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Bearcats on prowl for easy prey in Greenville

By The Associated Press

Cincinnati has never lost to East Carolina. The way each team is currently playing, that isn't likely to change Wednesday when they meet in a Conference USA matchup on the Pirates' homecourt in Minges Coliseum's Williams Arena (7 p.m.)

Few teams have been as dominant as No. 18 Cincinnati (13-1, 2-0) this season, but that could have something to do with the level of competition.

Although they have beaten 12 of their 14 opponents by 10 or more points, the Bearcats lost their only meeting against a ranked team, falling to top-ranked Illinois 67-45 on Dec. 31.

Among Cincinnati's 13 wins are victories over Detroit, Northwestern State, Longwood and Jackson State.

East Carolina (5-9, 0-2) is an opponent Cincinnati will be expected to easily defeat.

The Bearcats have won all six meetings with the Pirates by an average of 17.2 points, and East Carolina enters Wednesday's matchup having lost seven of eight overall.

After opening the conference portion of their schedule with an easy victory over DePaul, the Bearcats won their first road league game 69-53 over Saint Louis on Saturday.

Armein Kirkland scored 22 points, hitting for four of his team's nine 3-pointers, and Jason Maxiell added 17 points and nine rebounds.

Kirkland said he was somewhat surprised that he didn't draw more attention as the game progressed.

``Coming in, we thought they'd try to limit Max and they just sat back on Max, so we got good looks,'' Kirkland said. ``Most guys respect our perimeter game more than that.''

Saturday marked another strong defensive performance from Cincinnati, which limited the Billikens to 36.4 percent (20-of-55) from the field and 22.2 percent (4-of-18) from 3-point range.

The Bearcats enter Wednesday's game as C-USA's top defensive team, allowing the fewest points (59.8) and lowest field-goal percentage defense (35.4). The Bearcats are fourth nationally in the latter category.

Kirkland, second on the team with 14.2 points per game, was named the league's player of the week after averaging 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in the wins over DePaul and Saint Louis.

While avoiding an upset Wednesday should be their top priority, the Bearcats could be caught looking forward to Saturday, when they'll get another chance to prove themselves against a ranked team with a home matchup against No. 19 Louisville.

East Carolina, coming off a one-point loss to South Florida in its conference opener, remained winless in C-USA with a 72-60 defeat at Charlotte on Saturday.

Sophomore guard Mike Cook scored a game-high 22 points, but was the only Pirate in double figures.

A punchless offense is one of the biggest problems facing East Carolina, which is 12th in the 13-team conference in scoring (64.9) and 11th in field-goal percentage (40.7). The Pirates have also done a poor job of protecting the ball, ranking 13th in the league in turnover margin.

Cook is the team's top scorer (16.4), while senior center Moussa Badiane adds 11.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

Saturday's contest against Charlotte began a stretch in which the Pirates play five straight against teams that made the NCAA tournament last season.

02/23/07 10:56 AM

©2005 The Associated Press and All rights rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. contributed to this report.


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