CRAWFORD | Just like everybody thought -- Kentucky to get Buffalo in NCAA second round
After a first round upset of Arizona, No. 4 seed Buffalo will face Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
BOISE, Idaho (WDRB) – Just like we all thought, Kentucky’s NCAA “bracket of death” continues with . . . Buffalo?
Kentucky won its 125th NCAA Tournament game on Thursday, beating Davidson 78-73. Buffalo won its first, running Arizona and a bunch of NBA-bound guys 89-68. The teams will meet Saturday in Taco Bell Arena.
Coach John Calipari and Kentucky have gotten used to being the big, bad wolf. Now, they’re slated for a date with Cinderella.
This column was supposed to be about how those idiots on the NCAA Tournament Selection committee set up a scenario when two of the most athletic, talented teams in the field were meeting in the second round, at least one round too soon.
Kentucky’s Kevin Knox was asked about Arizona and Deandre Ayton, the presumed first pick of the upcoming NBA Draft, after the Wildcats’ win Thursday.
“I played with Deandre a few times, me and him are really close,” Knox said. “We play 2K together all the time on PS4, so we’re always talking with each other. You know, he’s a really good player, probably the No. 1 pick in the draft. I’m pretty sure they’re going to win. That’s my favorite to win. So we’ve just got to make sure we box him out, because he’s a beast down low, listen to our coaches and see what we’re going to do.”
The bad news is that Knox’s bracket, if he filled one out, may be as broken as mine. The good? Kentucky won’t have to box Ayton out. Buffalo took care of that for them.
Calipari has been at this for 30 years and when someone asked him about a potential Arizona matchup, he didn’t take the bait.
“I've done this in this tournament, I don't know, maybe 20 times, whatever it is, you can't look ahead because a lot of times you look ahead and the team you're worried about doesn't even advance,” Calipari said. “And you spent three days, My God, we're going to have to -- they got beat. Who am I worried about now? So I'd rather not move ahead.”
In beating Davidson, Calipari’s young team showed discipline. While everybody was asking about the end of the longest NCAA streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer made – 1,047 games – which ended Thursday night, what was more intriguing was that Kentucky only attempted six threes, three in each half.
That’s not an easy thing for an experienced team to do, let alone a team full of freshmen. The urge to fight fire with fire is compelling. Kentucky, instead, went inside. It put together two stretches of great defense, completely stifling Davidson for about nine minutes of game time.
Knox has developed an outstanding mid-range game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the best guards in the country. And Kentucky’s length bothered Davidson’s perimeter shooters and bothered enough layups to keep them out of their game.
“I thought their break on the ball was very deceptive,” Princeton coach Bob McKillop said. “They're not a denial team, but they have the ability to close space very quickly. And there were, I think, three occasions they closed space very quickly, got steals and baskets. When you add it all up, that's the game right there. This was a two-possession game, and we ran out of time.”
Kentucky had a 13-point lead late in the first half, and let Davidson come all the way back. With the game in the balance late, it put the clamps on defensively again – though Davidson missing a couple of open threes in big moments didn’t hurt, either.
Calipari was happy with the win. He was happy that a group of guys who had never really experienced the NCAA Tournament were able to advance. But he understands that each subsequent round gets more difficult, even if you’re playing the No. 13 seed.
“It was a good one for this young team,” Calipari said. “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. . . . We became undisciplined. There was a stretch where guys did what they wanted to do. Just tried to steal a guy and foul and it was like, Wait a minute, we don't stand behind the post; we were standing dead behind the post. I don't know if they were tired or so anxious the first 20 minutes, like tired them out. They have never been in this tournament.”
On Saturday, they’ll get to experience something new – a date with Cinderella. Calipari has never lost to a team seeded worse than No. 10. Buffalo went into its matchup with Arizona confident it was going to win.
Yes, Kentucky’s “bracket of death” looks a little less lethal this morning. But in this tournament, looks can be deceiving.
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