CINCINNATI — It was "Education Day" at Fifth Third Arena, with area school children there to see a women's basketball game.
Kentucky's players walked away with an education of their own.
The Cats learned that even when they give up a big lead and let their opponent go up by as many as eight points in the second half, they can still find a way to win.
In its first real test this season, UK passed, walking away with a 68-58 win over Cincinnati to remain unbeaten.
"We haven't been down like this before and we had to go in and we had to fight," said senior Lydia Watkins, who came off the bench to score a career-high 18 points and grab nine rebounds. "We learned a lot from this game and saw what kind of team we can be."
UK had four players score in double figures against Cincinnati, but again, it was team defense that proved to be the most valuable player.
"This will be a great thing for our team to learn from," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "(Defense) is where our energy comes from, that's where our intensity comes from."
It definitely drove the Cats in the early part of the game when they grabbed a 16-6 lead before Cincinnati seemed to wake up, which was understandable given the 11 a.m. start time.
In the first half, UK forced the Bearcats into 17 turnovers (while committing just three). Kentucky scored 17 of its 32 first-half points off Cincinnati mistakes.
The Bearcats came in averaging just 14.3 turnovers per game, an average they met Friday with five minutes still to play in the first half. Their season high for miscues had been 19. They finished with 25 Friday.
"We just need to take better care of the ball on a more consistent basis," said first-year coach Jamelle Elliott, a former Connecticut standout and assistant coach.
Despite the turnover margin, Cincinnati was able to hit back-to-back three-pointers late to cut UK's lead to 32-26 at the half.
That hot shooting carried over into the second half, with the Bearcats using a 17-4 run to grab a 47-39 lead.
Mitchell called a timeout and UK regrouped.
"Mentally we were not focused," forward Victoria Dunlap said. "In the huddle ... we just started talking to each other and saying 'stay focused and keep your heads up.'"
Mitchell reminded them to play good defense.
Out of that huddle, UK forced a five-second call, then back-to-back shot clock violations, then Dunlap blocked two straight shots. Cincinnati went nearly eight minutes without a field goal.
"Vic really stepped up, started blocking some shots and taking control of the paint," Mitchell said.
Elliott noted that the Bearcats were without foul-troubled post player Michelle Jones for UK's late run, but she was impressed by Dunlap, who finished the game with 10 points, seven rebounds, four steals, three blocks and two assists.
"She plays like an All-American, Dunlap does, and it's hard to guard her one-on-one with someone that's 5-10," Elliott said. "They made us pay for that."
UK seized momentum and outscored the Bearcats 29-10 in the final 13 minutes. During that span, UK scored 11 unanswered points.
"At that point, we started to play too fast," said guard Shareese Ulis, who had 10 points and four assists for Cincinnati. "We weren't thinking about what was actually going on ... we were forcing shots."
Watkins had 10 points in UK's final surge and also contributed three steals. She was 6-for-6 from the free throw line and missed just one of her seven shots from the field.
"She made big free throws, she was big on the boards," Mitchell said. "It was a banner day for her and I'm real happy for her."
UK moved to 8-0 for only the third time in program history. The Cats will face Florida A&M at Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 13 to try to match the school's best start.