Nothing came easy for top-ranked Kentucky against eighth-seeded Cincinnati, which mixed it up with the Wildcats on almost every play.
They didn't flinch and eventually built a double-digit lead by physically imposing their will on the Bearcats. Kentucky's reward was college basketball's first 36-0 start and a return visit to the Sweet 16 as it cleared an important step in its quest to become the first unbeaten champion since Indiana in 1976.
Aaron Harrison scored 13 points, Trey Lyles added 11 with 11 rebounds, and the Wildcats outworked Cincinnati for a 64-51 victory Saturday in Louisville, Ky., that showed their resolve even when the numbers worked against them.
Kentucky shot just 37 percent and was outrebounded by 45-38, yet always seemed in control because of timely baskets and rebounds that Cincinnati failed to get.
"I always like it when my team shoots 37, 36, 35 percent and wins in double digits," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "It shows them they don't have to make shots to win. You can miss most of them, and you can still win games if you defend, you rebound, and you play that way, make your free throws, and they did."
The Wildcats earned their sixth straight double-digit win that helped them surpass last year's Wichita State squad for the most victories to start the season. Kentucky squashed the Shockers' run in the third round last March and now looks to extend its roll in Thursday's Midwest Regional semifinal in Cleveland against the winner of Maryland-West Virginia.
That figures to be tough either way, though Kentucky might be hard pressed to find an opponent as grueling as Cincinnati (23-11). The physical, pesky Bearcats made the Wildcats work hard for every shot and rebound in an intense contest.
But the Wildcats succeeded by making life difficult on both ends for Cincinnati, holding the Bearcats to 32 percent shooting, including just 24 percent in the second half. Kentucky blocked six shots after halftime and nine overall while also coming up with key rebounds.
The Wildcats made 20 of 28 free throws, chances created by their aggressive attack of the basket. Cincinnati didn't shoot a free throw until early in the second half and finished 9 of 14 from the line.
Troy Caupain had 13 points, Shaq Thomas 10, and Octavius Ellis had nine with 10 rebounds for Cincinnati, which trailed by 19 points with 1:43 left.
Ellis embodied Cincinnati's attitude against the Wildcats, often adding an extra push after a play or finding a way to make Kentucky foul him as he tried to establish position.
But most notable for Kentucky were the timing of some baskets that ended up snatching momentum, such as Willie Cauley-Stein's emphatic flying dunk and free throw during a 10-0 run just before halftime that brought another sea of blue in the crowd to its feet.