Cincinnati-Notre Dame Preview
By JORDAN GARRETSON
(AP) -- Notre Dame has rarely been dominant in Big East play, but still keeps finding ways to win.
Cincinnati has seemingly forgotten how to win, beginning to threaten its chance at a potential at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.
The 25th-ranked Fighting Irish look to continue their strong offensive play at home on Sunday as they host the Bearcats.
Notre Dame (21-6, 9-5) is two games out of first place in the Big East despite only outscoring conference opponents by an average of 67.9-67.6. The Irish have won six of eight - including three in overtime - but faced a deficit in their last that game that appeared too insurmountable to overcome.
Mike Brey's team fell behind 19-3 at Pittsburgh on Monday and missed 18 of its first 19 shots despite being the league's top field-goal offense at 47.7 percent. Apparently sparked by a technical assessed on Brey, the Irish cut the deficit to three at halftime on the way to a 51-42 win.
They shot 60.0 percent after halftime, and hope to build on that showing at the Joyce Center, where they've gone 15-2. They're shooting 49.5 percent at home, including 39.1 percent from 3-point range.
The Irish will be up against one of the conference's top defenses, with Cincinnati limiting opponents to 38.2 percent shooting. But even though the Bearcats have held their last five opponents to an average of 60.2 points, they've won only once with the offense stumbling in a big way.
Cincinnati (19-8, 7-7) is shooting 36.3 percent and 26.6 from beyond the arc over its last five while being held to 55 points or fewer in each of its last four regulation losses.
Point guard Cashmere Wright - the team's second-leading scorer at 13.2 per game - is still trying to shake a personal funk. The senior's scoring average is down to 8.8 points on 26.2 percent shooting over the last five games. He was 4 of 12 for 10 points in Thursday's 73-66 overtime loss at Connecticut.
The Bearcats are 12-1 when he scores 13 or more but 6-7 when he's held to 12 or less.
Sean Kilpatrick, meanwhile, continues to carry the sputtering offense, leading the team in scoring in eight of the last nine while averaging 19.4 points.
The Bearcats blew a six-point lead with just over four minutes remaining Thursday and gave up 18 points in overtime. The loss came despite a 44-28 rebounding advantage - including 17 offense boards for Cincinnati.
"We've got to learn how to play with the lead down the stretch especially with veteran guys who are capable of beating their man," coach Mick Cronin said of his team, which leads the conference with a plus-7.7 rebounding margin. "If we could beat them off the dribble, they couldn't keep us off the backboard."
Rebounding has also been particularly key lately for Notre Dame, which held a 40-25 edge on the glass Monday, and is 15-0 with an advantage on the boards this season.
Irish senior Jack Cooley is the league's leading rebounder with 11.1 per game and his 18 double-doubles are tied for second in the nation.
Notre Dame, however, had a season-low 23 rebounds at Cincinnati on Jan. 7, but still won 66-60. The Irish, who have won all four previous meetings with the Bearcats in South Bend, shot 50.0 percent, including 56.3 percent on 3-pointers. Jerian Grant had a game-high 19 points while Kilpatrick had 15 - the only Cincinnati player to score more than eight.
Updated February 23, 2013