Though they come from a party town, Tulane University in New Orleans has recently played the party-pooper role in University of Cincinnati athletics.
Just over a month ago, the Green Wave football team came to Nippert Stadium and ended UC's home win streak at 32 with a 27-24 victory on Senior Day. That spoiled Luke Fickell's chances at another American Athletic Conference title and by Sunday, he was taking the job with the Wisconsin Badgers.
Last year, after UC's football team had lost in the national semifinal Cotton Bowl in Dallas on New Year's Eve to Alabama, Wes Miller's Bearcat basketball team opened up AAC play on New Year's Day at Fifth Third Arena to kickstart 2022.
But it began in reverse as Tulane came in red-hot with a 48-25 halftime lead. The Bearcats battled back to lose by just eight, but a 68-60 defeat began the year on a sour note. The Green Wave at one point led by 26.
"When you get down 26 against a Division I basketball team it is going to be tough to come back," coach Wes Miller said at the time.
Tulane hit 10-of-21 from the 3-point line compared to UC's 5-for-25 performance. Many of the starters that night are back as both teams will trot out four of the five they sent to center court nearly a year ago.
That includes Green Wave shooter Jalen Cook, who drained three of his five treys and topped all scorers with 20 points. UC was led by Jeremiah Davenport, the only Bearcat to reach double figures with 19.
This season, both schools enter the game with just four losses. Three of those for UC came in November, with the last being the nail-biter Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout. Tulane lost to George Mason 62-56 at the United Center in Chicago Dec. 17. Their other non-conference losses were to Fordham earlier in the month and a pair to Nevada and Western Kentucky in a November tournament in the Cayman Islands.
"Our team was frustrated over the last two or three weeks since we got back from Maui," Miller said after the Detroit Mercy win on Dec. 21. "I feel like we've started to establish our identity as a team."
The last three non-conference wins have been victories by 27, 18 and 18, respectively. The Bearcats seemingly are sharing the ball better and recognizing roles.
"I do like our improvement here the last three weeks, but that doesn't guarantee anything," Miller said last week. "When we get back we have to keep growing and we're going to have to take thisup another level to compete the way that we want in the American."
The final basketball run in the AAC begins Thursday night. Strap yourself in, Miller said on his 700WLW radio show Tuesday night that the Green Wave's average possession is just 16 seconds.
Tip: 9 p.m.
Series info: UC leads 13-3
Coach: Ron Hunter (43-50 at Tulane, fourth year)
Offense: 78.01 ppg
Defense: 69.8 ppg
(Player, Position, Height, Key Stat)
Jalen Cook (G, 6', 20.2 ppg)
Jaylon Forbes (G, 6'5", 16.8 ppg)
Sion James (G, 6'6". 10.4 ppg)
Kevin Cross (F, 6'8", 14.2 ppg)
R.J. McGee (G, 6'5", 3.6 ppg)
Coach: Wes Miller (27-19 at Cincinnati, second year)
Offense: 80.4 ppg
Defense: 68.5 ppg
(Player, Position, Height, Key Stat)
Victor Lakhin (F, 6'11", 12.9 ppg)
Landers Nolley II (G/F, 6' 7". 14.5 ppg)
Mika Adams-Woods (G, 6'3", 8.8 ppg)
David DeJulius (G, 6', 16.6 ppg)
Jeremiah Davenport (G, 6'7". 9.4 ppg)
Player to watch
Cook has had an impact with the Green Wave since transferring from LSU after the 2020-21 season. He was the No. 2 scorer in the AAC a season ago and has been in double figures in all six of his games this season. He has missed five games due to injury. Against Charleston Southern, he was 5-for-7 from the 3-point range and he just had a season-high 27 points in a win over Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 21.
After a career-best double-double of 18 points and 15 rebounds, the 6-foot-11 Lakhin declared that those numbers are becoming normal for him. If that's the case, UC fans are in for a treat and opposing teams have their work cut out for them. Lakhin now has four double-doubles this season, all Bearcat victories.
"We're just getting better as a team," Lakhin said before the holiday break. "My shot's getting better because people created for myself. I try to keep my field goal percentage really high. Nothing really personal happens to me, just our team gets better so we all get better on offense."
Lakhin shoots 72% from the field, notably better than his .469 free-throw percentage. From the field, he's missed just 13 shots in the last six games since the Bearcats returned from the Maui Jim Invitational. Couple that with 6-foot-9 Ody Oguama who has missed just four shots in the last five games and the Bearcats should have some paint presence Thursday night.
Keys to the game
Take the early lead and run
While UC made a dramatic comeback at home to compete against Xavier, Wes Miller might keep his jacket on longer than three minutes if the Bearcats can begin the game with positive momentum rather than digging a massive hole. With largely the same personnel, Tulane torched UC from the arc going 9-of-14 in the first half on Jan. 1.
However, this year's squad has shown they can knock down shots and make runs, particularly with the addition of Landers Nolley II. Both Nolley and DeJulius have been around 41% from the 3-point line with Adams-Woods around 33%. A few long balls and some post moves from the big guys should get the late-night crowd in gear.
NET: Cincinnati No. 115, Tulane No. 152
Kenpom.com: Cincinnati No. 71, Tulane No. 96.