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Bearcats assert control with long ball

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Saint Louis tried to stop Cincinnati's inside
force, Jason Maxiell. Unfortunately for the Billikens, that left
Armein Kirkland open.

Kirkland scored a game high 22 points to lead Cincinnati (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today; No. 23 AP) to a 69-53 win over Saint Louis on Saturday night.

James White also had 13 points for the Bearcats (13-1, 2-0
Conference USA). Cincinnati has won its last two after suffering
its only loss to No. 1 Illinois on New Year's Eve. The Bearcats
have beaten 12 of their first 14 opponents by 10 points or more.

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."

Maxiell, however, wasn't caught off guard.

"Their game plan was to not let me win the game," said
Maxiell, who nevertheless scored 17 and grabbed nine rebounds.
"It's been like that for three years."

Saint Louis did make one adjustment on Kirkland, but it didn't
work.

"We tried to force him to his left," Vas'Shun Newborne said.
"But he got on a roll, and we couldn't stop him."

Izik Ohanon led Saint Louis with 18 points before fouling out
with 2:31 remaining, and Anthony Drejaj added 13 points.

Saturday's game was likely the last between the longtime,
conference rivals, who will each go to a new conference next year.
Saint Louis (3-11, 1-1) likely won't miss the Bearcats; Cincinnati
leads the all-time series 59-19.

This one appeared to be a mismatch on paper, as Cincinnati
entered the contest ranked fourth in the nation in field goal
percentage defense (.353) while Saint Louis was last in Conference
USA in scoring (53.2 points per game) and shooting percentage
(.381). But Saint Louis kept it fairly close most of the way.

"This was not one of our more artistic offensive
performances," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. "Armein had a
strong game, and when they got close, Max made some big baskets for
us."

Ohanon seemed determined to keep Saint Louis in it from the
opening tip. He scored eight of the Billikens' first 12 points as
SLU jumped out to a 12-8 advantage with 13:02 left in the first
half.

Cincinnati used the long ball to resume control, hitting five of
its first nine shots from behind the 3-point line. Nick Williams
and Jihad Muhammad connected early to give Cincinnati a 23-18 lead.

After Ohanon made it 23-22 with consecutive baskets, the
Bearcats switched tactics and began sending it inside, leading to a
9-0 run that made it 32-22 with 1:07 left. Maxiell did most of the
damage, scoring four of his eight first-half points in that
stretch.

The Bearcats finished the half on a high note, with a block by
Eric Hicks leading to a fast-break dunk by White to give Cincinnati
a 34-24 halftime lead.

After Ian Vouyoukas scored inside with 14:15 left to cut the
lead to nine, Cincinnati went on a 9-0 run capped by Kirkland's
fourth 3-pointer of the game with 12:08 left, which made it 52-36.
Saint Louis never got closer than nine points after that.

Hicks scored six points and had three blocks for the Bearcats,
giving him 102 rejections for his career.