Kentucky held off Davidson in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday, 78-73, after getting quite the test from the Atlantic 10 postseason champion. The 12th-seeded Wildcats hung with the fifth-seeded Wildcats for about 36 or 37 minutes despite their two best players shooting just 2-of-14 from beyond the arc.
Those two makes, though, were more than Kentucky managed. In fact, Peyton Aldridge’s one make was more than John Calipari’s team managed.
Kentucky failed to make a 3-pointer in a game for the first time since November 1988, when Calipari was a first-year coach at UMass. It had gone 1,047 consecutive games with at least one made 3, an NCAA record. The streak evaporated in Boise.
The 0-for-6 performance didn’t cost Kentucky, though. UK’s gameplan had been to force the ball down an undersized Davidson frontcourt’s throat. And it succeeded, going 26-for-45 from inside the arc.
Davidson, on the other hand, attempted 33. It made only 11, below its 39 percent season average. Had it been a bit more efficient from beyond the arc, Kentucky would have been in trouble.
But the Wildcats played to their strengths. Their athleticism affected Aldridge and freshman guard Kellan Grady, who were a combined 8-for-31 from the field. On the offensive end, they attacked the rim, and got to the free throw line nearly twice as much as their athletically overmatched opponents did. They knocked down 26 of 32 from the charity stripe.
Because they did enough in the paint and from the line, they also snapped another, shorter streak. Per ESPN’s John Gasaway, no team had won an NCAA tournament game without making a 3-pointer since Stanford in 2014:
UK hasn’t made a 3. The last team to win an NCAA tournament game without making a 3 was Stanford in the Cardinal's victory over Kansas in 2014.
— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) March 16, 2018
Kentucky likely won’t be able to continue winning games in the tournament without making a single 3 – especially in potential matchups with No. 4 seed Arizona and top-seeded Virginia.
But it survived on Thursday because it was so superior inside. And in the end, that’s what the NCAA tournament is all about. It’s not about decades-long streaks. It’s about surviving and advancing. And Kentucky will be playing again in less than 48 hours.
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