No. 24 Cincinnati has found its rebounding prowess and its shooting but will have to take its game up another notch when it squares off against surging Wichita State on Saturday afternoon in the American Athletic Conference tournament's second semifinal in Memphis.
Houston, ranked 11th nationally by the Associated Press and the top seed in the AAC tournament, will face host Memphis, the fifth seed, in the other semifinal with the winners to meet on Sunday afternoon.
The second-seeded Bearcats had to work hard to get past short-handed and 10th-seeded SMU 82-74 in Friday's third quarterfinal. Cincinnati (26-6), led by AAC player of the year Jarron Cumberland's 26 points, and Tre Scott's 17 points and 12 rebounds, roared back from an eight-point, first-half deficit to earn a spot in the conference tournament's final four.
Justin Jenifer added 17 points for Cincinnati on a perfect 6 for 6 showing from the floor that included hitting all five of his 3-point attempts.
Like the two games played between Cincinnati and SMU during the regular season -- both won by the Bearcats by an average of four points -- Friday's contest was close throughout, with seven ties and five lead changes.
"We knew this was going to be a tough game with SMU at nearly full strength -- they all play smart and play to their strengths," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said after the win. "You have to give our kids credit -- they were adjusting on defense all game.
The Mustangs, with just seven players seeing the court for the second straight game, outshot Cincinnati 51.7 percent to 50.8 percent but the Bearcats outrebounded SMU 36-28.
"The key to the game was limiting SMU to just one shot, and not giving them those extra chances," Cronin said. "Proud of our effort -- we had to win with offense tonight."
It's the sixth time in the last nine seasons that Cincinnati has won 26 or more games.
Wichita State, the AAC's sixth seed, outlasted third-seeded Temple 80-74 in Friday's late quarterfinal. Markis McDuffie scored a career-high 34 points and took 12 rebounds to lead the Shockers, and Dexter Dennis added 19 points and 12 rebounds for Wichita State in the victory.
The Shockers (19-13), who have won 11 of their past 13 outings, overcame a seven-point first-half deficit to rally to within 37-35 at halftime. They moved in front via an 11-0 second-half run and eventually led by as many as nine points in the second half before holding on for the win in a nip-and-tuck battle.
"Our guys were tremendous tonight," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "It was a team effort, but we certainly had some wonderful individual performances in this win."
Wichita State is in search of an eighth-straight trip to the NCAA tournament. A win over the Bearcats could grant them that spot.
Cincinnati beat the Shockers both times the two teams played in the regular season, earning a 66-55 win in Wichita on Jan. 19 and a 72-62 victory on Feb. 17 in the Queen City.
"Cincinnati got us in our place -- we didn't play very well," Marshall said. "They kicked us at their place. They are a great team, with tremendous athletes and a great defense. We will have to play much better than we did the first two times to win."
--Field Level Media