Antonio Reeves scored 22 points and Oscar Tshiebwe collected a season-best 25 rebounds to lead Kentucky to a 61-53 victory over Providence on Friday night in NCAA Tournament East Region play in Greensboro, N.C.
Jacob Toppin added 18 points while Tshiebwe had eight points, three steals and two blocked shots as the sixth-seeded Wildcats (22-11) advanced to face either third-seeded Kansas State or 14th-seeded Montana State in Sunday's second round.
The Wildcats owned a 48-31 rebounding margin and collected 18 offensive boards, including 11 by Tshiebwe.
"I struggled on offense but I knew one thing they could not stop me was rebounding," Tshiebwe said postgame. "Rebounding and giving more chances to my team. I just come in and fight. It was about fights."
Ed Croswell scored 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting for 11th-seeded Providence (21-12). Devin Carter had 10 points while Kentucky transfer Bryce Hopkins scored just seven points on 2-of-9 shooting, plus a team-high eight rebounds.
Providence shot just 29.6 percent from the field in the second half and finished at 36.2 overall. The Friars went just 5-of-24 from 3-point range.
Kentucky shot just 25 percent from the field in the second half and 36.5 percent for the game. The Wildcats were 5-of-16 from 3-point range.
The Wildcats led 38-31 at halftime before both teams came out cold in the second half. Kentucky was 3-of-16 from the field over the first 12-plus minutes while the Friars were 2-of-13.
Noah Locke made a 3-pointer to halt a Providence field goal drought of 7:43 to bring the Friars within 46-41 with 7:18 remaining.
Kentucky ended a string of eight straight off-the-mark shots when Reeves rebounded his own miss and scored with 6:30 to play.
Reaves added another basket to give the Wildcats a 50-42 lead with 5:48 left. Croswell responded with back-to-back hoops to bring Providence within four with 4:44 left.
Baskets by Tshiebwe and Chris Livingston pushed Kentucky's lead back to eight with 2:43 remaining.
Toppin made six free throws in the final 1:14, including two to make it 61-51 with 26.9 seconds left, as the Wildcats closed it out.
"We made the free throws down the stretch," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "We fought like crazy. That's an aggressive team."
Earlier, Tshiebwe scored back-to-back baskets to conclude a 13-5 run as the Wildcats took a 26-21 lead with 5:09 left in the first half.
Providence scored the next four points before Reeves tallied eight during a 10-0 spurt as Kentucky extended its lead to 36-25 with 1:44 left.
Jared Bynum drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer as Providence trailed by seven at the break. Reeves scored 14 and Toppin had 12 in the half for the Wildcats.
--Field Level Media