SAN DIEGO (Ticker) -- After four years of disappointments in the NCAA Tournament, Cincinnati has broken through.
The Bearcats clamped down on Trevor Huffman and used a balanced attack to knock off Kent State, 66-43, in a second-round West Region contest at the Cox Arena.
Seeded fifth, Cincinnati (25-9) is in the regional semifinals for the first time since 1996 and will play top-seeded Stanford on Thursday night in Anaheim.
"I'm happy for them (the players getting past the second round)," said Bearcats coach Bob Huggins. "I tried to explain to them when we were really struggling and there were a lot of people who didn't think we'd make the tournament. I've been there and I've done that and it's not about me." The Bearcats were seeded second twice and third twice in the previous four seasons but were unable to advance beyond the NCAA Tournament's first week. Last year, they had an excuse as national Player of the Year Kenyon Martin suffered a season-ending injury during the Conference USA tournament.
Now, however, Cincinnati appears to be playing its best basketball of the season. It won two games this weekend by an average of 24 points after winning six straight until a loss in the Conference USA title game to Charlotte, which also has reached the NCAA's second round.
"I don't know (how far we can go)," Huggins said. "With these guys, seemingly every day is a new day. We don't know what we're going to get from guys other than (Kenny Satterfield) and (Steve Logan) day in and day out." Junior Jamaal Davis matched a career high with 16 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for the Bearcats, who improved to 6-1 all-time against Kent State.
"It all started just before we came out," said Davis. "My coach looked at me and told me he needed a big game from me today. I think I responded to the best of my ability, but coach has been getting on us a lot about rebounding the ball, helping our team." Cincinnati toyed with the Mid-American Conference champions, building a 30-22 halftime lead and never allowing the Golden Flashes closer than that over the final 20 minutes. The Bearcats closed the game on a 13-2 run.
"I thought this was a great, outstanding effort by Cincinnati," said Kent State coach Gary Waters. "I've got to give them credit. They shut us down in everything we did." Huffman had 20 of his 24 points in the second half of a first-round upset of Indiana and entered this game averaging a team-high 17.1. But he was held to five and kept off the scoreboard for the first 15 minutes of the second half.
By the time the junior hit a jumper, the 13th-seeded Golden Flashes were trailing by 14 points with just over five minutes remaining.
"They're just tough defenders," said Huffman. "They face-guard you wherever you go. They play the ball-screen the best anyone has every played it, adn I had to kick it back to our big guys and that's the way to play it. Take the ball out of my hands and make somebody else do the work." Conference USA Player of the Year Logan had 12 points and backcourt mate Kenny Satterfield contributed 10 for the Bearcats.
Logan survived a scare after falling hard to the floor while chasing a loose ball midway through the second half. He sat out only briefly and had perhaps the biggest basket of the game for the Bearcats.
The Golden Flashes showed a small sign of life, getting baskets from Kyreem Massey and Demetric Shaw to pull within 48-37 with 8:09 to play. But Logan picked up the ball on the break, drove to the basket and scored while drawing a foul.
The ensuing free throw pushed the lead back to 14 points with 5 1/2 minutes remaining.
Shaw scored 12 points for Kent State, which was making just the second NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. The 77-73 victory over the Hoosiers was the first NCAA triumph for the Golden Flashes, who suffered a first-round loss to Temple two years ago.
The Golden Flashes connected on just 30 percent (14-of-52) of their shots and were dominated on the boards, 42-21.
Cincinnati shot 54 percent (29-of-53) from the field as it overcame 17 turnovers.
"We're exciting about playing whoever it is," Huggins added. "These guys keep getting better, so I think that's a positive thing." .