ST. LOUIS --- The clock hasn't struck 12 on Kentucky's tumultuous season just yet.
Instead, the Wildcats avoided what many were predicting as a high potential upset game and won their NCAA Tournament opener for the 12th straight season, 83-68 on Thursday over Valparaiso.
Kentucky (21-9), the No. 4 seed, advances to face 12th-seeded Tulsa in the second round of the East Regional on Saturday at the Edward Jones Done. The Golden Hurricane (27-6) upset Marquette 71-69 in Thursday's second game in St. Louis.
The Cats, who had stumbled down the stretch with four losses in their final nine games, put together one of their better performances of the season against the Crusaders (25-8). Kentucky shot 49 percent from the floor, 75 percent at the line and held a 40-32 rebounding advantage. The Cats also forced 19 turnovers leading to 20 points.
Valparaiso coach Homer Drew said he thought the cynicism UK faced entering the tournament may have played to its advantage.
"Disarray can unite a team," he said. "It tends to have a rallying effect."
"This is the consistency we needed," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "I thought we played as well as we have in a long, long time."
That applied, in particular, to Keith Bogans. The struggling junior guard hadn't reached the 20-point plateau since Jan. 29 at Florida, and had failed to reach double figures in six of his last 10 games.
But on Thursday, Bogans was back to his pre-2002 form, going 6-for-10 from the field and hitting four of five 3-point attempts en route to a team-high 21 points. He also pulled down six rebounds, dished out three assists and had a blocked shot.
"That's the kind of game we have to get from Keith if we're going to go very far," Smith said.
"My confidence, it can't really suffer," Bogans said. "I've got too much confidence. And my teammates always told me to keep my head up."
Kentucky got off to a good start, grabbing a 20-11 lead on Tayshaun Prince's three-point play at the 10:24 mark. An 18-3 run followed soon after, highlighted by scoring from six different Cats. UK carried a 41-23 lead into the half.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Bogans got the Cats rolling early in the second half, and Prince's runout jam off a steal and assist by Gerald Fitch made it 55-35.
The lead peaked at 68-47 with 7:25 remaining. The Crusaders rallied within 10 as they got hot from the 3-point arc and the Cats missed five of six free throws, but UK recovered in time to sink their last 10 at the line.
Prince finished with a sub-par scoring game (13), but was credited with his tough man-to-man defense on Valparaiso's Lubos Barton. The Crusaders' leading scorer was held without a field goal in the first half and managed only a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws in the second half.
Kentucky's balanced scoring also included 12 from Marquis Estill and 11 from Jules Camara. The Cats' center tandem also accounted for eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
Raitis Grafs led Valparaiso with 21 points and eight rebounds. Jared Stovall followed with 10 points and six rebounds, while Stalin Ortiz and Barton each added 10.