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Physical Cincinnati comes up short in 64-51 loss to No. 1 Kentucky with Sweet 16 spot on line

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LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Cincinnati came ready to play undefeated Kentucky. Unfortunately, turnovers, a shooting slump and too many blocked shots ended the Bearcats' chances of an historic upset.

The Bearcats used their trademark physical defense to hold Kentucky in check in the first half before going cold in the second as Cincinnati lost 64-51 to the top-ranked Wildcats with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.

They were up by three points before Kentucky finished the half on a 10-0 run, taking a 31-24 halftime lead. Coming out of the locker room, Cincinnati made just seven of its first 35 shots in the second half with Kentucky swatting away six of them as part of their nine blocks on the day.

"They're big. It's hard to score in the paint," said Troy Caupain, who led Cincinnati with 13 points. "We missed a couple opportunities around the basket. We turned the ball over too much. We make those shots and keep the ball under control, it's a game."

Cincinnati (23-11) was trying to make the program's 11th regional semifinal and first since 2012. The physical, pesky Bearcats made the Wildcats work hard for every shot and rebound in an intense contest.

"It hurts that we lost the game, but I'm glad we gave our best effort," said Jermaine Sanders, Cincinnati's lone senior. "We didn't ever let down, and we kept our guard up the whole game."

No play may sum up this game more than when Cincinnati was up 24-21 following a dunk by Shaq Thomas with 3:42 left in the first half. Less than a minute later though, Willie Cauley-Stein's emphatic dunk over Quadri Moore gave Kentucky the lead for good and started the 10-0 run.

"I don't think the dunk deflated us as much as the two turnovers that we had during that stretch and that cost us," Cincinnati associate head coach Larry Davis said. "It cost us because we were right there, and we could have kept a little more pressure on them going into halftime."

Cincinnati held Kentucky (36-0) to 37 percent shooting and outrebounded the Wildcats 45-38. Yet Kentucky got all the timely baskets and rebounds the Bearcats couldn't reach. The Bearcats had twice as many turnovers (14) as Kentucky.

Aaron Harrison scored 13 points and Trey Lyles added 11 with 11 rebounds for Kentucky's sixth straight double-digit win. The Wildcats will play in Thursday's Midwest Regional semifinal in Cleveland against the winner of Maryland-West Virginia.

The Wildcats succeeded by making life difficult on both ends for Cincinnati, holding the Bearcats to 32 percent shooting, with only two field goals in the final minute pushing that to 24 percent in the second half. Cincinnati didn't shoot a free throw until early in the second half and finished 9 of 14 from the line — half of Kentucky's 28 attempts.

PHOTO: Cincinnati center Coreontae DeBerry and Kentucky center Dakari Johnson grapple over a rebound during the second half of an NCAA tournament college basketball game in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, March 21, 2015. Kentucky won 64-51. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)
Cincinnati center Coreontae DeBerry and Kentucky center Dakari Johnson grapple over a rebound during the second half of an NCAA tournament college basketball game in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, March 21, 2015. Kentucky won 64-51. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)

"Had we finished a little better down the stretch with some point-blank shots that we had, had we made some free throws, we'd have made it very, very interesting," Davis said.

Thomas had 10 points and Octavius Ellis had nine points and 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 down low.

Cincinnati got within three points several times early in the second half, the last time at 35-32 on Ellis' jumper. Hard-fought offensive rebounds created more opportunities, but the Bearcats just couldn't convert as Kentucky came up with timely rebounds.

That's because Kentucky didn't let them.

"I think we did a good job in the first half, and I think we were in the game," Thomas said, "and we just made a couple mental errors that we need to fix. I think we played real physical with them."

____

TIP-INS:

Cincinnati: Ellis made the Bearcats' first free throw attempt 10 seconds into the second half. ... Cincinnati edged Kentucky in the paint 32-30 and got 14 second-chance points.

Kentucky: Cauley-Stein and Tyler Ulis each added nine points for the Wildcats, who scored 16 points off 14 turnovers. ... Kentucky improved to 28-10 against Cincinnati.

UP NEXT:

Cincinnati: Season ends.

Kentucky: Sweet 16 in Cleveland.

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: Cincinnati associate head coach Larry Davis yells to his team during the second half of an NCAA tournament college basketball game against Kentucky in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, March 21, 2015. Kentucky won the game, 64-51. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)
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