Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats continue their run towards perfection as they take on the eighth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats in Midwest Regional third-round action of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center.
The winner here will move into next week's Sweet 16 against either West Virginia or Maryland.
Kentucky earned the No. 1 overall seed in this event as John Calipari's Wildcats have yet to taste defeat on the season. With a second-round rout of Hampton on Thursday (79-56), Kentucky has run its record to 35-0, a school record. Kentucky is making its 54th appearance in this tournament (leads the nation). The Wildcats hold a 119-48 all-time record and have won eight NCAA titles, including their last in 2012.
Cincinnati has dealt with adversity this season, losing head coach Mick Cronin to health issues. Still, under interim coach Larry Davis, the team has won 16 games to push its win total to 23 on the season. That last victory came on Thursday in thrilling fashion, as the Bearcats topped Purdue in overtime, 66-65 to advance. Cincinnati is participating in its 29th NCAA Tournament, with a record of 44-27, including a pair of national championships in 1961 and 1962.
This is the 39th meeting in this series. Kentucky holds a 27-11 lead overall, thanks to the Wildcats' current 15-game win streak against the Bearcats.
Cincinnati is a solid defensive squad, holding opponents to just 55.6 ppg (sixth nationally) and .389 shooting. No one on the roster is currently averaging double digits in scoring, although junior forward Octavius Ellis is sitting at 9.9 ppg on .565 shooting. He also paces the team in rebounding (7.1 rpg) and blocked shots (67). Sophomore guard Troy Caupain (9.5 ppg) and junior guard Farad Cobb (8.7 ppg) give the team a little scoring depth.
It didn't look good for the Bearcats early in the second half, as Ellis was ejected for a flagrant foul. Cincinnati was able to fight through it, force overtime and then hold on for the one-point win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats received 14 points from Cobb, got a career-high 13 from Coreontae DeBerry and a near double-double from freshman Gary Clark (nine points, 12 rebounds).
While Cincinnati has been good on defense, Kentucky has been great. The Wildcats have destroyed opponents, leading the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.353), ranking second in blocked shots (239) and third in scoring defense (54.0 ppg). Calipari's squad is anchored by a pair of frontcourt gems in junior Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman Karl-Anthony Towns, both of which earned All-SEC First-Team honors. Cauley-Stein picked up All-America honors as well, averaging 9.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Towns was named the National Freshman of the Year, with 10.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per outing. The two have combined for 141 blocked shots. Guards Aaron Harrison (11.1 ppg) and Devin Booker (10.2 ppg) provide perimeter balance.
Hampton was in over its head against Kentucky on Thursday. The Wildcats held the Pirates to a mere .288 shooting percentage, while holding a huge edge in rebounding (51-31). UK also outscored Hampton 44-20 in the paint. Towns led the way with a 21-point, 11-rebound double-double. Andrew Harrison added 14 points to the cause, while Tyler Ulis and Trey Lyles finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Cauley-Stein grabbed 11 rebounds as well and chipped in with seven points.