Caupain's big game leads Cincinnati to 75-61 victory over Kansas State
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Cincinnati has made a name for itself with a stifling defense, turning every opponent's possession into a grind.
A little known fact outside of the American Athletic Conference: The Bearcats can play some offense, too.
Working the ball inside to open things up on the perimeter, Cincinnati shot it way past Kansas State 75-61 on Friday night in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament.
"They saw the fruits of trying to work harder to get that ball closer to the basket," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "From there, you're in a tough spot what do you do because you over help and we got guys on this team that can make shots."
Cincinnati (30-5) was knocked out in the first round a year ago and No. 6 seeds were 0-3 before the Bearcats took the court, with Maryland, Creighton and SMU all losing to No. 11 seeds.
The Bearcats took care of their business and the No. 6 jinx with an impressive shooting display, hitting 62 percent from the field. Cincinnati is known for its defense and did that, too, preventing Kansas State (21-14) from making much of a run after building a 17-point lead.
Troy Caupain scored 23 points and Kyle Washington added 16 for the Bearcats, who move on to play the winner between No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 14 Kent State on Sunday.
"We had a sense of calm the whole time," Washington said. "We have a whole bunch of guys that are experienced and ready to play. We were ready."
Kansas State has had a knack for mounting comebacks this season, yet could never get over the hump against Cincinnati. Just when it appeared the Wildcats were on the verge of a run, the Bearcats would string a few baskets together or swat a shot away on defense.
Wesley Iwundu led Kansas State with 19 points.
"We didn't play our best game, there is no doubt," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. "Some of that's them, the way they played. They made some shots."
Cronin was not pleased with his team's seeding nor the travel all the way to California to play its opening game.
Kansas State had an even tougher trip, having two days between games after traveling from Dayton to Sacramento following a 95-88 win over Wake Forest in the First Four.
The Wildcats had to switch gears quickly in style of play, too. While Wake Forest likes to play at a fast pace, the Bearcats have the nation's fourth-stingiest scoring defense at 60.4 points allowed per game.
Cincinnati was solid defensively, as expected, but the offense stole the show early. The Bearcats hit their first eight shots to go up nine midway through the first half and only slowed slightly.
Caupain made all five of his shots to score 14 points and Cincinnati hit 15 of 23 to lead 39-28.
"Right away off the bat we took jump shots and they got layups," Weber said. "We talked about coming and doubling early. We probably weren't quite in sync."
Kansas State made a run at the Bearcats early in the second half, cutting the lead to six.
The Bearcats pushed the lead back to 13 behind their offense and with a tightened-up defense after those early baskets by Kansas State. Cincinnati made 12 of 20 shots in the second half.
Kansas State returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, but will have to replace three key seniors to get back: D.J. Johnson, Iwundu and Carlbe Ervin II.
Cincinnati was fourth nationally in scoring defense during the season and will be a tough out the rest of the tournament if it keeps shooting like this.
The Bearcats controlled the inside most of the night, finishing with a 31-23 advantage in rebounds, 34-22 in the paint.
Cronin clarified his statement about heading West. It wasn't about being in the West. He has friends in California and enjoys it here. It was more about the players and their families having to travel so far.
"To see their son get on the biggest stage, you want them to be able to be there," he said. "That's aside from our students who the only ones we have here would be our band and our cheerleaders."
Cincinnati plays No. 3 seed UCLA on Sunday at 9:40 p.m. on TBS.