For the second time in four years, the University of Kentucky Wildcats and Wichita State Shockers met in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And in a sequel to the 2014 classic, the Wildcats were once again victorious, knocking off the 10th seeded Shockers 65-62 on Sunday evening at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The 2017 version was just as toughly contested as it’s predecessor, relying on the Cats defense to seal the deal.
Kentucky lead 26-24 at the half with head coach John Calipari keeping his freshmen Bam Adebayo, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox spending extended time on the bench. Whether by design or to send a message, the move allowed senior Dominique Hawkins to shine. Hawkins scored 7 points in the first half on 3-3 shooting, including one three pointer. Isaac Humphries was able to grab a couple of rebounds during the stretch that saw the Cats keep the Shockers at bay.
In the second half, after Wichita State erased the halftime lead and got ahead by four points, Kentucky fought back and showed the poise down the stretch that they’ve mastered during their current 13 game winning streak. The Big Blue Nation has seen time again how the Cats have spotted teams double digit leads, only to coming roaring back to win comfortably. And it was that experience that guided the Wildcats to the win on Sunday. These Cats are tough.
Adebayo posted another double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Monk and Fox finished with 14 points apiece, with Monk dishing out a team-high 4 assists. For most of the season, the power forward spot was a question mark and on Sunday, senior Derek Willis turned it into an exclamation point by scoring 9 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Isaiah Briscoe added with 5 points and 4 rebounds.
Post game, Coach Cal had high praise for his team and their “will to win.” With about 13 seconds left, Malik Monk, who only shot 3-10 from the field, blocked a Shocker three point attempt, got fouled and hit both free throws to give the Cats the 65-62 margin of victory. Victory was assured when Adebayo and Hawkins combined to block WSU’s Landry Shamet’s three point attempt as time expired. Glamorous plays? Not really. Winning plays? Absolutely. And winning plays are what this team has been about.
The Cats are headed back to the Sweet 16 in Memphis, TN and (as of this writing) their opponent has not been determined. When asked about a potential rematch vs. UCLA, Monk responded; “Can’t worry about that. We worry about what Kentucky do.” And what is Kentucky doing? Marching on in the NCAA Tournament.