Survive and Advance. We’ve reached that portion of the season, the NCAA tournament. It’s lose or go home, any cliche you want to use will work. On Thursday evening in Boise, Idaho in Taco Bell Arena, the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team defeated Davidson 78-73. Kentucky will play the winner of Arizona/Buffalo on Saturday for a chance to advance to the South Regional in Atlanta, GA.
So, what do we know about Kentucky after their first tournament game?
Sacha Killeya-Jones is the most confident he’s been since he arrived in Lexington. Following up his outstanding run in St. Louis at the SEC Tournament, the sophomore finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds. Not only that, he was the vocal anchor of defense and made a huge impact by playing 24 quality minutes.
Even though it looked, at times, that he was having an off night, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists, 4 steals and only 2 turnovers. SGA was 5-13 from the floor, but 9-10 from the FT line to help salt the game away. He continues to be the Cats’ offensive facilitator and regrouped to keep Davidson at bay.
Hami Diallo was locked in. Diallo has faced the scorn of the Big Blue Nation and, for a chunk of the season, seemed to be in John Calipari’s doghouse. He scored 8 points (on 3-4 shooting), grabbed 3 rebounds and had 3 blocked shots. Of course, there were a few head-scratching decisions, but UK’s defense is at its best and Diallo was engaged on Thursday.
This team struggles to put together two consecutive dominant halves. After letting Tennessee storm back from a 17 point deficit in the SEC title game to make it competitive, UK allowed Davidson to hit its first 5 shots of the second half which completely erased a 10 point halftime lead. After only giving up 24 first half points, Kentucky let Davidson score 49 second half points. If the Wildcats are going to advance in the NCAA tournament, UK is going to have to put two halves of basketball together and put teams away when they have the chance.
The three point streak is over. I know it was a point of pride for some in the BBN, but I think that Kentucky winning the game while scoring 78 points and shooting 0-6 from beyond the arc is a good sign. Hopefully, there are a few other things Kentucky fans can be proud of about the program.
Kentucky didn’t play great from start to finish, were outscored by 33 points from three point range and won an NCAA Tournament game over a quality opponent. Not perfect, but when it comes to the survive and advance mantra, Cal and his guys did just that. Kevin Knox was solid, scoring 25 points to lead the Cats and Kentucky shot 26-32 from the FT line (81.3%). Whoever the Cats face on Saturday, they’ll have to play better if they want to reach Cat-Lanta.