INDIANAPOLIS, March 19 -- Most college basketball fans know Cincinnati and Kentucky, two schools separated by only 100 miles and the Ohio River, don't particularly like each other. But until Saturday night's NCAA tournament second-round game, the first meeting in 15 years between the Bearcats and Wildcats, maybe nobody realized the extent of their disdain for each other.
In a game that featured the intensity and energy usually reserved for the Final Four, or even a college football rivalry game, the No. 2 seed Wildcats survived with a 69-60 victory over the No. 7 seed Cincinnati in front of 40,331 in the RCA Dome.
Kentucky guard Kelenna Azubuike reacts after a score during the first half of the Wildcats' victory over Cincinnati.
(Michael Conroy - AP)
"It was a heck of a game," Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith said. "I thought our guys showed a lot of heart and toughness. You could see guys raised the level of their intensity."
Kentucky beat the Bearcats for the 15th straight time; Cincinnati hasn't won in the series since 1939. The Wildcats will play No. 6 seed Utah on Thursday in the semifinals of the Austin Region. The Wildcats' seven national championships aside, they have overachieved to get this far. With the Cincinnati game still in doubt, Smith finished beating the Bearcats with two freshmen -- point guard Rajon Rondo and center Randolph Morris -- on the court, along with walk-on guard Ravi Moss.
Morris, a 6-foot-10 center from Atlanta, came up huge as the Wildcats countered the Bearcats' rugged front-line players. He scored 11 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, including four in the final 2 minutes 41 seconds. Rondo had 16 points and seven assists, and forward Kelenna Azubuike led the Wildcats with 19. Kentucky outscored the Bearcats 34-12 in the paint.
"It was a great college basketball game," Wildcats senior Chuck Hayes said. "It was everything it was built up to be."
The game turned the Wildcats' way with less than four minutes remaining. Leading 62-59, Rondo tried to throw a pass into Morris, but the basketball hit the rim and bounced high in the air. Morris caught the basketball, scored on a layup and was bumped by Cincinnati's Jason Maxiell, his fourth foul. Morris missed the free throw, leaving the Wildcats ahead 64-59 with 3:56 to play.
"That was a backbreaker," Hayes said. "It definitely changed momentum."
The Wildcats then forced Cincinnati to settle for only one point in its last eight possessions. With less than one minute to play, the Bearcats missed three three-point attempts and a short jumper. Morris finally ended the Bearcats' hopes of a comeback when he snared a rebound with 35.4 seconds left.
Kentucky, which survived a scare from No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky, 72-64, in Friday's first round, made 5 of 8 free throws in the final 2:34 to seal the victory.
Williams led Cincinnati with 16 points and made 4 of 9 three-point attempts. Maxiell, whom Smith on Friday called a "first-rounder, maybe a lottery pick in the NBA," because of his ability to rebound, defend and block shots, was held to nine points, five rebounds and two blocked shots.