After winning their first four games by an average margin of 34.5 points per game, the Bearcats (5-0) had their hands full with a talented Iowa State (4-1) team that stole the momentum in the first half, dictated the pace at times to keep things close and pulled within 4 points with 46 seconds left.
Cashmere Wright added 14 points for the Bearcats and Titus Rubles had 10 points.
The Bearcats will face the winner of the semifinal between Oregon and No. 18 UNLV.
Cincinnati's early second-half run of 15-5 gave it enough breathing room to keep its distance and secure the win. The Bearcats, who came in shooting 51.3 percent from the field (including 42.2 percent from 3-point range), shot just 25 of their 60 attempts (41.7) from the floor. They hit just 25 percent (5 of 20) of their 3-pointers.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin stressed before the start his concern for his team's lackluster efforts in the first-half of games, and it was evident why after his Bearcats struggled after taking a 10-4 lead with 15:53 left in the opening half.
Playing at a frenetic pace and not being able to find any rhythm, the Bearcats let the Cyclones dictate much of the pace to get back into the game. Using an 11-3 run to take a 15-13 lead at the 13-minute mark, the Cyclones stole the momentum. Neither team took a lead bigger than four points after Cincinnati's early six-point edge, while there were eight lead changes over the first 20 minutes. The teams were tied at 35 at halftime.
Cronin also said there was an urgency for his team to show improvement at the free throw line, where they came into the game shooting 53.2 percent. Kilpatrick, who entered just 5 of 13 from the stripe, was a perfect 16 of 16 Friday. As a team, the Bearcats shot 92 percent (23-of-25) from the line.
Iowa State, which was looking to start 5-0 for the third time in four years, was also facing its first true test after winning its first four games by an average 32.5 points. The Cyclones came into the game shooting nearly 49.6 percent from the floor, but struggled against the Bearcats with 37.3 percent (25 of 67).
Iowa State's Tyrus McGee led his team with 22 points, Korie Lucious scored 12 and Melvin Ejim had seven points and 10 rebounds.
Cincinnati has won three of the four meetings all-time with Iowa State, the last three coming at neutral sites. This was the first matchup between the schools since then-No. 1 Cincinnati beat Iowa State 75-60 on Nov. 28, 1999, in Hilo, Hawaii.