Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 12/6/12
Behind its relentless defensive pressure, Cincinnati has earned its highest ranking since the 2003-04 season. The 11th-ranked Bearcats will try to continue their move up the AP poll on Thursday night when they host Arkansas-Little Rock. Cincinnati is off to its second 7-0 start in three years under coach Mick Cronin. The 2010-11 squad opened 15-0 en route to a 26-11 mark and an NCAA tournament berth. The Bearcats shot up six spots from No. 17 after Cashmere Wright hit a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer in a 58-56 victory over Alabama on Saturday in a matchup of unbeaten teams. The potent backcourt of Wright (15.3), Sean Kilpatrick (19.9) and JaQuon Parker (10.9) has done most of the damage, accounting for 46.1 of Cincinnati's 82.7 points per game. Kilpatrick and Parker each had 13 points, and Wright added eight in the defensive struggle against the Crimson Tide. Kilpatrick has scored in double figures in all seven games, reaching the 20-point mark three times. "The reason that coaches win games is players," Cronin said. "When the coaching is equal and everyone is battling for every ball, you can't out-athlete them and you can't out-hustle them, it comes down to guys making plays. Cash, JaQuon and SK, and they can all make plays." The Bearcats, though, have been anchored by one of the nation's toughest defenses. Cheikh Mbodj ranks 18th in the country with 2.9 blocks per game, while Justin Jackson has 11 blocks in his last four games after notching four - including one in the final seconds - against Alabama. The Bearcats are fifth in the nation in blocks per game (7.7) and sixth in defensive field-goal percentage (34.1). They've held opponents below 40 percent from the field in five of seven games and under 30 percent from 3-point range in four contests. After Cincinnati held his team to a season-low point total, Alabama coach Anthony Grant called the Bearcats the best defensive team in the country. "I believe it," Kilpatrick said. "We have great coaches like (Grant) saying that we're the best defensive team in country and we haven't even scratched the (surface) yet. I wonder how it's going to be when we do get there." The Bearcats will try to improve their offensive production against another potentially stingy defense on Thursday after shooting 38.2 percent in their last two games. Arkansas-Little Rock (7-3) has held six of its last seven opponents under 60 points and its last six foes to 39.3 percent shooting. While the Trojans are looking for their first road victory, they've won three straight and six of seven overall following a 91-30 rout of NAIA school St. Gregory on Tuesday. Forward Will Neighbour, the team leader at 12.2 points per game, had reached double figures in six consecutive games before finishing with six points against the Cavaliers. Freshman guard John Gillon had a team-high 17 points, raising his season average to 11.4. "We were able to play a number of guys," coach Steve Shields said. "We have a big game (next) at Cincinnati and we need to have fresh legs and fresh minds." This is the first meeting between Cincinnati and Arkansas-Little Rock, which is 0-11 all-time against ranked teams.
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