CRAWFORD | Kentucky doesn't need threes to put away Davidson 78-73 in NCAA first-round
Kentucky beat Davidson to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night in Boise, Idaho.
BOISE, Idaho (WDRB) – The NCAA's longest streak of consecutive games with a made three-pointer is over, but against the backdrop of advancing in the NCAA Tournament, that doesn't mean a whole lot. The University of Kentucky avoided the dreaded 12-5 upset with a couple of big defensive stands and a couple of big offensive nights -- from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox.
After leading by as many as 13 points in the first half, the Wildcats found themselves in a dogfight down the stretch against No. 12 seed Davidson in their first-round NCAA Tournament South Region matchup Thursday night in Rupp Arena.
The Wildcats had to make some big plays late, and needed a big night from freshman Knox, who finished with 25 points to lead the Wildcats to a 78-73 victory.
"It was a good one for this young team," said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who improved to 27-6 in NCAA Tournament play at Kentucky. "First time they've been in the NCAA Tournament, not knowing what to expect. If you come out to play the way we did in the second half, our season will be over. The way they played in the first half, I thought defensively, to play a team that's as efficient and an execution team like Davidson, this young team did pretty good.
Kentucky had made at least one three-pointer in 1,047 consecutive games coming into Thursday’s game, then did not make one against Davidson. It was outscored 33-0 from beyond the arc, but outscored Davidson 36-20 in the paint to help offset the difference. In fact, Kentucky took only six threes in the game and three in the second half.
"Coach told us that we could score if we drove, so that's what we did a good job with," Knox said. ". . . We won. I don't really see anything wrong with the streak. People aren't going to make threes every time. As long as we won, that's all that matters to me."
The game was decided by two periods of great defense by Kentucky.
Kentucky held Davidson scoreless for nearly five minutes in the first half to get out to its lead, but Davidson made some halftime adjustments and shot better than 60 percent for the first 15 minutes of the second half to pull even. But with the game in the balance, Kentucky held Davidson scoreless for 2:21 in the closing minutes, a string of six straight misses that allowed the Wildcats to pull out to an 11-point lead and put the game away.
"That's our fall-back," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "We know defensively is where we're special."
When Davidson needed them late, its three-point looks were off. The Wildcats missed three open looks in the final 3 ½ minutes that helped Kentucky pull away late, though they hit enough to keep things interesting in the final minute. With 13.8 seconds left, they trailed by only six, but Kentucky made its free throws to put the game away.
"You have to defend and rebound in this thing," Calipari said. "Again, we can't go 0-for from the 3-point line. You have to make some shots. And I always say this: You don't have to make them all. You just can't miss them all. You can't miss every one. And then you can't miss them bad because they're demoralizing. This is a good shooting team. But we only took six. If we took 6 more we'd have been 6-12."
Gilgeous-Alexander took over the ballhandling late and finished with 19 points, going 9-for-10 from the free-throw line. He also had eight rebounds and seven assists. The Wildcats also got 11 points from P.J. Washington.
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