INDIANAPOLIS - A late 9-1 run carried Kentucky to the Sweet 16 for the 41st time in school history.
Leading by a threadbare 60-59 with 5:05 left in the game, Kelenna Azubuike knocked down three free throws and freshman center Randolph Morris dropped in a layup and free throw to spark the Wildcats to a 69-60 win over regional rival Cincinnati Saturday night at the RCA Dome.
"It was a heck of a game," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, whose team moves on to Austin, Texas. "I thought our guys showed a lot of heart and toughness against a team we have respect for. You could see guys raising their level of play from the sheer energy of the crowd.
"You can see what Cincinnati is capable of doing and why they are the best defensive team in the country. You had to be poised; you had to be patient. You had to be really strong with the ball. That's what we did."
Kentucky rolled to a 11-0 lead, but the Bearcats fought back to take a 35-33 halftime lead on a free throw by Armein Kirkland with four seconds left.
The Wildcats tied the game at 35, and then Morris scored on a dunk and layup to make it 39-35 with 16:54 left. Kentucky boosted its lead to 50-44 with 10:25 left on a layup by Rajon Rondo and a three-pointer by Azubuike.
Cincinnati kept chipping away, twice cutting the lead to three points, 54-51 and 56-53, and one point once (60-59) only to see Chuck Hayes (10 points, 8 rebounds) come up big. He had two layups and a tip-in during those sequences to keep the Bearcats at bay.
"He reached down deep in his soul to come up with those plays," Smith said.
"Anytime you talk about Chuck Hayes... he played well in the second half," said Azubuike, who led the team with 19 points. "He really went to the basket. He got some rebounds. He really played hard like the other guys."
Rondo added 16 points and seven assists and Patrick Sparks added 11 points. Nick Williams led Cincinnati with 16 points and Jihad Muhammad added 14.