Kentucky got their NCAA Tournament run started against a Davidson team that proved very tough to overcome.
In the end, the Cats size advantage helped them down the stretch and was a key factor in getting this first win, 78-73.
Out of the gate, it was obvious that Davidson couldn’t defend the Cats in the post, as PJ Washington was a force throughout the half, but Kentucky was only up 10-8 at the first media timeout. John Calipari put a lot of emphasis on guarding the three-point line and the Cats did a good job of it after the first few minutes.
For the first 10 minutes, Davidson got a lot of open looks and found themselves tied with Kentucky at 17 with about 11 minutes left in the half. But that’s when Kentucky locked in on defense and didn’t allow them to get many good looks from deep while playing good interior defense as well.
Kentucky was able to get the lead up into double digits with 5:28 left in the half on a Kevin Knox layup, and they were able to maintain that lead the rest of the half and went into the locker room with a 34-24 lead.
Out of the break, Davidson was the more aggressive team and outplayed the Cats throughout the half, and at the under 16 timeout, Kentucky had a slim 41-38 lead.
It was close throughout the rest of the half, but Kentucky never allowed Davidson to take the lead, although they did tie it a few times. Kentucky rode the back of Kevin Knox down the stretch, and did just enough to squeak by in the opening round with a win to advance to Saturday.
Things to know
Kevin Knox was outstanding
We knew if this team was going to have any success in March, Knox would have to lead the way and perform at a very high level. He did that in this one. Knox had 25 points and 6 rebounds. He was huge down the stretch. When Kentucky needed a basket, he would go get it for them and knocked down his free throws when they mattered the most.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t have his best game to the eye
What I mean by this is watching the game, it seemed as if Shai was struggling with his shots and couldn’t get in a rhythm. However, this couldn’t be more wrong, Shai scored 19 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, dished 7 assists, and had 5 steals. Looking at that, he had one heck of a game even though it didn’t exactly feel like it.
Sacha Killeya-Jones continues to play well
With Vanderbilt still out with an injury, someone needed to step up down low and that was Sacha. He had 8 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. He also played some solid defense throughout the game. A positive performance again after his impressive SEC Tournament. He’ll need to keep it up as long as Vanderbilt is out, which could be for several more games.
The three-point streak ends
Kentucky had a streak of 1,047 straight games of hitting a three. Tonight, that ended as the Cats went 0-of-6 from behind the line. Personally, I’m just happy they came out with the win and the rest of the fan base should be too. Yes, it was a cool streak to have but getting the win is much more important. It is also very impressive that we got the win and scored 78 points without hitting a three.
The first game is out of the way
The Cats needed to get this win to get a feel for the NCAA Tournament environment and get an idea of how intense these games will be. Plus, we may look back on this close game as a good thing going forward, especially if they are able to advance deep into the tourney.
While Kentucky didn’t look particularly good in this game all that matters is they got the win and live to fight another day against the winner of Buffalo and Arizona.
Here are the postgame notes, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
· Kentucky is 25-10 overall. Davison is 21-12.
· UK leads the series 2-0. Both meetings have come in the NCAA Tournament.
· Next for Kentucky: The Wildcats will play the winner of this evening’s Arizona vs. Buffalo game.
NCAA Tournament Notes
· Kentucky made its national-record 57th NCAA Tournament, extending the NCAA record for most tournament appearances.
· UK owns a 125-50 record all-time in NCAA action.
· Kentucky is 47-10 in tournament openers and has won 24 of its last 25 first-round tournament games.
o UK has won eight NCAA Tournament openers in a row, all under Calipari.
· Kentucky is 27-6 in NCAA Tournament games under Calipari.
· In Calipari’s eight NCAA Tournament appearances with Kentucky, the Wildcats have reached the second round every time.
· Calipari is undefeated in the NCAA Tournament against teams seeded lower than 10th.
In the First Half
· Kentucky’s starting lineup featured Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington and Nick Richards for the 15th time this season. UK is 10-5 with this lineup.
· Neither team led by more than four in the first 10 minutes.
o Kentucky opened up its largest lead, six points, with a 6-0 run over 2:30 to take a 23-17 lead at the 7:10mark.
o Davidson answered with a Kellan Grady dunk at the 6:54 mark, but then UK went on a 7-0 run over 1:07to open up a 30-19 lead.
· From tied at 17-17 with 11:39 to play, UK outscored Davidson 17-7 to close the first half.
In the Second Half
· Davidson made its first three 3-point-attempts of the half, and stretched further was 4 of 6 from beyond the arc in the first 11:52.
· Davidson tied the game at 52-52 and 54-54 at the 7:41 mark, but got not closer.
· Kentucky led by as much as 11 points in the second half as late as with 24 seconds to go.
· UK’s NCAA-record streak of 1,047 consecutive games with at least one made 3-pointer came to an end.
o UK’s last game without a made 3-pointer came against Seton Hall on Nov. 26, 1988 in a three-point loss.
o Kentucky’s streak started two nights later in a win over Cal.
· Kentucky limited Davidson to 39.3 percent from the field.
o UK is now 168-14 under Calipari when keeping the opponent under 40 percent from the field.
· Kentucky shot 51.0 percent from the field today. UK is 13-1 this season when the Wildcats make at least half their shots.
· UK had 10 turnovers today. UK is 14-0 this season when committing 11 or fewer miscues.
· UK led by as many as 13 points today. The Wildcats are 232-5 under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points during a game.
· Kevin Knox scored 25 points, 16 of them coming in the second half. He shot 8 of 16 from the field.
· It was his team-leading 10th game with 20 or more points.
· It was his team-leading 28th game with 10 or more points.
· Knox failed to make a 3-pointer for the first time in 12 games.
· Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, after a slow start, finished with 19 points, a career-high eight rebounds, seven assists and a career-high five steals.
· After starting 1 for 8 from the floor, he made four of his next five shots and scored 17 points in the second half.
· His five steals are tied for the fourth most in an NCAA Tournament game by a Wildcats
· PJ Washington scored 11 points, all in the first half, marking the sixth time he reached double-figures in a first half this season, and the first time since Feb. 20 at Arkansas.
· Hamidou Diallo scored eight points.
· He blocked a career-high three shots.
· Sacha Killeya-Jones posted eight points and grabbed six rebounds.
· His eight points were his most since scoring eight vs. Louisville on Dec. 29.
· His six rebounds were his most since grabbing eight vs. ETSU on Nov. 17.
Coach John Calipari
· Calipari has a 718-203 all-time on-court record.
· Calipari is now 274-63 at Kentucky.
· Calipari is 52-17 in the NCAA Tournament games.
· Calipari is 27-6 in NCAA Tournament games at UK.