The Kentucky Wildcats escaped their first round game against the Davidson Wildcats with a 78-73 margin. Kentucky led by as many as 13 in the first half, but found themselves tied with the other Wildcats at the 7 minute mark of the second half.
Kentucky was led in scoring by Kevin Knox with 25 points, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander closed out the game hitting 7 straight free throws in the final minutes to finish with 19 points. SGA also had 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 steals.
John Calipari insist in his post game comments that nobody was aware during the game that Kentucky’s steak of 1,047 straight games making a 3-pointer was coming to an end.
While he was not pleased with the defensive effort in the second half, he was happy to hold Davidson to 33.3% shooting from behind the arc.
Noting that the team looked tired even at the beginning of the game, he emphasized that this was the first tournament game for the majority of this Kentucky roster. He will not be able to make that same claim come Saturday.
See below for all of the post game comments from Sacha Killeya-Jones, Kevin Knox, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as well as John Calipari, courtesy of UK Athletics.
JOHN CALIPARI: It was a good one for this young team. First time they’ve been in the NCAA Tournament, not knowing what to expect. If you come out to play the way we did in the second half, our season will be over. The way they played in the second half, I thought defensively, to play a team that’s as efficient and an execution team like Davidson, this young team did pretty good.
And we had some breakdowns late and I got upset with a couple of the guys, based on the fact that you cannot do what you’re choosing to do. We’re a team and you cannot just break off. They’re freshmen, and they’re learning. We’re learning game to game now. Every one of these experiences is new.
Kevin made some shots, Sacha is playing better and better, and he made shots, and Shai controlled the game at the end to take us over the finish line, barely.
Q. You brought up yesterday that the main thing that you saw on tape was the 3-point shooting. Was there anything in the game that surprised you from Davidson?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Nothing really surprised us. We scouted really good and Coach got us prepared for the game. But in terms of physically, it took a lot from me personally guarding them, their actions, they don’t stop moving.
SACHA KILLEYA-JONES: Everything Shai said sums it up. They’re a shooting team. We expected that. They got off a lot of 3s, and they played strong through their actions, their offense was tiring. But we did what we could.
KEVIN KNOX: They did a real good job of knocking down the shots they got open.
Q. For the past three weeks we can’t get through a press conference without Coach Cal saying something about your game. How does it feel when the lights are brightest, the stage biggest, and your game finally coming around?
SACHA KILLEYA-JONES: It feels good that I’m playing well. Mostly I’m just happy that the team is winning games, and anything I can do to contribute to that is going to obviously feel great. And I’m glad I’m doing my part.
And like I said, we’re winning games and we are exactly where we want to be, and looking forward to keep going.
Q. What’s been the difference these last couple of weeks? Seems like you continually have been playing well. What was the difference today for you?
SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER: Personally, I don’t think I played too well today. Yeah, I’ve just been trying to do what I worked on and do what Coach is asking me, what this team needs me to do. Today I didn’t do too well. My shots weren’t falling. I got a little selfishness. I’m going to learn from it and get better for the next game and try to do better next time.
Q. You guys did not make a three tonight, which is strange. Do you think about that?
JOHN CALIPARI: I just looked at the stat sheet myself.
Q. I’m going to get to you.
JOHN CALIPARI: They don’t know, because I didn’t know.
Q. Do you try to make one, do you try to get hot?
KEVIN KNOX: I didn’t know that at all. We just shoot the shots that were open. They didn’t fall tonight. It’s rare for us not to get a 3-point shot. But yeah, I didn’t know the whole game.
Q. You all are young men, you’re about as far away from Lexington that you can get in the United States. There’s a lot of pressure in the season, are you enjoying yourselves here?
KEVIN KNOX: Yes, I’m really enjoying myself here. Idaho, there’s not much to do here, but I’m enjoying it. First time to be in this state.
I’m here to play basketball, get these two wins and get back to Lexington with two Ws.
Q. I’m curious, when the crowd is upset, they’re looking for an upset, cheering for Davidson, and you were able to pull it through, what’s going through your mind when you hear the crowd roar for the other team?
KEVIN KNOX: We were making plays down the stretch, executing offense to get stops on defense, and that’s what it comes to down the stretch of the game. They were making runs, but we responded pretty well for freshmen.
Like Coach said, we have to mature some day. This is the time of year it’s win or go home. We have to make plays down the stretch. And Davidson did a really good job. Down the stretch we executed our offense and got some stops down the stretch.
Q. You were young the last time this happened. It’s been 30 years since Kentucky didn’t make a three.
JOHN CALIPARI: 30? I was nine years old then (laughter).
Q. It’s a fluke? I know you’ve been struggling with this all season.
JOHN CALIPARI: We really haven’t. In the last five games we shot over 40 percent. But we’re not a team that relies on 3s. I wouldn’t like to go 0-6, but we’d like to make five, six, seven, maybe eight 3s. There’s other teams that need to make 12, 13, 14 to win; we’re just not one of them.
Second half we didn’t guard. We just kind of let it go. We exchanged baskets. But I thought the first half proved that this young team could guard an execution team that really runs their stuff hard and really does a good job. But, again, we were trying to go inside. We were trying to go inside, we were trying to drive the ball. I told Hami, Put your head down and get to the rim. He did a good job of it. We wanted to get to the free throw line, we wanted to post it some. We thought that was our advantage.
Their advantage is they were going to take 30 3s; they took 33. We held them to 33 percent on the year; they’re probably 40 percent.
Q. You talked about some of your struggles. Just talk about some things you’d like to see your guys improve on moving forward?
JOHN CALIPARI: We became undisciplined. There was a stretch where guys did what they wanted to do. Just tried to steal a guy and foul and it was like, Wait a minute, we don’t stand behind the post; we were standing dead behind the post. I don’t know if they were tired or so anxious the first 20 minutes, like tired them out. They have never been in this tournament. We start five freshmen.
And I think they were -- I even thought we were tired to start the game. It looked that way. Then we got our legs and I took a couple of guys out, we played with more energy and we got going. But this is all new to these kids. And it’s an exciting thing.
I’m holding them accountable, I’m not just clapping right now. Because each time you play the next game you’re going to have to play more of a well-rounded game. You cannot have three bad minutes because you’ll be down 12. Now you’re down 12, you can’t come back in this kind of tournament, because those teams make free throws, they’re good defensive teams or they wouldn’t still be playing. They’re tough rebounding teams. You can’t have three minutes of a breakdown. And that’s what I was on them today about a little bit.
Q. How would Aldridge or Grady fair in the SEC?
JOHN CALIPARI: They’d do fine, on all the tapes. I had friends of mine from within the league and told me, You know, they have guys that could play for you guys. And they do.
I also looked at their stats prior to the game within their league. They’re in the top 1, 2 or 3 in almost every category in their league. Bob has done a great job. They play a style that’s hard. One advantage we had, Rick Barnes and Bobby are really good friends, so a lot of stuff that Tennessee runs is similar to what we faced today. So we had an advantage.
We had a short-term, we had a day off, one day of practice, and then open gym here to get ready. If we had never seen this stuff before, we would have had no chance, none. We just had played Tennessee three times so a lot of the stuff is similar.
Q. What are the things that you did well in this game you’ll need to continue to do well moving forward?
JOHN CALIPARI: You have to defend and rebound in this thing. Again, we can’t go 0-for from the 3-point line. You have to make some shots. And I always say this: You don’t have to make them all. You just can’t miss them all. You can’t miss every one. And then you can’t miss them bad because they’re demoralizing. This is a good shooting team. But we only took six. If we took 6 more we’d have been 6-12.
Q. How would you rate your overall defensive effort in this game?
JOHN CALIPARI: First half really good. Second half shaky.
Q. You brought up how you held Davidson to 11 of 30 3s. How did you go about defensively scheming against that?
JOHN CALIPARI: They drive baseline better than anything we play. We worked on a day and a half on just when they caught it on the wing, make them go middle. They go baseline, that’s how they create 3-point shots for themselves. They find areas to shoot.
The second thing was we wanted to be up, because our length we felt would bother them. But when Gudmundsson made four in a row, we were like, Guys, is anybody watching the game? And then -- well, he was lucky. Lucky? He just made four in a row. He’s not lucky; get up and make him put it on the floor.
I told them in this tournament you enjoy wins, but you still need to learn that if we played the way we played in the second half, it’s been a heck of a year, but you’re not advancing, doesn’t matter who you play. You’ve got to play 40 minutes and fight like heck and then go back to the hotel room and pass out. And then get a day in between. This is not a conference tournament where it’s game, game, game. You have a day in between to recover.