footers, and hopefully he keeps learning,” Ollie said. “You have to get to the rim and put it on the ref in that situation. You have to make a pass.”
Connecticut led for all but 40 seconds in the first half with its guards darting through Cincinnati’s defense for layups and assists.
Ryan Boatright scored six consecutive points as UConn pulled ahead 21-15. He fell hard on his left shoulder while going for the ball and left the game grimacing. He returned a few minutes later and scored only three points the rest of the game.
Napier made a driving bank shot high off the backboard, then drove under the basket and passed outside to Giffey for a wide-open 3-pointer that built UConn’s lead to 26-18. Another 3 by Giffey gave the Huskies a 10-point lead.
The Huskies made four of their first six shots in the second half to hold the lead. Omar Calhoun’s baseline jumper put the Huskies ahead 42-34.
Jackson then led the Bearcats on the 13-4 run. He emphatically blocked a shot to set up a fast break that culminated in Kilpatrick’s dunk. Jackson picked up a loose ball on the Bearcats’ next possession and dunked, then followed with a driving bank shot for a 47-46 lead with 7:34 left.
Kilpatrick hit another 3 that started a six-point spurt and gave Cincinnati its biggest lead, 53-49. The Bearcats stayed ahead the rest of the way.
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