CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati finally managed to get out of its own way, avoiding late mistakes while taking advantage of a team missing its leading scorer.
Sean Kilpatrick scored 20 points and made a pair of late free throws Saturday, and the Bearcats ended a three-game losing streak with a 61-56 victory over Connecticut, which was missing the injured Shabazz Napier.
The Bearcats (20-9, 8-8 Big East) got only their second win in their last six games, finishing it off by getting two turnovers in the final 20 seconds.
‘‘I walked in the locker room and just started staring at the ceiling like, ‘Sheesh, we needed this one,'’’ Kilpatrick said. ‘‘It’s about time we got one we actually needed.’’
Cincinnati had been unable to close out games because of its long-standing shooting woes, which had become a big factor in the final minutes.
‘‘I thought our defense picked up today,’’ coach Mick Cronin said. ‘‘Our effort, our energy were much better. That probably was the difference in the game since our offense continued to struggle. We overcame our offensive struggles today.’’
After a Cincinnati turnover, Kilpatrick stole the tipped inbound pass, was fouled and made both free throws with 13.1 seconds left for a 59-56 lead. UConn’s Ryan Boatright turned it over on an over-and-back call with 5.2 seconds left, getting trapped as he crossed midcourt and then losing the ball.
Boatright led UConn with 22 points, going 14 of 15 on free throws. DeAndre Daniels added 18 points.
UConn (19-9, 9-7) couldn’t overcome the loss of Napier, who averages 17.1 points. Napier’s right foot — which had surgery last year — has been bothering him the last few weeks and was aggravated in a double-overtime loss to Georgetown on Wednesday. The foot had been a chronic problem for Napier, who had a screw inserted in it last September for a stress fracture.
‘‘Our guys played hard and they put us in the situation to win,’’ coach Kevin Ollie said. ‘‘So Shabazz will come back healthy and fight for us these last two games, but for now everyone else has got to keep stepping up.’’
Cincinnati’s offense has been its biggest problem. With point guard Cashmere Wright in a shooting slump since he sprained his right knee in mid-January, Cincinnati’s offense has been bogged down. The Bearcats had scored 52 or fewer points in four of the last six games, including a 62-41 loss at Notre Dame last Sunday. Wright failed to score in that game, missing both of his shots.
Wright had 10 points on Saturday, going only 2 of 14 from the field and 2 of 11 behind the arc.
‘‘Man, I don’t know,’’ Wright said, cradling the side of his face in his right hand. ‘‘But I have good teammates. They tell me, ‘Keep shooting, don’t worry. It will go in sooner or later.'’’
He wasn’t the only one struggling. The Bearcats didn’t have a field goal in the final 7 minutes, scoring their last eight points off free throws. Cincinnati was only 12 of 21 from the line.
Cronin’s solution to the lack of offense was to go back to getting points off turnovers. It worked from the outset, when Cincinnati scored nine points off seven UConn turnovers. Kilpatrick had a bank shot and a 3-pointer during a 10-point run that extended the lead to 21-16.
Cincinnati finished with 21 points off turnovers.
Phillip Nolan and Daniels rallied the Huskies through a 13-3 spurt to finish the half with a 29-24 lead. Daniels had a dunk and an off-balance flip that went in with 4 seconds left in the half, giving him nine points at the break.
Wright made a 3-pointer — his first basket after eight misses — and the Bearcats pulled ahead 46-37 with a 16-4 run that featured a technical foul on Cronin. He yanked off his black jacket, flung it at the floor and yelled at the officials, angry that they didn’t make a foul call.
Another 3 by Kilpatrick helped push it to 51-39 with 9:15 left, the biggest lead of the game. Daniels and Boatright scored all the points during a 14-2 run that cut it to 55-53 with 2:19 left, with Boatright hitting seven free throws.
Nolan made the second of his two free throws with 20 seconds left, cutting it to 57-56, but UConn then turned it over twice, setting up a second straight tough ending.
‘‘Yeah, a couple of heart-breakers,’’ Daniels said. ‘‘We made a couple of mistakes with turnovers there toward the end.’’
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