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Updated: Saturday, March 13, 2004 1:18 AM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(12) Cincinnati 66, Saint Louis 46

CINCINNATI (Ticker) -- No. 12 Cincinnati turned up its trademark defense to shut down Saint Louis and move into the championship game of the Conference USA tournament.

The Bearcats held the Billikens without a point for nearly nine minutes in the second half and coasted to a 66-46 victory.

Cincinnati (23-6) broke open a tight contest early in the second half. Leading 31-30 with just over 18:12 to play, the Bearcats scored 19 straight points over the next eight minutes.

"Cincinnati defended us very well and they look like a team ready to make a deep run in the NCAAs," Saint Louis coach Brad Soderberg said.

Tony Bobbitt scored all 12 of his points on 3-pointers to lead Cincinnati. The Bearcats were 10-of-21 from the arc, including 5-of-6 during the decisive spurt.

"We made shots," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. "We had great shots in the first half, but we just didn't make any. Tony and Nick(Williams) got us going."

Josh Fisher led Saint Louis with 14 points. The Billikens (18-12) have lost 33 of 38 games in Cincinnati.

"A conference tournament should be played at a neutral site and this certainly isn't one," Soderberg said. "I don't think it's fair, quite frankly."

Saint Louis shot a season-low 28 percent (14-of-51), including 4-of-23 from the arc. Its bench was outscored, 35-14.

Cincinnati faces top-seeded DePaul in Saturday's championship game. The Blue Demons were overtime winners over Alabama-Birmingham in the other semifinal.

Last week, DePaul defeated Cincinnati 68-65 as the Bearcats failed to clinch the top spot in tournament.

"It's the last (Conference USA) game for me and we just want to go out on top," Bobbitt said.


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