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Cliff's Notes: UC at UConn

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For those of you who were stuck in a tent on the Carnival Triumph or busy watching Harlem Shake videos last week, here is all you need to know for the Bearcats critical game at Connecticut tonight. 

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What: UC at UConn

Where: The XL Center

When: Thursday, 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN (John Saunders/Seth Greenberg/Andy Katz) -- 700WLW radio (Dan/Chuck)

Follow along:
 UCGameday.com

2012 records: Bearcats 19-7, 7-6, Huskies 17-7, 7-5

Past results:
 UC won the only game against UConn last year on a Sean Kilpatrick 3-pointer with less than three seconds remaining. UConn leads the overall series 7-3 with a 2-2 record as the home team.  

Need to know: UConn finds itself in an odd predicament where they are ineligible for the postseason due to academic performance failures. They won't take part in the Big East tournament or any other postseason event. New coach Kevin Ollie has done a nice job keeping his team playing with a chip on its shoulder despite the lost season. They've won five of their last seven including a victory over Syracuse. 

Game-changing stat: Connecticut struggles terribly on the glass. They rank in the bottom three of the conference in grabbing rebounds on both offense and defense. In fact, out of 350 Division I teams, they rank 331st in defensive rebounding percentage. 

Take a look at the UConn losses and keep in mind the Division I average for offensive rebounding is 31.9 percent. 

  • Opponent (score): UConn Opponent OR% /// UConn OR%
  • Villanova (L 70-61): 51.4% /// 20.9%
  • St. John's (L 71-65): 23.5% /// 26.6%
  • Pitt (L 69-61): 44.8% /// 25.0%
  • Louisville (L 73-58): 34.5% /// 21.8%
  • Marquette (L 82-76 OT): 33.3% /// 15.6%
The Huskies have been far below the average in grabbing their own offensive rebounds in every single loss. And outside of the anomaly of the St. John's loss, they've allowed an OR% above the average in every loss. The worst came in their recent loss to Villanova where they let the Wildcats grab more than half of their misses. It results in more shots, more buckets. It's the common thread in how to beat UConn. 

Even in their biggest win over Syracuse, the Orange got off 20 more shots than the Huskies due to rebounding discrepancy.

Meanwhile, the Bearcats lead the Big East in conference play in keeping opponents off the boards. UC holds a serious advantage in keeping the Huskies to one-and-done possessions. They must dominate that area as well as crush the offensive glass for putbacks. 

"From my time coaching against UConn, they were always a big team," Cronin said. "Last year they had Andre Drummond, plays for the Pistons, and Alex Oriakhi, who starts at the 5 for Missouri. They have been big and strong and dominant all through Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrian. Now, they are a finesse team."

Who to know: Shabazz Napier. Bearcats fans should be well aware of the Huskies star guard at this point. He dropped 27 on them last year including a slew of 3-pointers in the final minute to bring UConn back to a 67-67 tie. Then SK dropped the game-winner.  

He can shoot it (38 percent from deep) and can distribute it (2.35:1 assist to turnover). 

After a hot streak where he was carrying the Huskies averaging 19.4 points per game during a five-game stretch of four wins. 

The last two games, however, he's combined for 12 points including 1 of 9 from 3-point range. He also had nine turnovers over the time span. 

Record watch: With a win the Bearcats would have 20 wins in three consecutive seasons. That would be the first time its happened since Bob Huggins from 2004-06. 

By the numbers: How good has the Bearcats defense been? Of the 19 games against major opponents this year, every single team has scored fewer points than their season average. The difference has been at least nine points in all but three games and one of those was in OT against Marquette. 

The Huskies are averaging 70.6 points per game. 

Defining matchup: Wright vs. Napier. The Bearcats can't allow Napier to get going. When he struggles, UConn typically follows. That's one of the biggest reasons for their letdown against Villanova last weekend where he only scored two points. Wright, now UC's career steals leader, has the ability to create turnovers and Napier can be susceptible to that. UC needs to at least break even in this battle. 

The Hartford Courtant wrote this about Napier and Ryan Boatright both knowing they must play better to avoid a repeat of their Villanova disappointment. 

"They are great players," Sean Kilpatrick said. "We sensed that last year, we have been watching them a lot lately and they make a lot of shots. You are not going to just have me and Cash having to guard them. You are going to have the whole team having to guard them because we know they can make big shots and we know they can take over a game. It's going to be a tough task, but this is a time where we need all the wins we can get."

Road trip: The Bearcats won't come home after Thursday's game against UConn. They will fly to South Bend, Ind., and stay there leading up to Sunday's game against the Irish. 

Quotent Quotables: Mick Cronin on the urgency necessary with only five games remaining and 7-6 in the conference. 

"Right now, hopefully our veteran guys understand this is why you practiced. This is why you played all those other games, to get to March. It's time to do what we got to do to solidify our position in March. Try to go on a run. All those other games become really irrelevant. You can erase a lot of close losses, a lot of mistakes if you can get to the Big Dance and go on a run. That is beauty of college basketball. As a coach, you have to try to make sure your players understand that. That's the key."

Looking ahead: Get used to seeing the Huskies, after Sunday's game at Notre Dame, UConn will come to Fifth Third Arena on Saturday March 2. 

I want to hear from you. Send any questions, comments or your thoughts on the Bearcats to my email at pauldehnerjr@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter tonight @pauldehnerjr.

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