Point guard's big game gives Cincinnati encouragement

CINCINNATI (AP) Troy Caupain's best game gave Cincinnati a sense that it's firmly in the race and ready to move up.

The sophomore point guard scored a career-high 20 points before picking up his second technical foul on Thursday night while leading the Bearcats to a 70-58 win over Connecticut. Caupain showed more emotion than usual, which contributed to those two technicals for taunting.

''Troy played tremendous, except for one play,'' associate head coach Larry Davis said. ''When you're young, you've got to learn a lot of things.

''The officials were calling the game tight and in those situations, you can't say a word, you can't display anything. He did the wrong thing,'' Davis said. ''He knows the mistake he made, and I certainly don't expect him to make it again.''

The rest of Caupain's game was impressive. He made 8 of 9 shots overall and repeatedly found openings to drive to the basket, something that's been missing from the Bearcats' offense.

It was a significant improvement over Cincinnati's 62-56 loss at UConn on Dec. 10, when the young Bearcats were tentative.

''This win was personal,'' Caupain said.

And helpful in the league race.

The Bearcats (15-5, 6-2) are alone in third place in the American Athletic Conference, trailing Tulsa (8-0) and Southern Methodist (8-1). Cincinnati plays at SMU next Thursday and at Tulsa on March 4.

The Bearcats have gotten their bearings after coach Mick Cronin was sidelined by a problem with a blood vessel in the back of his head in December. He can't coach games or practice the rest of the season. They're 8-3 under Davis, who sees his young lineup - one freshman, two sophomores, one junior and one senior starter - growing up.

Freshman forward Gary Clark managed only two points in the loss at UConn. He had his second career double-double on Thursday night with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four steals.

''Gary played scared to death up there,'' Davis said. ''He hit the wall about that time as a freshman. He was not aggressive.

''We pulled him aside after the shoot-around (on Thursday) and told him to shoot it if he was open. Quit worrying about it,'' he added. ''If you get an opening, attack a guy, which he did.''

The Bearcats have struggled to score all season, getting a lot of their points off the conference's stingiest defense. Cincinnati leads the AAC in fewest points allowed and most steals per game.

The Bearcats have held all 20 opponents under 70 points this season and the last 24 overall, the longest active streak in Division I. San Diego State is next with a streak of 23 such games.

The most encouraging part of the win over UConn was the way that Caupain asserted himself on the floor. He went to the locker room briefly in the second half after getting fouled hard on the left side of his forehead while going in for a layup. Caupain returned to the floor a few minutes later to a loud ovation.

The injury didn't slow him down.

''Oh, yeah, the noggin's hard as rocks,'' Caupain said.

Davis wants to see more of that attitude from his point guard.

''Someone has to step up and take charge,'' Davis said. ''It's best if your point guard can do it, as he's the natural guy. Like (Ryan) Boatright is for UConn. If you look around the league, usually the step-up guy most of the time is a guard. It's a lot easier because they have the ball in their hands so much.''

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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