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New Mexico-Cincinnati Preview

The Associated Press

While it wasn't easy, Cincinnati managed to get past a weaker opponent over the weekend to remain among the ranks of the unbeaten.

The same can't be said for New Mexico, which dropped out of the Top 25 after suffering its first loss.

In their final game before opening Big East play, the No. 8 Bearcats try to keep rolling Thursday night against the visiting Lobos as these programs meet for the first time.

On the verge of opening 13-0 for just the sixth time in school history, Cincinnati got all it could handle Saturday in a 68-58 win over Wright State.

After shooting a season-low 32.8 percent in a 60-45 victory over Xavier on Dec. 19, the Bearcats shot 38.2 percent against the Raiders and trailed by six at halftime before storming back over the final 20 minutes.

Sean Kilpatrick, fourth in the conference with 19.2 points per game, and Cashmere Wright were limited to season lows of 12 and six, respectively. Fellow guard JaQuon Parker, though, stepped up to score 16 of his season high-tying 21 points in the second half.

"We've been talking a lot about offensive toughness, and we have to continue to get better at it and getting high percentage shots," coach Mick Cronin said. "You aren't going to beat quality teams unless you get quality shots out of your offense.

"I'm coaching like we lost. But you know what happens is it falls on deaf ears because we are winning. Now the second half was tremendous, and you show film, but my leadership has got to realize that we have to get better."

The Bearcats should be in for another tough test against a Lobos team that figures to be up for Thursday's showdown.

New Mexico (12-1) had outrebounded teams by an average of 5.3 boards and limited them to 40.1 percent from the field in opening 12-0 before falling 70-65 to South Dakota State on Saturday.

The Jackrabbits shot 48.0 percent and held a 36-28 rebounding edge over the Lobos, who entered that game ranked 16th in the country but weren't included in Monday's poll.

"If that's what happened, that's a really soft mentality," coach Steve Alford replied when asked if his team was possibly looking ahead to the Bearcats. "We've talked about it all year long: each 40-minute game is the most important game."

Junior Kendall Williams, averaging team highs of 14.8 points and 5.0 assists, scored 21 in 34 minutes Saturday but was benched to start the game along with senior Chad Adams.

"Coach has his rules and disciplines and Chad and I didn't follow them," Williams said. "As far as the loss goes, most of it is on my hands and some on Chad in terms of not keeping it consistent. We have to move on and I take a lot of blame for it on and off the court. I need to pick it up. We have a few days off and we need to move on."

New Mexico, which beat then-No. 21 Connecticut 66-60 in the Paradise Jam championship game Nov. 19, has won five of its last six matchups against ranked opponents. The Lobos have gone 5-2 in such games on the road dating to 2010, though all of those contests came against Mountain West teams.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, has outscored foes by an average of 20.0 points during a 13-game winning streak at Fifth Third Arena.

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