Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin knew his squad would be playing much stiffer competition in Las Vegas after cruising through its first four games.
Its next opponent will be looking to pull off another surprise.
The 22nd-ranked Bearcats will play for the Global Sports Classic championship Saturday night against upstart Oregon, which knocked off the tournament's host in the semifinals.
Cincinnati (5-0) won its first four games by an average of 34.5 points while scoring 91.5 points per contest, though those opponents weren't expected to present much of challenge.
That changed Friday, though, as unbeaten Iowa State was even with the Bearcats at halftime and stayed close throughout the final 20 minutes in a 78-70 loss.
"I knew it was going to be a tight game in the first half,'' Cronin said. "Two teams playing a major opponent for the first time this season, things were bound to get sloppy.''
Sean Kilpatrick scored 32 points while Cashmere Wright added 14. Kilpatrick, who leads the team at 22.0 per game, hit all 16 of his free throws after missing 6 of 8 over his previous two games.
"I just got out there and didn't think about it," Kilpatrick said. "That's when things go wrong, when you think about it too much. So I just shot them like I know how I can.''
Cronin said the Bearcats need to be more fluid on offense, though.
"We weren't organized,'' Cronin said. "We just got sloppy on offense. We have to learn how to play better with a lead. Teams can hurt us because we spread the floor and they get physical with our bigs. We're actually used to that in the Big East; we just hadn't seen it yet.
"Once we got organized we were able to box out and we were able to score multiple times."
Cincinnati's victory set up the first part of a potential Top 25 showdown with No. 18 UNLV on Saturday, but Oregon had other ideas. Behind a team-high 19 from Damyean Dotson, the Ducks (5-0) pulled off an 83-79 upset despite hitting only 3 of 19 (15.8 percent) from 3-point range.
E.J. Singler and Tony Woods, who entered as the team's top two scorers, finished with seven points apiece while shooting a combined 4 of 15.
"(Dotson) did a great job,'' coach Dana Altman said. "He found his way to the basket and made really good plays down the stretch.''
Oregon, which had lost 17 of its previous 19 games against ranked foes, hasn't won its first five games since beginning the 2006-07 season with 13 straight wins.
Altman was critical of his team after a 67-45 victory over Jacksonville State on Monday, hinting that the Ducks might not yet be able to compete with top-20 competition.
He was happy to be proven wrong Friday, and surely knows Cincinnati will provide another tough test.
"I didn't like some of our execution, but the guys played hard and found a way to win,'' Altman said. "It was a great game for us to win. We found a way.''
Cincinnati upset No. 5 Oregon 77-52 in the most recent meeting Dec. 17, 2002, at the Jimmy V Classic in East Rutherford, N.J.