Cincinnati Bearcats: Mick Cronin wins Coach of Year, but Sean Kilpatrick denied Player of Year

Justin Jackson wins Best Defensive Player

CINCINNATI  - UC's Mick Cronin won Coach of the Year and Justin Jackson won Defensive Player of the Year for the American Athletic Conference's inaugural basketball season Wednesday. But the Player of the Year award got away.

Sean Kilpatrick was in a three-way race with Connecticut's Shabazz Napier and Louisville's Russ Brown.

Coaches gave the award to Napier.

Kilpatrick did win the Sportsmanship Award.

Cronin beat out SMU's Larry Brown for his award. Both are among the 10 finalists for the Henry Iba Award as national coach of the year.

Cronin's Bearcats tied Louisville for the conference championship with 15-3 records. It was UC's first league title since 2004.

UC (26-5 overall) is ranked No. 13 in the AP poll and 12th in the USA Today coaches poll.

UC won a coin flip with Louisville to determine the top seed for the conference tournament. The Bearcats open at 7 p.m. Thursday against the winner of the Central Florida -Temple quarterfinal Wednesday night.

Cincinnati’s 26 regular-season wins are the most since 2001-2002.

Cronin has now won two conference coach of the year awards. He won in the Ohio Valley Conference in his third season as head coach at Murray State in 2005-06.

Jackson, a second-team All-AAC choice, was the conference's top shot blocker (2.87) and fifth-leading rebounder (7.1)  and tied for fifth in steals (1.7). He also was fifth in field-goal shooting (54.8 percent).

His 89 blocks this season rank 21st in the nation and are the fifth-highest single-season total in UC history.

Kilpatrick's award honors him for the intangibles he brings to the game and for the outstanding representative he has become for the school and the league.

It was a tough choice for Player of the Year. All three contenders were first-team All-AAC and first-team All-America in early announcements by Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, and Bleacher Report.

Central Florida's Donnie Jones, speaking as a coach who didn't have a player in the race, favored Kilpatrick.

"Kilpatrick has been special for Cincinnati. They've been tough," Jones said in Monday's coaches' conference call. "Napier's terrific; Smith is terrific. Kilpatrick, what he's done night in and night out, has probably been the most impressive I've seen in our conference."

Kilpatrick, the most talented offensive player, led the AAC in scoring (20.9) and 3-pointers made (2.8). But he was  not in the top 15 in assists or steals.

Napier was second in scoring (17.7), second in assists (5.2), third in steals (1.8). He also was 13th in rebounding (6.0) and leds his team in that category.

Smith was fourth in scoring (17.5), third in assists (4.8), second in steals (2.0) .

Napier won the conference Player of the Week five times and Kilpatrick won three times. Smith was preseason Player of the Year.

Not surprisingly, UConn coach Kevin Ollie, Louisville's Rick Pitino and Cronin all favored their own players, but Ollie and Pitino gave Kilpatrick his due.

> Ollie: "Shabazz is just the heartbeat of our team …  he just means so much to our team dynamic. I know Kilpatrick is same way. When they need a big shot, a play to happen, it seems like he's always making it. Big-time players step up to big-time moments. [Kilpatrick] has done that, not one, two moments but all year. If he got it, it would be a worthy choice."

> Pitino: "They're all capable of winning. Kilpatrick, he's the most valuable. If you took him out of Cincinnati, it would hurt them tremendously because they count on him so much at the end of games. Russ Smith is valuable for us. I'm sure UConn would say Napier is very valuable to them. We've been to back-to-back Final Fours, won a national championship, we couldn't have accomplished any of that without Russ Smith."

Cronin said he didn't need to make a case for Kilpatrick.

"He's done it, he's done it emphatically, he's done it night in and night out," Cronin said.

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