BOISE, Idaho – The University of Kentucky showed why it has 27 players in the NBA and more on the way in beating the University at Buffalo Saturday.
The Wildcats' team of freshman soon to turn pro shredded the UB defense inside and outside in scoring a 95-75 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"You've got to give Kentucky a ton of credit," said UB coach Nate Oats. "There's a reason three of those guys are supposed to go in the first round. Probably more than that are going to be pros. . . . They've won 10 of their last 11, and we ran into a buzzsaw tonight."
UB couldn't stop Kentucky from driving to the rim. The Wildcats shot 56 percent from the field, and 22 of their 36 baskets came on layups or dunks.
The Bulls did not fold. After trailing by 51-42 at the half, UB closed within four points with 15 minutes to play and within five with 8:10 to play. But the Wildcats (26-10) pulled away to reach the NCAA's Sweet 16 for the seventh time in the last eight years.
Thus ended the greatest men's basketball season in UB history. The Bulls (27-9) posted a school record for wins, won the Mid-American Conference regular-season title for the first time ever, won the MAC Tournament for the third time in four years and became the first Western New York team to get to the NCAA's round of 32 since 1970.
"This program is just trending in the right direction," said UB junior CJ Massinburg. "Even our women's team just got a win today in the NCAA Tournament. This whole school is trending in the right direction. After the season we get a couple weeks off, we're going to get back to work. We say a term: making our ceiling our new floor. This was our ceiling. We won a game in the NCAA Tournament. That's going to be our new floor, and we'll just build off of that."
One of the reasons UB stormed through the MAC and then upset Arizona on Thursday was great defense on the perimeter. UB's guards – Wes Clark, Davonta Jordan, Dontay Caruthers and Massinburg – harass opposing ball-handlers and throw offenses out of whack.
Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was immune to UB's pressure. The 6-foot-6 Gilgeous-Alexander, a freshman projected to be a top-20 NBA pick in June, scored 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field.
The 6-2 Jordan and the 6-1 Caruthers could not handle him.
"Davonta and Dontay usually can take other guards out of it," UB coach Nate Oats said. "We started out trying to deny him the ball back once he gave it up. But he's so long at 6-6, he gets open. Then he gets it. I saw some teams try to trap him on ball screens. But he's 6-6. He throws over the trap and they dunk it."
"We tried to guard it a little differently, but he still comes off and throws it up, they dunk it - or he finishes at the rim," Oats said. "We didn't really have an answer for him tonight. That was a major problem for us defensively."
Finally, UB put the 6-3 Massinburg on Gilgeous-Alexander, and Massinburg "held" him to 10 second-half points. But that meant Caruthers had to guard 6-9 wing Kevin Knox, who's projected to be a top-10 pick. Knox had only eight points.
The fact the Wildcats made 7 of 15 3s only made UB's effort to stop layups and dunks even harder.
"We were supposed to be loading up and playing tight in the gaps, and they started making some 3s," Oats said.
UB's offense, ranked sixth in the nation at 85 ppg, wasn't bad. The Bulls were on pace for 84 at halftime and finished with more points than seven of Kentucky's last nine opponents. Kentucky is ranked 25th in the nation in defensive efficiency.
Clark, UB's senior point guard, was sensational, with 26 points and six assists. Massinburg scored 18 and had eight rebounds.
But the Bulls needed a great shooting night and didn't get it.
UB made just 7 of 31 3-pointers. UB junior wing Jeremy Harris, great in the upset of Arizona, had 10 points and was 0 for 5 behind the arc.
"Jeremy's been our best shooter," Oats said. "Jeremy's been on fire. I think their length bothered him a lot. They were running at him with their length. They're great defensively."
Story topics: UB men's basketball