No. 8 Cincinnati faces Memphis in AAC semis
The best part of tournament play is being able to wipe the slate clean after a poor outing -- providing, of course, you win.
So, Cincinnati will brush off its shaky start to American Athletic Conference Tournament play that forced the Bearcats to rally in the second half for a 61-51 quarterfinal victory over SMU and shift the focus to Memphis on Saturday in a semifinal matchup at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
The Bearcats found themselves down eight points with 15 minutes to play but snapped out of the funk with a 10-0 run against the No. 9 seed in the field.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin dismissed the notion of his team, the tournament's top seed, suffering from some kind of postseason jitters.
"No. I don't like when coaches come in and say stuff like that," Cronin said. "I think the other team is the reason. The actual game itself, and the team. We're not tentative. I just don't believe in stuff like that."
Eighth-ranked Cincinnati (28-4) did not shoot well against SMU, especially from beyond the arc where the Bearcats were 2 of 14. Overall, they only connected at a 42 percent clip but held SMU to 35.5 percent shooting in the second half.
"(SMU) definitely played hard and we just didn't make shots today, but credit them," said junior guard Cane Broome, who had 13 points off the bench. "They played hard defense. They rotated very well."
Cincinnati swept Memphis during the regular season and held the Tigers to just 48 points in each of those meetings.
The Tigers (21-12) advanced by knocking off No. 4 seed Tulsa 67-64 on Friday on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Kareem Brewton Jr.
"We have to take care of the ball," Memphis coach Tubby Smith said, when asked about facing the Cincinnati again. "Mick Cronin and his team play a system of switching defenses where they make you go to your second, third and fourth options. You have to really be patient, but we have some experience. I expect us to compete hard against the Bearcats."
Brewton is averaging 16.3 points over his last three games, stepping up his game after Jeremiah Martin, the league's regular-season scoring champion with 18.3 points per game, had his season come to an end with a broken foot.
Memphis is trying to finish the season on a strong note and has won seven of its last eight games despite swirling rumors about the future of Smith, who, according to reports, could be fired and replaced by former Memphis star Anfernee Hardaway.
For now, the Tigers are trying to tune out the excess noise and focus on Smith's message while chasing an NCAA Tournament berth.
"He's talking about confidence," Brewton said. "Believe that we can win."
The Bearcats are trying to win their first league tournament championship since 2004, when they won the last Conference USA title.
Cincinnati advanced to the final last year but fell to SMU 71-56.
Updated March 9, 2018