“Folks, can you make this really quick. It's 12:30. A college kid shouldn't be playing at 12:30. The old man that's coaching their team has to watch tapes tonight. Can you just ask a couple questions? We shouldn't be playing this late, but that's another issue for another day.”
That’s how John Calipari started his team’s post-game press conference after Kentucky’s 79-70 victory on Friday night (that carried into Saturday morning) in Indianapolis against 15th-seeded Northern Kentucky.
After leading by as much as 18 points early in the second half, Northern Kentucky fought hard late in the final minutes to trim the lead all the way down to seven. Despite the complete mismatch, the Norse got knocked down against the Wildcats, but kept fighting.
“We’ll be fine,” Calipari said. “I mean, you get up 18 and, you know, again, it's 1:30 in the morning, and we're playing. And then you have to give Northern credit. The thing they did all season is make 3s. And what I said at halftime, the one thing I'm worried about is they missed a bunch of 3s that they normally make, or the game would have been closer. And then late in the game, they made them all.”
Northern Kentucky shot 8-for-32 on the night from long range, which looks atrocious in the box score, but many of those misses came off of open looks. Only 25 other teams in the entire country shot more 3-pointers than the Norse’s 827 attempts this season.
“Hat's off to John [Brannen] and the job he's done at Northern and their program and school and, you know, it was -- the first one under the belt,” Calipari reiterated.
“We'll be fine.”
A major reason why Calipari wasn’t completely upset with the late start time and his team’s overall performance: big Bam Adebayo.
Oh my, Bam Adebayo showing some range. pic.twitter.com/XTfRG72Nwa— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 18, 2017
In his NCAA Tournament debut, Adebayo scored 15 points and pulled down a game-high 18 (!) rebounds in the nine-point victory. Adebayo’s 18 rebounds were the most by a Kentucky player in the tournament in 61 years.
Calipari knew the Norse would look to double and trap Adebayo on every touch he got with his clear size advantage over them, but the freshman certainly didn’t play like one and had what was likely his most impressive showing of the season when the ‘Cats could’ve certainly used it.
“It’s something he should be able to do every game,” De’Aaron Fox said on Kentucky’s dominant force in the middle.
“For us, we just gotta be able to get him the ball more. We know he’s going to grab rebounds, we know he’s going to get second-chance points, but we gotta make it to where it’s not so hard on him to score. Just getting him the ball more, let him work and we’ll be fine.”
After the first 20 minutes, Adebayo almost had his seventh double-double of the season with 10 points and nine rebounds at the break with Kentucky leading by 14 points. Despite the strong effort from the Norse, there’s just not much you can do against a mammoth 6’10”, 260-pound freight train as an undersized underdog.
Gorgeous crossover by De'Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo cleans it up. pic.twitter.com/r9ugoPg4E8— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 18, 2017
Adebayo’s been on a tear during Kentucky’s current 12-game winning streak that has them sitting just three wins away from the school’s 18th Final Four; a number only reached by North Carolina (the No. 1 seed in Kentucky’s region) in history.
“I embrace it because my teammates believe in me,” Adebayo said when asked about him being an offensive focal point. “That means Coach believes in me to score. All I can ask from my teammates is to keep giving me the ball and hopefully I’ll keep scoring and getting fouled.”
There’s still a long way to go for Big Blue, but it’s not whether you win by one or 100. It’s that you win and that’s what Kentucky did on Fri ... er, Saturday morning.
“Fine” is fine for the moment.
Other notes from Kentucky advancing to the Round of 32:
- Kentucky will play No. 10 Wichita State in the Round of 32 on Sunday afternoon at approximately 2:40 p.m. ET in Indianapolis. It’s already been well-documented, but the last time these two schools met, Kentucky ended Wichita State’s undefeated season in the 2014 NCAA Tournament as an 8-seed and went all the way to the title game.
- De’Aaron Fox continued his fun string of games on Friday night against Northern Kentucky. The freshman point guard had 19 points, two rebounds and three assists in the victory and had a few plays that made your eyes a little bit bigger as you watched him fly down the floor.
Holy bleep! De'Aaron Fox is a menace. pic.twitter.com/jNw3ze14Fu— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 18, 2017
- Isaiah Briscoe was fantastic in the second half of Kentucky’s win, scoring 17 points and pulling down eight rebounds. He was much more aggressive in the second half and attacked the rim at will seemingly, converting a couple and-one situations to push the lead out further for the ‘Cats.
Isaiah Briscoe muscles in the and-1. pic.twitter.com/IzsiQWmc4I— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 18, 2017
- What’s the answer behind Derek Willis? The senior forward from Bullitt County was his usual, rock-solid self against the Norse, scoring eight points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out three assists. Willis also had three of Kentucky’s nine blocks on the night. He’s been great down the stretch of the season, but the ‘Cats seemingly have no answer behind him. Wenyen Gabriel is nowhere near the player he was earlier in the year, while Isaac Humphries is providing strong minutes behind Adebayo either.
Big rejection by Derek Willis. pic.twitter.com/As6dyG9orS— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 18, 2017
- Malik Monk’s shooting struggles continued, as his missed eight of his 11 shot attempts (including all six 3-pointers he took). Monk finished with 12 points after some late free throws, but at least for one game in Indianapolis, Monk’s shooting struggles from Nashville have followed him.