Iimar'i Thomas - 1/16/19

UC's Iimar'i Thomas drives to the basket against Temple University Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 at Fifth Third Arena.

The University of Cincinnati’s women’s basketball team is 11-7 overall, but 9-1 at Fifth Third Arena this season.

The lone home loss occurred on Nov. 12, 2018 to Old Dominion University in a tightly-contested 76-72 game that went into overtime. Since then, the team has pulled off seven consecutive home wins.

The Bearcats look to extend the streak Wednesday evening, as the 9-8 University of Houston Cougars visit for the two teams’ only matchup of the season.

Looking to gain any momentum after two road losses, UC responded last week with a 72-52 win over Temple University Jan. 16 at Fifth Third Arena and a 70-50 win over the University of Tulsa on the road Jan. 19.

“The mood is great,” first year head coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “I think our biggest thing right now is that we’re just trying to get better every day and focus on the things that we need to focus on in order to improve. We’ve always talked about since day one that you should be playing your best basketball in February. So, we’re working to get to that point.”

Much of UC’s success can be credited to the play of sophomore Iimar’I Thomas. The 5-foot-10 forward was named the American Athletic Conference (AAC)’s Freshman of the Year last season and is currently averaging 13.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in 26 minutes per game this season.

The AAC named Thomas its Player of the Week on Monday after she posted double-doubles in both wins while averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, two assists and 1.5 steals. The achievement marked the fourth time that Thomas has received weekly recognition from the conference this season.

“She’s very talented,” Clark-Heard said. “Her IQ is very high and she’s still young. She’s only a sophomore. We have to continue to challenge her every day. The staff and I really work to make sure that we can push her. I always say, ‘practice should be harder than the games.’”

Conference play has proven to be a struggle to maintain momentum for UC, which sits at 3-2. Clark-Heard attributed any success in conference play to understanding opponents’ strategies and meticulously preparing.

“We have to make sure we’re doing all the little things that helped us get the 20-point win on the road [at Tulsa] and focus on the things that helped us find a way to win the last two games,” Clark-Heard said. “Everyone now, when you get into conference play, is prepping the same way. They’re understanding and knowing what different teams do. We have to be locked in and ready to follow a scouting report … everyone knows, in the league and in the country, you’ve got to protect your home court.”

Tip-off with the Cougars is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, and ESPN3 will televise the action. Follow Sports_TNR on Twitter for live updates.

Managing Editor

Huffmon is a fourth-year communications student from Tiffin, Ohio. He often covers UC athletics. He interned at the Kentucky Speedway in the summer of 2019 and has written for the Plain Dealer and the Cincinnati Enquirer.