Cincinnati is ready to return to the top 25 - and can certainly bolster its cause with a victory over host UCLA on Saturday. The Bearcats dropped out of the national rankings with losses to Xavier and Florida, but rebounded nicely last time out with a 65-50 triumph over previously unbeaten Mississippi State.
Jacob Evans was the difference-maker in the decisive victory over the Bulldogs, pouring in 24 points and adding eight rebounds to prevent Cincinnati from falling even further out of the rankings race with a third consecutive loss. “We needed to get this win for us to build our confidence and get this thing back on track,” Evans told reporters after the game. Next up for Cincinnati is a challenging road tilt against a UCLA team seeking its own redemption after dropping a nine-point overtime decision at Michigan on Saturday. The loss halted a four-game winning streak for the Bruins, who have been a force at home with wins in each of their first five games at Pauley Pavilion.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
ABOUT CINCINNATI (8-2): As one of only 10 Division I schools allowing fewer than 61 points per game entering the weekend, it’s clear the Bearcats have made defense a priority in their quest for the American Athletic Conference title. But the offense deserves its share of credit as well, ranking 63rd overall at 81.6 points per contest; Evans leads four players averaging double figures in scoring at 14.4 ppg, and four of Cincinnati’s top five scorers are shooting better than 48 percent from the field. The lone outlier - guard Jarron Cumberland - is in a dreadful shooting slump that has seen him connect on just 11-of-37 attempts over the last four games.
ABOUT UCLA (7-2): It has been an unusually long stretch of inactivity for the Bruins, who will play just their third game in a 14-day span after concern over wildfires forced the cancellation of their Dec. 6 encounter with visiting Montana. Junior guard Aaron Holiday paces UCLA in points (17.7) and assists (5.7) and was sensational in the loss to the Wolverines, pouring in 27 points while dishing out seven assists. Forward Thomas Welsh (13.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg) added 22 points and 10 rebounds in the overtime defeat for his sixth double-double of the season, and has added a 3-point shot to his arsenal, connecting on 6-of-11 attempts from long range after attempting just one over his first three seasons.
1. The Bearcats rank 10th in the nation in blocked shots per game (6.4).
2. UCLA averages 42.4 rebounds per game, good for 11th in the country.
2. Walsh had nine double-doubles all of last season.
PREDICTION: Cincinnati 80, UCLA 74