NCAA Basketball

Schedule shift creates rare Vanderbilt-Cincinnati matchup

Normally, Cincinnati would play one of its conference foes the last week of the regular season, but this has been a season full of last-minute adjustments.

On Thursday, Cincinnati was scheduled to host SMU but wound up quickly pivoting to hosting struggling Vanderbilt.

SMU returned to practice last Friday, and by Sunday, the American Athletic Conference postponed the game with the Bearcats due to COVID-19 issues that put the Mustangs back on pause. Cincinnati adjusted the schedule to create the game with Vanderbilt, which it last faced in the first round of the 2009 Maui Invitational.

The Bearcats (9-9, 7-6 AAC) enter the newly created contest with six wins in their last eight games since Feb. 4, when they returned from a three-week pause. Cincinnati fell to .500 for the fifth time after an 80-74 home loss to Memphis on Sunday.

Keith Williams, whose 14.6 points per game lead the Bearcats, scored 19 points Sunday and recently has alternated productive games with quiet showings. Williams shot 7 of 18 Sunday after going 13-of-42 from the field in his previous three games, including a 24-point showing at Tulsa when he shot 9-of-24.

Mike Saunders Jr. scored a career-high with 19 points, including eight straight early in the second half.

"I told the guys, 'If you just show that fight for a longer period of time, we would have won that game," Bearcats coach John Brannen said. "I felt like we should have won this game."

Playing its fourth game in eight days, Cincinnati trailed by nine at halftime and wound up getting dominated 24-5 in second-chance points and 44-32 on points in the paint.

Vanderbilt (7-14, 3-12 SEC) owns the SEC's worst record but the league's second-leading scorer in Scotty Pippen Jr. -- the son of Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen. Pippen averages 20.5 points and 5.2 assists but has missed the last three games since Feb. 20 due to a hip injury.

Vanderbilt upset Ole Miss on Saturday but fell short in an 83-68 loss to LSU on Tuesday when coach Jerry Stackhouse used his 15th different starting lineup. The Commodores trailed by 22 at halftime and shot 38.7 percent while getting outrebounded 51-29 as Cameron Thomas led LSU with 23 points.

"The issue for us was not having any physicality from our bigs to start the game," Stackhouse said. "We talk about setting the tone, being physical and we give up three offensive rebounds to start the game to let them know that they could punk us. It pretty much was downhill from there."

--Field Level Media

Updated March 3, 2021

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