LOUISVILLE — Unlike Arkansas, after earning the right to face No. 1 and unbeaten Kentucky in tournament play, Cincinnati did not take a stick and rattle the Wildcats' cages.
The Bearcats were respectful.
Said Cincinnati forward Jermaine Sanders: "It's what you come to college for, to play against one of the very best teams in the country, probably one of the best teams ever."
Do not, however, confuse respectful with intimidated or scared.
"We're not going to go in there nervous," UC guard Troy Caupain said. "We're not going to go in there playing scared."
The No. 8 seed Bearcats earned the right to face the Cats on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 with a show of true grit Thursday in the KFC Yum Center. Down 56-49 to No. 9 Purdue with 48.5 seconds left, UC dug its way out.
Caupain sent the game into overtime with a driving runner that went off the backboard, rolled all the way around the rim, hit the backboard again, and then rolled over and through the goal to force the extra period at 59.
In overtime, Cincinnati (23-10) made just enough plays to escape with a 66-65 victory. Now, UC gets a shot at the lavishly praised basketball team that represents a university that is only 85.4 miles from the Cincinnati campus.
Kentucky and Cincinnati have not faced each other since Tubby Smith's Wildcats, featuring senior Chuck Hayes and freshman Rajon Rondo, beat Bob Huggins' Bearcats 69-60 in the 2005 NCAA round of 32.
Being so close to Kentucky, the Bearcats get a heaping helping of the Big Blue hype.
"We see a lot of UK shirts on our campus," Sanders said. "That kind of gets us upset."
Freshman forward Gary Clark said some of the eateries favored by UC players are across the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky. "We see a lot of Kentucky fans in a lot of the restaurants we go to," Clark said. "Usually, it's pretty mutually (respectful) between us and the Kentucky fans."
It somehow seemed fitting that, to earn its shot at UK, Cincinnati had to fight through adversity to overcome Purdue.
With 16:22 left in the second half, UC 6-foot-10 junior Octavius Ellis was ejected from the game after appearing to throw a forearm into the throat of Purdue's A.J. Hammons. That deprived the Bearcats of their leading scorer (10 ppg) and rebounder (7.3) on the season.
Of course, Cincinnati has already overcome greater disruptions than that.
None of UC's five starters this season started even one game for UC in 2013-14.
On Dec. 20, the Bearcats lost their head coach. Mick Cronin was diagnosed with an "unruptured aneurysm" (a brain malady) and has not been coaching or conducting practices since. He does still interact with the team and is with them here in Louisville.
Cronin watched his team win Thursday from his hotel room. In his absence, associate head coach Larry Davis, a former Furman head man, has guided the Bearcats.
Cincinnati hangs its hat on defense. Entering the NCAA Tournament, UC was giving up 55.3 points (sixth best in the country). The Bearcats have held foes under 60 points 22 times.
Defense and toughness, UC says, is why they have a chance to do what UK's first 35 foes have not. Beat the Wildcats.
Deep down, do the Bearcats really believe they can best No. 1 Kentucky?
"Oh yes sir," Clark said. "Definitely."
"Just like you saw tonight," Clark said. "Not give up, play physical the whole game, crash the boards and don't let them dictate at both ends of the court."
Caupain said the key to beating Kentucky is negating shot-blocking 7-footers Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns. The way to do that, he said, is to draw them away from the basket. "Get their big men out of the paint, high ball screens, ball reversals," he said. "Making their big man play away from the basket so we have the opportunity to attack."
Cincinnati is not an offensive juggernaut (62.7 points a game). Davis, the UC associate head coach, said the key for Cincinnati to have a chance is "Can we figure out a way to score on them?"
Whatever happens, UC vows you will not see a team Saturday that is cowed or awed by UK, its perfect record and its ample (and mostly justified) reputation.
"Cincinnati basketball is never known to back down from anybody," Caupain said, "and I don't think we should back down from them."