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No. 14 Houston aims to clinch AAC regular-season title vs. Cincinnati

(AP Photo/Justin Rex)

A busy schedule could prove to be well worth it for No. 14 Houston.

Next on the to-do list for the Cougars is clinching the American Athletic Conference's regular-season championship - a feat that they can accomplish with a win Tuesday night against visiting Cincinnati.

Houston (24-4, 13-2 AAC) is also aiming to secure the top seed for the AAC Tournament.

The Cougars collected their fourth consecutive victory Sunday with a 75-61 home triumph against second-place SMU. They won despite missing 13 of their 15 attempts from long distance and connecting on just 15 of 23 foul shots.

"You have to play to your identity," Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. "Our kids defend and rebound. We are not a great shooting team. ... Defensive rebounding is something that consistently we have been good at."

Cincinnati (17-12, 7-9) has been heading in the wrong direction in recent weeks. The Bearcats dropped their home finale to lowly South Florida 56-54 on Saturday. That saddled Cincinnati with its first three-game losing streak of the season.

Despite the recent woes, first-year Cincinnati coach Wes Miller has a positive outlook because of the determination of his players.

"That's how you're supposed to defend and supposed to fight," Miller said.

A late-game defensive lapse proved costly for the Bearcats in the South Florida game.

"The blame goes on me, the blame goes on the coach," Miller said. "We don't point fingers at young people."

The Bearcats shot just 32.8 percent from the field -- their second-worst shooting rate of the season.

This game is a make-up contest from a Dec. 28 postponement, which resulted from health protocols within the Houston program. The rescheduled contest has created a busy stretch for Houston as it will be the team's second of four games in an eight-day period.

Houston drilled the Bearcats 80-56 on the road on Feb. 6, a result that at the time reflected the lowest point total of the season for Cincinnati, which shot 4 of 20 on 3-pointers in that one.

Perhaps one concern for Houston could be complacency. Some of the Cougars players have discussed how Sunday's game was basically for the championship given SMU's second-place status. They're within one victory of notching their third AAC championship in a four-year period.

Even with Houston's rather basic approach at times, there have been some breakout performances. Fabian White Jr. had one of those Sunday, racking up 21 points -- nine points better than his season average -- to help make up for Kyler Edwards, who was held to eight points (5.6 points below his scoring average).

Houston has won twice at home since its Fertitta Center-record 37-game homecourt winning streak ended on Feb. 12 vs. Memphis. The Cougars have one home game remaining following Tuesday's make-up contest.

Cincinnati celebrated its senior class during the weekend's home game, allowing the players to concentrate on trying to produce a solid finishing stretch to perhaps boost their chances to get into a postseason tournament following the AAC tourney.

The Bearcats are beginning a two-game road trip, with a matchup Thursday night at SMU in their regular-season finale.

--Field Level Media

Updated March 1, 2022

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