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Cincinnati-Pittsburgh Preview

The Associated Press

Even with its own issues and coming off its first loss of the season, No. 14 Cincinnati will provide the second major test of the season for Pittsburgh.

The No. 24 Panthers, who failed to beat their only ranked opponent, will try to open their final Big East season with their eighth win against the Bearcats in 10 tries on Monday night.

The Bearcats (12-1) missed out on going 13-0 for the sixth time in school history with Thursday's 55-54 home loss to New Mexico. Sean Kilpatrick had a chance to win it for Cincinnati but his shot just prior to the buzzer was blocked, with the defeat likely costing the team its highest ranking in nine years.

However, the Bearcats squandered many opportunities before that.

Thursday's game seemed to be the result of Cincinnati's recent offensive slump coming to a head. The Bearcats shot 35.6 percent in their two previous games - wins against Xavier and Wright State, respectively.

They followed that with a disappointing performance against New Mexico, setting season lows for points and field-goal percentage (31.3).

Cincinnati averaged 83.0 points through its first 10 games.

"The last two games, we've been in a (shooting) drought and it came down to that,'' said Kilpatrick, who went 5 of 22 from the floor for a team-high 15 points. "But we'll get through it. You can't go undefeated throughout the whole season.''

It wasn't the Bearcats' solid outside shooting (35.5 percent from 3-point range) that failed them. They went 11 of 26 from beyond the arc against the Lobos, but missed 21 shots inside the paint. Cincinnati's forwards and centers combined for 6 of 22 from the field.

"Things have been too easy for us," coach Mick Cronin said. "We were going to get taught a lesson sooner or later. It manifests itself in many ways. Our inside finishing is beyond soft. You hold a team to 55 points, you should be able to win the game."

Pittsburgh (12-1), which will join the ACC next season, has won eight straight games against inferior competition since a 67-62 loss to then-No. 4 Michigan on Nov. 21. Those victories came against teams with a combined 60-96 record, with none of those opponents from a major conference.

Still, the Panthers continue to defend well, with their 59-43 win against Kennesaw State on Dec. 23 marking their fifth straight game allowing under 50 points. Michigan's 67 points remains the season high against the Panthers.

Coach Jamie Dixon's team is also leading the country in assists at 19.6 per game.

"We've done a good job of passing the ball and our defense has improved," said Dixon, whose win against Kennesaw State was the 250th of his career. "We've just got to get it to the point where it continues to improve."

Senior center Dante Taylor was questionable after missing a game with a bruised heel, but scored three points while playing 13 minutes.

"He wasn't 100 percent obviously and we didn't want to play him a lot," Dixon said. "But I think we got what we wanted to get out of him - hopefully, get him ready and moving forward."

Pittsburgh had won five straight in this series prior to Cincinnati's 66-63 road win last season. The Bearcats' JaQuon Parker scored 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range.

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