Kentucky 69, Cincinnati 60
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Cincinnati still is playing the little brother to neighboring Kentucky. The Wildcats just keep beating them up.
Second-seeded Kentucky relied on 3-point shooting to get started, then strong-armed the undersized Bearcats inside and finally wore them down late to pull away with a 69-60 second-round victory Saturday in the Austin Regional.
“They try to put a lot of pressure on you,” said Kelenna Azubuike, who led Kentucky with 19 points. “The way to beat that is be aggressive and fight the pressure, not back down.”
The bitterness between the schools, located about 90 miles apart, has been fueled by the rarity with which they play. There have been just six games since 1948, and Kentucky has won 15 straight in the series dating to 1939.
Saturday’s victory meant even more, though. The Wildcats (27-5) avoided a second straight second-round upset and a third straight elimination by a Conference USA school, and now face sixth-seeded Utah, a 67-58 winner over Oklahoma.
Kentucky won this one by dominating the middle.
Chuck Hayes finished with 10 points and eight rebounds and freshman Randolph Morris produced the first double-double of his career with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Azubuike had nine rebounds and another freshman, Rajon Rondo, added 16 points.
The Wildcats outscored Cincinnati 34-12 in the paint.
“Randolph, late, was grabbing every rebound,” Hayes said. “He was becoming a presence down there in the paint.”
The game even had the elements of a family feud.
A crowd of 40,331 set the one-session record for an NCAA subregional site, breaking the previous mark of 39,940 set in Indianapolis in 1990. Most of the fans were clad in Kentucky blue or Illinois orange, but as the second game started, pockets of Cincinnati red also appeared.
Fans interrupted each other’s chants and one held a sign that read “Real Cats Wear Blue and White, not Black and Red.” Kentucky fans even booed the Bearcats’ cheerleaders as they led the team onto the floor.
On the court, emotions were stronger. Cincinnati’s James White had an angry expression on his face during pregame warmups and Kentucky players were chest bumping before introductions.
The coaches got involved, too. Cincinnati’s Bob Huggins worked the officials hard, and Kentucky’s Tubby Smith repeatedly stomped the floor and walked onto the court to make points.
It was that kind of day—and that kind of game.
“I thought our guys showed a lot of heart and a lot of toughness against a team we have a lot of respect for,” Smith said. “Our fans, and so were the Cincinnati fans, were just unbelievable. You could see guys raising their intensity and play from the sheer energy of the crowd.”
The seventh-seeded Bearcats (25-8) failed to reach the round of 16 for the fourth straight year. They were led by Nick Williams with 16 points and Jihad Muhammad with 14. Cincinnati’s top player, Jason Maxiell finished with just nine points and four rebounds and took only four shots in the second half.
“I couldn’t post up as deep as I wanted to, and if I did, the guards were coming,” Maxiell said. “The defense inside was pretty tough.”
Appropriately, Hayes sparked the game-sealing run by posting for back-to-back layups. Morris followed that by grabbing an errant pass that bounced off the front of the rim, scoring and drawing the fourth foul on Maxiell with 3:56 to go. That made it 64-59.
The Bearcats didn’t score again.
“We got tired, so we didn’t move the ball,” Huggins said. “But even at that, we had makeable shots. We just didn’t make them. Again, we didn’t make them because they wore us down.”
Cincinnati still made it closer than some expected, especially after Kentucky started the game on an 11-0 run.
When the Bearcats got Hayes and Azubuike in foul trouble, they rallied with a 16-5 spurt that gave them a 28-26 lead.
After trailing 35-33 at halftime, Kentucky used another quick flurry—a 9-2 run—to rebuild a 42-37 lead. Cincinnati fought back, twice getting within a point—the last time with 6:05 to go.
But Hayes, Azubuike and Morris dominated the middle in the closing minutes and handed the Bearcats yet another loss in the rivalry.
“It was a great college tournament game. It was everything that it was built up to be,” Hayes said. “Those guys can play. But in the second half we were able to use our depth and wear them down a little bit.”