Two teams stinging from road wins that got away earlier in the week will collide Saturday evening when 15th-ranked Texas Tech hosts Cincinnati in Lubbock, Texas.
Despite a loss at TCU on Tuesday, the Red Raiders (16-4, 5-2) enter the Big 12 Conference game as one of the league’s surprise teams. That figures to be put to another tough test by the Bearcats (14-7, 3-5), who squandered a 10-point lead with 6:29 left at West Virginia to drop their third conference road game by six points or less, 69-65.
To buck that trend, Cincinnati will have to find a way to contend with surging Texas Tech standout Pop Isaacs and limit the Red Raiders’ damage from beyond the 3-point arc.
This is the first time the Red Raiders and Bearcats have met since the 1961 NCAA Tournament.
In the loss to TCU in Fort Worth, the Red Raiders connected on 14-of-28 long-range shots, the ninth time this season they’ve hit at least 3-pointers and the third time in Big 12 play. They rank second in the league in 3-point accuracy at 37.6 percent.
Isaacs scored 25 points in the loss, his sixth game with 20 or more, and added a career-best nine assists.
But the Red Raiders couldn’t overcome foul trouble to starting forwards Warren Washington and Darrion Williams, which opened the door for the Horned Frogs to claim the rebound battle 34-27 and generate 14 second-chance points. TCU was 24 of 32 from the free-throw line, which matched the most attempts by a foe this season.
“They put us in a lot of tough situations (Tuesday) with their athleticism, shot-making, offensive rebounding, physicality,” first-year Texas Tech coach Grant McCasland said. “They had an ability to get to the free-throw line. I just felt like they beat us in all the top areas. What this league is about is imposing your will on teams, and I thought TCU imposed their will on us.”
That is cause for concern against the Bearcats, who start one of the biggest lineups in the Big 12 with three players 6-foot-8 or taller, while Washington is the Red Raiders’ only regular over 6-6. Cincinnati is the league’s best rebounding team with an average of 41.6 a contest and a plus-10 average margin. Texas Tech ranks 13th with 34.9 points per game.
Big men Aziz Bandaogo (7 feet) and Viktor Lakhin (6-11) lead the Bearcats with averages of 8.3 and 7.3 rebounds a game, respectively.
Cincinnati’s recent struggles have come on the offensive end, and that was the case in the late-game meltdown at West Virginia. The Bearcats scored only five points in the last 6:29 after taking a 60-50 lead, in large part because they shot 37.9 percent from the field overall and hit only 9 of 32 from 3-point range.
In a 2-4 stretch, Cincinnati has shot 39.3 percent or worse in all four setbacks, and the nine 3-pointers against West Virginia were the Bearcats most in a league game but also the fifth time in six games when they have not topped 30 percent from beyond the arc.
“We haven’t shot the ball well the last couple of weeks,” Cincinnati coach Wes Miller said. “You’ve got to step up and shoot the ball with confidence.”
Lakhin is the Bearcats’ top scorer with 12.1 points a game, while Dan Skillings provides 12 a contest. Isaacs is Texas Tech’s top scorer with 17.4 points a game and has increased that to a league-leading 20.3 in conference play. Joe Toussaint adds 13 points a game and leads the Red Raiders with 4.3 assists per game.
–Field Level Media
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