Sean Kilpatrick scored 11 of his 18 points down the stretch and Cincinnati overcame early shooting woes to beat the Tigers 69-53 on Saturday.
Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said the key was controlling Memphis point guard and leading scorer Joe Jackson, who had 13 points, but only two after halftime.
''He really initiates everything for them,'' Cronin said of Jackson. ''Once we stopped him from penetrating, it stopped other guys from getting layups, stopped him from getting baskets, free throws. I thought that was the biggest key.''
The defense contributed to Cincinnati outscoring the Tigers 42-27 in the second half and holding Memphis to 9 of 37 from the field (24.3 percent).
The defense and Kilpatrick's scoring surge provided enough of a buffer to extend Cincinnati's winning streak to six straight, while Memphis saw an end to a three-game winning streak.
Justin Jackson finished with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, eight rebounds and a career high-matching seven blocks for Cincinnati (13-2, 2-0 American Athletic Conference), while Shaquille Thomas had 10 points. The Bearcats recorded their first road win over an opponent ranked in the top 20 since winning at then-No. 13 Connecticut 70-67 on Jan. 18, 2012.
''This is a huge win, and we have to keep everything rolling,'' Kilpatrick said. ''This is just a stepping stone for us, and we have to keep it going as we continue conference play.''
Michael Dixon added 12 points but was 4 of 12 from the field for Memphis (10-3, 1-1).
Cincinnati used a 13-3 rally to extend the lead to 52-42 in the second half. Eleven straight points by Kilpatrick made it 69-51 with about a minute left, but many of the Memphis fans already were headed for the exits.
''He's a great player. I wouldn't trade him for anybody at the 2 position, and we play him at the point at the end of the games,'' Cronin said of Kilpatrick. ''He's such a luxury to have because he can make shots, he can handle the ball. He's getting to the point that he's an all-around player, not just a shooter. He controlled the game from that point on.''
The Bearcats, who were hovering under 30 percent shooting in the first half, connected on 14 of 24 shots in the second half, including missing only one of their five shots from outside the arc.
Memphis was hindered by 16 turnovers and going 2 of 17 from 3-point range for the game despite relying on its four senior guards.
''At some time, our shots (3) are going to fall,'' Memphis guard Geron Johnson said. ''It's simple basketball. If you check the stats, I think Chris Crawford is a 42 percent career shooter. Michael Dixon is at 45 percent, and Joe Jackson is at 48 percent. I was 35 percent last year.''
The four Memphis senior guards - Jackson, Dixon, Crawford and Johnson - were a combined 14 of 49, and that included Jackson hitting 6 of 13. Crawford, for example, was 2 of 11 and missed four of his five shots from 3-point range.
''I thought we did a great job of challenging every shot Crawford took,'' Cronin said. ''He got some off, but we've got some long guys who really challenged him hard.''
Memphis coach Josh Pastner, who continued to play the four-guard approach as the Cincinnati lead built, said he has to rely on the quartet's experience. He said the poor shooting from the four and that they combined for 11 of the Tigers' 16 turnovers is hard to overcome.
''I've said it before, and I'll say it again,'' Pastner said, ''when our four senior guards play poorly collectively like they did, then we're going to struggle. And when they play well together collectively, we're a team [that] will be tough to beat.''