JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WDRB) — This was the kind of game that makes America sit inside and watch basketball for 12 hours on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky trying to find a way to survive without making enough perimeter shots — or the availability of the Wildcats’ best player, forward PJ Washington.
Wofford trying to find a way to shock America — and turn everybody's bracket upside down — without getting the best results from the Terriers’ best player, guard Fletcher Magee.
Kentucky 62, Wofford 56.
Put the Wildcats in the Sweet Sixteen.
On Thursday Wofford set the NCAA record for most three-point field goals in a career. Magee failed to add to that record against the Wildcats. He took a dozen three-pointers. He missed a dozen three-pointers, scoring struggling to get eight points, less than half his average.
Without Washington, Reid Travis carried Kentucky inside with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Ashton Hagans scored a 12 with five rebounds and four assists.
The Wildcats defended as if their basketball careers depended upon it. Tyler Herro did most of the work. Stop calling Herro strictly a shooter. Herro defended Magee as well as Magee has been defended.
The game was tight into the final minute. It wasn’t that Kentucky failed to take the Terriers as seriously as they needed to take a team that had won 21 straight as well as the regular-season and tournament championships in the Southern Conference.
The Wildcats defended the way a team has to defend to win six games in this tournament.
Magee averaged more than 20 points per game this season. Included in that total is nearly 5 three-pointers per game.
Magee failed to score for the first 19 minutes and 41 seconds. He missed his first five attempts. The first shot Magee made came with Kentucky defender Tyler Herro millimeters from Magee’s upper molars — and it appeared to come after Magee double dribbled.
Herro, Ashton Hagans and Jemarl Baker shared the responsibility of defending Magee, and they did their jobs well, especially in the first half.
But if Magee was not making perimeter shots, neither were the Wildcats. They launched six in the first half. They also missed six.
It was a strange and reckless strategy for a team that had a considerable advantage in height, length and bulk in the middle. Even without Washington, Kentucky had better talent in Reid Travis, Nick Richards and EJ Washington.
Calipari appeared to emphasize that point, urgently screaming for a timeout after the Terriers knifed through the UK defense for a layup — and a 21-15 lead — with 5:07 left in the first half.
Message delivered. Kentucky outscored Wofford over the final five minutes for a 28-26 halftime lead.
Message remembered in the second half. Kentucky outscored Wofford, 8-0, over a 2:26 stretch to push ahead 45-37, forcing Wofford coach Mike Young to burn a timeout.
The Wildcats never led Wofford get closer than three the rest of the way, riding a balanced attack, dependable rebounding and unrelenting defense.
Kentucky advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, the Midwest Regional semifinal in Kansas City where either Houston or Ohio State awaits Friday night.
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