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March 17, 2012LOUISVILLE - The Iowa State bench had come to life, and the KFC Yum! Center had been stunned mostly into silence.
The Cyclones had battled back from an 11-point halftime deficit to tie top-seeded Kentucky - playing in a virtual home game in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 - and with 16:28 to play, the Wildcats looked to be in a dogfight.
The UK fans in attendance seemed nervous. No one on the Kentucky roster seemed to be.
"We know we've got a lot of offense on our team," guard Doron Lamb said. "We know somebody's going to come out and make a big play. You've got a lot of offense, a lot of great players on our team. So we never really panic when a game is close."
Kentucky kept cool. The game wasn't heated for long.
The Wildcats waltzed from that critical point, scoring 30 of the game's next 40 points in an 87-71 win against eighth-seeded Iowa State, setting up a Sweet 16 rematch with Indiana Friday in Atlanta.
"They were resilient when Iowa State went right after them," UK coach John Calipari said of his team, which he said played "about as good as we can play."
All night, Kentucky seemed to find answers to every Iowa State challenge.
The Cyclones sagged their defense and dared the Wildcats to fire from outside, and Kentucky made 10-of-20 three-pointes. They played off point guard Marquis Teague and he carved them to pieces, scoring a career-high 24 points and dishing out seven assists.
Iowa State played tough and Kentucky (34-2) played tougher.
"People were saying they could just beat us up in the post or whatever the case may be," said freshman Anthony Davis, who had 15 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots. "I think we did a great job of (handling) it tonight. I think people got to go back to the drawing board and find something else."
Whatever Iowa State (23-11) drew up didn't seem to work.
Kentucky controlled most of the game and led 38-27 at halftime, but for a brief second-half stretch, the Cyclones were the superior team.
That spurt was keyed by forward Royce White, who finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and four assists. White had two dunks and a three-point play in the 15-4 stretch that tied the game early in the second half, and he electrified his teammates in carrying them back into the game.
But Kentucky played through that stretch. Terrence Jones' dunk just before the under-16 media timeout put UK back in front 44-42, and the game was never closer than that. Jones' dunk sparked a 6-2 run that ballooned into the 30-10 stretch that slammed the door on the Cyclones.
Kentucky was 6-for-7 from behind the three-point line in the second half. Darius Miller hit 3-of-6 three-pointers in the game as part of a 19-point effort.
"Sometimes they weren't even guarding us, really," said Lamb, who was 5-for-7 from three-point range and scored 16 points. "They were just packing in on drives, doubling the post and we were just knocking down open shots."
It's a strategy Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg figured was his best bet.
"They were 15 for 64 from the three-point line the last five games, and they come out tonight and shoot 10 for 20," Hoiberg said. "You take our hat off to them."
Meanwhile, Iowa State - which entered the game 10th in the nation in three-point field goals per game - shot 3-for-22 from outside the arc.
"They did a great job on defense," Iowa State guard Scott Christopherson said. "They're so long and athletic. They can do so many different things, switching and hedging ball screens."
That defense keyed Kentucky to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season. The Wildcats will face Indiana, the only team to beat UK in the regular season, at the Georgia Dome on Friday. Game time is to be announced.
"We know they can beat us again," Davis said. "We've got to come out with the mindset of, 'Let's go out here, play defense; let's dominate the game.'"