CRAWFORD | Diallo, Gilgeous-Alexander run through and over Buffalo, Kentucky advances 95-75
Kentucky was too much for Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, advancing with a 95-75 victory.
BOISE, Idaho (WDRB) – I know the calendar says March. But this game felt like mid-December. You know the games, the ones where some decent team visits Rupp Arena, a team that everybody says, “you’ll hear from them in March,” then Kentucky wins by 20-something.
Yes, it’s March, and the second round of the NCAA South Regional. And the venue is Taco Bell Arena, a long way from Lexington.
But the result was no different. While Buffalo brought its high-scoring offense to a venue hungry for more underdog tournament heroics, Kentucky didn’t cooperate.
Bulls coach Nate Oats had touted his team’s toughness and experience. He didn’t count on Kentucky’s toughness and talent. The Wildcats established a double-digit lead 8 ½ minutes into the game, and Buffalo never got closer than five the rest of the way. Kentucky won 95-75, and advances to the Sweet 16 Atlanta, where it will face the winner of a Round of 32 game between Kansas State and tournament sweetheart Maryland-Baltimore County.
Buffalo had two main problems in this game.
1). It couldn’t stop Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The fantastic freshman scored 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting and dished out six assists. He made both his three-point tries and collected six rebounds.
2). It couldn’t match the athleticism of freshman Hamidou Diallo, who played the best game of his young career. Diallo was everywhere. He scrambled on defense, finishing with a steal and a pair of blocked shots. He put on an air show on a couple of offensive rebound slams. He ran the court. He hit mid-range jumpers. He drove past defenders. He hit the only three-pointer he took. He had 22 points and eight rebounds.
When those two play like that, look out. This team is very good. For Diallo, it was a breakthrough. In at least three postgame interviews I've heard this season, Calipari actually has used the words, "Poor Hami." On Saturday, Hami was anything but poor.
"You saw what he is and what he's capable of today," Calipari said. "Let me say this -- I was trying to learn about him and he was trying to learn about me. We were trying to figure this out. Everybody said, 'Why are you starting him?' Because he deserves it, I love him, and he's going to do it. It just took us a long time."
Diallo said he's felt his game grow to be more under control in recent games, and he has pushed himself to make an impact defensively and on the boards.
"Be an overall player, an energy guy and a glue guy," Diallo said. "That's my whole focus right now."
Buffalo couldn’t guard Kentucky. The Wildcats scored on 65 percent of their first-half possessions and would’ve had more than a nine-point lead if not for some timely three-point shooting by Buffalo.
Oats said the biggest problem Kentucky posed was Gilgeous-Alexander.
"I told the guys, there's a reason this guy is projected to be a lottery pick," Oats said. "He's the best point guard we've seen all year. He passes it, scores it, he's 6-6, he's long. They can usually take other guards out of it, but we started out trying to deny him the ball back, once he gave it up. But he's so long at 6-6. He gets open. And then he gets it. I saw some teams try to trap him; he throws over the trap, they dunk it. He throws it, they dunk it. He finishes at the rim. We really didn't have an answer for him tonight. That was a major problem for us tonight defensively. We were supposed to be loading up and tightening the gaps, then they start making some threes. We cut it to five, and then they hit back-to-back threes, if I remember right. That kind of killed us right there. And then they got some dunks at crucial times. To me, Alexander makes them go."
Kentucky poured on too much offense for the high-scoring Bulls to keep up. Wenyen Gabriel came off the bench to contribute 16 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. PJ Washington had 12 points and seven rebounds.
Kentucky shot 56.3 percent from the field and made 7 of 15 threes, while holding Buffalo to 38.8 percent from the field. The Bulls went 7-31 from three-point range. Of Kentucky's 36 field goals, 21 were dunks (8) or layups. Freshman Kevin Knox got off to a fast start, killing Buffalo with the little baseline floater he's developed. Then he picked up his third foul in the first half, and didn't score again. Turns out, Kentucky didn't need him.
Diallo sprinted and leaped to the rescue.
And yet another piece of the Wildcats puzzle falls into place at the right time, as Kentucky heads to Atlanta with a formidable Final Four chance.
"They're great defensively," Oats said. "I talked to (Arizona coach) Sean Miller after our game, he said they guard way better, and it's true. They're unbelievable defensively. Cal gets them to play hard. And they were playing with a chip on their shoulder. They have a great chance to make it. I think they play Cincinnati if they can get by the next round. But they have a good shot to go to the Final Four. And they've got a chance to win these next two games."
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