Amidst much fanfare the Kentucky Wildcats played their first regular season game on Friday night against UNC Asheville, and it took John Calipari’s team just over a half to impose its will in the 89-54 victory. Energy can be an issue for any team, especially one as young as this talented group of Wildcats.
Part of the process of becoming an elite team is to learn from those experiences and on Sunday, Kentucky played with improved effort from the start in their 93-63 win over Northern Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Julius Randle posted another double-double, finishing with 22 points and 14 rebounds, with Aaron (16 points) and Andrew Harrison (13) also reaching double figures.
Kentucky’s superior size and skill resulted in a 51-24 edge on the glass (including an offensive rebounding percentage of 53.3%) and 54.5% shooting from the field (66.7% on two-pointers), and that can make it difficult to take away too many lessons from the result. But the fact that Kentucky came out of the gate ready to go bodes well two days ahead of their showdown in Chicago against No. 2 Michigan State.
Through two games (and the exhibitions) it can be said that Randle’s set himself apart from the pack, especially when considering what other Wildcat freshmen have done during Calipari’s tenure.
Ultimately, Kentucky’s chances of winning a national title will depend on whether or not everyone both understands and accepts their roles. Despite two blowout victories Kentucky’s still growing in that regard, and that will be the case regardless of what happens on Tuesday night.
Ten of the 12 Kentucky players who saw action on Sunday scored, and defensively they limited the Norse to 32.8% shooting (9-for-35 3PT). But ultimately games like these aren’t going to be the contests by which the Wildcats are judged. While Sunday’s result certainly shouldn’t be overlooked, the lessons learned on Tuesday night will be of more value as the season rolls on.
National Semifinals– Saturday, April 1
6:09 p.m. EST, CBS, Glendale
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)
Approximately 40 minutes after conclusion of first game, CBS, Glendale
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Oregon (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)
North Carolina and Kentucky ended in legendary fashion on Sunday.
After freshman Malik Monk buried a heavily-contested three-pointer to tie the game at 73-all for Kentucky with under 10 seconds left the Tar Heels didn’t use a timeout as Theo Pinson found forward Luke Maye for the game-winning jumper.
These 10 seconds will go down as one of the greatest finishes in NCAA Tournament history.
North Carolina advanced to the Final Four for the second consecutive season and 20th time overall as the No. 1 seed Tar Heels outlasted No. 2 seed Kentucky, 75-73, during Sunday’s South Regional final in Memphis.
Reserve forward Luke Maye knocked in the game-winning jumper for the Tar Heels with 0.3 seconds left to break a 73-all tie after Kentucky’s Malik Monk tied the game with a three-pointer on the previous possession.
The Tar Heels (31-7) overcame an ankle issue from junior point guard Joel Berry as North Carolina was led by Justin Jackson’s 19 points.
Maye also stepped up with a big game for North Carolina as he continued his strong March with 17 points. Berry added 11 points, as he went to the locker room during the first half to get his ankle looked at before returning to play later in the half.
Kentucky (32-6) won the regular-season matchup of these teams, 103-100, in Las Vegas in December as their freshmen guards struggled to perform on Sunday. After De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk combined for 71 points in that previous win over the Tar Heels, the two freshmen studs couldn’t get going.
Both of them dealt with first-half foul trouble as Fox finished with 13 points while Monk was held to 12 points. Also battling foul trouble in the first half, freshman Bam Adebayo added 13 points for the Wildcats.
With Fox and Monk struggling to generate consistent offense, the Wildcats were able to stay in the game thanks to great performances from reserves like Isaac Humphries (career-high 12 points) and senior Dominique Hawkins (10 points.
North Carolina advances to face No. 3 seed Oregon in next weekend’s Final Four.
South Carolina earned its first trip to the Final Four with its win over SEC-rival Florida on Sunday.
The Gamecocks made sure to celebrate properly when head coach Frank Martin hit the locker room after the game by dousing him in water before Martin gave another speech.
Darius Rucker, the former front man of Hootie and the Blowfish and a current star in the country music world, is a lifelong South Carolina Gamecocks fan.
This isn’t really a secret.
Hell, on Friday night at a concert he was playing, Rucker set up TVs so that he would be able to watch South Carolina take on Baylor:
You probably didn’t realize just how big of a fan he actually is until you saw him, sitting second row at the regional final in New York City on Sunday afternoon, tearing up as the Gamecocks advanced to the Final Four:
Let ’em cry, Darius, if the tears fall down like rain.