Thursday, March 15, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Kentucky 81, WKU 66
By Brian Bennett
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Here's a quick look at No. 1 seed Kentucky's 81-66 victory over No. 16 seed Western Kentucky in the South Region on Thursday night:
Overview: Nothing to see here, folks.
Well, nothing except lob dunks and a whole lot of blue. Kentucky avoided any kind of Syracuse-like scare in its opening game of the tournament, thoroughly and methodically squeezing the life out of its in-state neighbor. Western Kentucky made things interesting for a short time in the first half and rallied to make the final score respectable, but the Hilltoppers simply had no answers for the Wildcats' size and talent. Few have.
The setting provided a virtual home game for Kentucky, as Big Blue Nation dominated the stands at the KFC Yum! Center. Not that the tournament's top overall seed needed much more of an advantage over a team that came into the game with a losing record on the season.
The Wildcats led by as many as 32 points in the second half before boredom became their toughest opponent down the stretch. More difficult times likely await, but opening night went as expected.
Turning point: This one was never really in doubt, but an 11-1 run to close the first half gave Kentucky a 45-26 lead at intermission and pretty much guaranteed the second half would be academic.
Key player: Terrence Jones is one of only two Kentucky starters with any NCAA tournament experience, and he looked like a guy who's ready to use a big March as a springboard toward the next level. Jones can seem too passive at times, but he took the initiative all night and powered home three crowd-pleasing dunks, including a one-handed putback slam you'll be seeing on "SportsCenter." Jones finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
Key stat: Kentucky shot 61.5 percent in the first half and 55.6 percent overall. The Wildcats had 46 points in the paint to 20 for Western Kentucky.
Miscellany: Kentucky coach John Calipari did not play anyone other than the top seven guys in his rotation until the final 22 seconds. He couldn't have been happy with how his team lost focus and gave up a bunch of easy buckets in the final minutes. .... The Wildcats just missed putting all five starters in double figures as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who had an awful game in the SEC tournament loss to Vanderbilt, finished with nine points. ... Anthony Davis threw down consecutive alley-oops in the second half, but he was called for a technical foul on the second one for hanging on the rim too long. He had 16 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots ... Davis becomes the fifth player in the past five NCAA tournaments to have seven blocks in a game. ... Spotted in the evening crowd: Miami Heat president Pat Riley, who played at Kentucky. Riley sat in the Iowa State cheering section, however. ... T.J. Price led Western Kentucky with 21 points before fouling out with 3 minutes, 19 seconds to go.
What's next: Kentucky will play Iowa State on Saturday in the third round — missing out on a rematch with UConn, which knocked the Wildcats out in the Final Four last season.