CINCINNATI (AP) -- A cool freshman kept frustrated Memphis unbeaten.
Guard Derrick Rose scored a career-high 26 points Wednesday night, steadying his team in a 79-69 victory over Cincinnati that left the second-ranked Tigers with roiling stomachs and a perfect record.
Memphis improved to 9-0 for the first time since 1985-86, when the Tigers won their first 20 games, a school record. This one didn't come so easily.
Struggling Cincinnati (4-6) kept it close by taking advantage of two second-half technical fouls and the Tigers' inability to sustain anything for more than a few minutes. Also, Memphis was only 21-of-36 from the free-throw line, wasting chances to put the game away until the closing minutes.
Rose pulled them through and added to the Tigers' recent legacy against an old rival.
"It's exciting," said Rose, who has topped 20 points three times so far. "We're together as a team."
Memphis has won its last three against Cincinnati, with a freshman playing the leading role all three times. Two years ago, Antonio Anderson had a career-high 32 points against Cincinnati. Last season, Willie Kemp scored 21 in an 88-55 win.
This time was Rose's turn.
"In practice, he tells me, 'Let me call the plays, Coach,' like he wants to run the team," coach John Calipari said. "I'm fine with that. He plays like this, I'll go back into the locker room if you want me to."
Deonta Vaughn scored 20 points for the Bearcats, who are off to their worst start in 22 years.
Cincinnati was coming off its most inspired performance, a 64-59 loss to crosstown rival Xavier a week ago. The Bearcats didn't back down in that rough-and-tumble game, and came away convinced that they had grown up as a team.
Against another rival, they initially went back into their shell.
Memphis got a lot of open shots on the perimeter early and took advantage, making seven of its first 12. The Tigers pulled ahead 26-14 and seemed to be ready to take control. Instead, they lost most of their lead and had to sweat it out.
"It was a different type of defense," said Anderson, who had 12 points. "We weren't nervous or anything. It was hard to make some shots when they went man to man."
The Tigers failed to score on their last five possessions of the first half, when they had two turnovers and missed three shots. Cincinnati's confidence grew during an 11-1 run that culminated with Jamual Warren's jumper at the buzzer that trimmed the lead to 33-32.
It was a significant development for the Bearcats, who shot 36 percent from the field in their last three games, all losses. They went 13-of-27 in the first half against a team that normally prides itself on pressure defense.
Now, the pressure was on Memphis.
Rose got the Tigers back on solid footing, hitting a 3-pointer and making two free throws to open the second half. Cincinnati also slipped back into its shooting doldrums, missing its first eight attempts.
"He can hurt you in so many ways," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said of Rose. "Tonight he hurt us in just about every way. He was the difference in the game."
Still, Memphis had trouble putting them away.
John Williamson's three-point play gave Cincinnati its first basket of the half and cut it to 44-40, getting the less-than-capacity crowd of 8,254 back into the game. Rose asserted himself again, making another 3-pointer, and Kemp's three-point play off a fastbreak rebuilt the lead to 50-40.
Andre Allen made a three-point play and two 3s that helped Memphis build its biggest lead, 65-50, with 6:49 left. Two technical fouls -- one on forward Joey Dorsey, another on Calipari -- blunted the momentum. Memphis also missed four consecutive free throws, giving Cincinnati a final chance to rally.
"Cincinnati beat us to, I'm going to guess, about seven balls that made the game playable for them," Calipari said. "That's why I went crazy. On the technical, I was getting on my players. I wasn't getting on the officials."
Vaughn's 3-pointer cut it to 68-62 with 3:50 left, but Williamson missed a dunk that could have made it interesting. Finally, Rose hit a 3-pointer from the right wing that made it 73-64 with 1:52 to go.
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