Kentucky advances with physical win over Cincinnati

The Dagger

And the beatdowns go on.

Headlined by a monstrous Willie Cauley-Stein dunk in the first half, Kentucky moved one game closer to an undefeated national title season with a 64-51 win over Cincinnati Saturday afternoon in the Midwest Regional. The Wildcats are the first team in NCAA history to start the season with 36 straight wins and will advance to next Thursday's Sweet 16 in Cleveland, where they will face the winner of Sunday's Maryland-West Virginia game.

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Cincinnati didn't make it easy for Kentucky, though. The bruising game before a partisan Kentucky crowd at Louisville's Yum Center was more emblematic of a contest between two rivals that regularly play each other rather than the reality, which is that Kentucky and Cincinnati don't schedule each other in the regular season and hadn't met since 2005.

[Photos: Kentucky vs. Cincinnati game action]

The Bearcats made this a game early on by being aggressive, and even led 24-21 with 3:34 remaining in the first half. But Cauley-Stein turned in arguably the best dunk of the tournament thus far a minute later, slamming the ball over Quadri Moore and Octavius Ellis while getting fouled. The ensuing free throw gave Kentucky a 26-24 lead and the Wildcats closed the half on a 10-0 run for a seven-point halftime lead.

While the second half was hotly contested with several hard fouls committed by both sides, Cincinnati couldn't shoot well enough for Kentucky — which only shot 37 percent itself —to ever doubt that it was in full control of the game.

Trey Lyles turned in a double-double for the Wildcats with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Aaron Harrison led Kentucky scorers with 13 points while Cauley-Stein had nine.

The loss ends an emotional and trying season for 23-11 Cincinnati. Head coach Mick Cronin left the team in mid-December due to an unruptured brain aneurysm and hadn't returned to the sidelines with assistant Larry Davis working in his place. Though there was talk Cronin might've been able to return for the regional in Cleveland, the Bearcats simply weren't good enough to advance and give him that chance.

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Kevin Kaduk is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kevinkaduk@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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