Survive and advance; that’s the name of the game in March.
Luckily, the Kentucky Wildcats did just that in a wild weekend where defending champion and one-seeded Villanova went down as well as two seeds and UK rivals in Duke and Louisville.
And so the big bad ACC, who put nine of its 15 teams into the tournament, has just one remaining in North Carolina. The SEC, I’ll remind you, has three.
As for Kentucky’s gritty, 65-62 victory over Wichita State, the Shockers and Coach Greg Marshall were able to dictate a slow tempo for most of the game. It was a very odd and ugly first half, where the two teams combined for just 50 points and the refs called only seven total fouls.
It was also a half of unexpected lineups for Kentucky. At one point it was Mulder/Humphries/Gabriel/Hawkins/Fox and then Fox and Gabriel came out for Briscoe and Willis, making for a lineup of three seniors and two sophomores. That was the first time I can recall Calipari not having a lineup that included at least one freshman in that big of a game.
The shooting was pretty horrendous in that first half, too. Kentucky shot 33 percent while the Shockers were 10-for-33 (30.3 percent). The Cats were able to find their stroke in the second half, hitting 13 of their 25 field goals, with De’Aaron Fox leading the way with 10 big second-half points, including these two...
De'Aaron Fox looking to close this thing out pic.twitter.com/EnvpswM0TG— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 19, 2017
I mean that was nasty. I could probably do a “what they’re saying” post on that cram alone. With that dunk, the Cats went up 63-59. They were able to play some great defense in the closing minutes to seal the deal, making for a second date with the UCLA Bruins this Friday night in Memphis. Lonzo Ball vs. De’Aaron Fox, part two. Something tells me Fox still has something to prove.
Here’s a look at what they’re saying...
Tremendous game, and Kentucky’s defense shows up with blocks on the final two possessions. Bravo, UK. Wish this was a second-weekend game.— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) March 19, 2017
A tremendous game, indeed. Many believed Wichita State was not given enough respect by the NCAA Tournament selection committee being given a 10-seed with a 30-4 record. Condolences to the Shockers, they played a hell of a game.
Was told that before the game, Dominique Hawkins gathered his teammates and told them "This isn't going to be my last game."— TJ Beisner (@tjbeisner) March 19, 2017
You’ve got to the leadership from Hawkins. The Kentucky native got seven points including a big three in 27 quality minutes.
Whoever is still saying this about Cal, please shut up.
Looks like Bam didn't get shut down as some were suggesting— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) March 19, 2017
Bam came to play against a great big man in Shaquille Morris, who will be playing in the NBA for sure.
NOT IN BAM’S HOUSE!
Ellen Calipari just danced and dabbed in the crowd. HUGE grin from John Calipari.— Ben Roberts (@BenRobertsHL) March 19, 2017
When Mrs. Cal starts dabbing, you know it’s a big win.
SHE MAD: Gregg Marshall's wife tried to have me thrown out of the arena. https://t.co/5dYflcjHO6— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) March 19, 2017
I encourage you to go read my buddy Drew’s encounter with Coach Marshall’s wife. LOL.
Kentucky has now won 13 straight games, the longest active streak in Division I. Wichita State previously led the nation at 16 in a row— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 19, 2017
Four to go.
Briscoe on the trash talk: "Eventually you gotta play the game." https://t.co/gD9ZguS9ng— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_SEC) March 19, 2017
Keep chirping, haters. Can’t wait to see what kind of crazy comments come out of Lonzo Ball’s Dad’s mouth this week.
"When you have a young team, it really takes the whole season to get them to buy in and defend," - Coach Cal pic.twitter.com/V7craAY8VJ— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 19, 2017
It’s paying off, BBN.
De'Aaron Fox: "Being a freshman is out the door. If we lose a game, I don't want people saying, 'They were freshmen.' That's done with."— Ben Roberts (@BenRobertsHL) March 19, 2017
Do we really have to wait till Friday to see these guys play again?? I’m ready to go. Bring on the Bruins!!
Buzzer beating shot gets everyone fired up, but winning on consecutive blocked shots by the man defending the shooter is pretty incredible.— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) March 19, 2017
Kentucky's defense on the final few possessions was what America was waiting to see all season. Wildcats have officially turned a corner.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 19, 2017
Worth the wait!
“No shade intended,” aka “Sorry I’m not sorry.” L’s down!
Fox said UK "basically had five guards on the floor" on final possession because "Bam guards like a guard. I don't care what anybody says."— Alex Forkner (@AlexForknerTCP) March 19, 2017
Quote of the day. I love this team so much right now.
NCAA guys stood over me and made me delete the tweet. I'm sure they're reading this. I plan to tweet it again as soon as I leave here.— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) March 19, 2017
Hahahahahahahahaha. Greg Marshall’s wife had a rough day.
Biggest takeaway from watching Kentucky & the highly rated frosh. Fierce competitors...because if not they lose today.— Paul Biancardi (@PaulBiancardi) March 19, 2017
Let’s hope they can keep up the intensity this Friday in Memphis.
CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander had a fierce take for the NCAA Selection Committee following Sunday’s game...
Once and for all, for the last time, let’s sing it together: Putting Wichita State as a 10 seed was an embarrassing mistake.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee has to own that. The gaffe is something that will forever be referenced when egregious seed errors show themselves on Selection Sunday in the ensuing years.
“This is almost as bad as Wichita State getting a 10 seed in 2017.”
You’ll hear things like that.
“Remember when Wisconsin was an 8 seed and beat Villanova?”
You’ll hear that, too.
But the loss for Wichita State will resonate loudest because we don’t know what could have been. The Shockers losing in competitive style on the final possession to one of the five best teams in college basketball doesn’t confirm the committee’s call. No. 2 Kentucky barely got by on Sunday, an enrapturing 65-62 outcome that proved what many people knew: those were two top-10 teams on that floor in Indianapolis, two teams that had no business being shoved up against each other in the second round.
Norlander goes on to make the case for Kentucky to face Wichita State in the regular season next year in what I found was a pretty good read.
Alex Kirshner of SB Nation said that while the Cats shouldn’t have had to face as good a team as Wichita State, as early as they did, the victory potentially made Kentucky stronger going into the Sweet 16...
Maybe it’ll turn out that Calipari will thank the selection committee for making Kentucky face this test so early. It was a great show, just like it was the last time. And because Kentucky’s had to face it this early and already overcome it, it’s hard not to think Calipari’s team is in excellent shape for the regional semis.
Kentucky faced a couple of big tests in the early season. It beat a Michigan State team that turned out to be nothing special. It lost by three to bitter rival Louisville, by six to Kansas, and by 22 to Florida. Its biggest moment was a 103-100 win over a great North Carolina team in December, and there’s no minimizing that. Kentucky was doing some good things, but it wasn’t clearly great.
Kentucky is now clearly great. The Wildcats got their business in order after getting blown out at Florida on Feb. 4, and now they’ve won 13 in a row. That included a revenge win against the Gators and two other wins against tournament squads Vanderbilt and Arkansas. The Wildcats have been highly convincing.
Finally, Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel seemed to think Kentucky had an answer for an important question that critics asked going into the match-up with the Shockers...
The big question facing this Kentucky team was whether it had the requisite veterans and experience to handle the intensity and pressure of the NCAA tournament. After sleepwalking through its first-round game against No. 15 seed Northern Kentucky on Friday, the Wildcats answered the bell resplendently against the feisty Shockers. In the final 15 seconds, Kentucky’s Malik Monk blocked a potential go-ahead three-pointer by Wichita State’s Markis McDuffie. And the Wildcats’ Bam Adebayo followed up by blocking a potential game-tying trey by the Shockers’ Landry Shamet at the buzzer. Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox shined down the stretch with two hammer dunks that are headed straight for the One Shining Moment video. But the defensive stands by a pair of freshmen showed the resiliency many wondered if Kentucky had as it coasted through the SEC and often seemed vulnerable to lapses of defensive intensity. Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats earned this victory, down to the last second.
They did indeed earn it. Hopefully Cal and the Cats realize they definitely can’t sleepwalk, sleep-talk, or do anything associated with sleeping when they take on the Bruins with the late tip of 9:45 p.m. EDT this Friday. Should be a fun one.