Rapid Reaction: Kentucky 82, Baylor 70
Overview: Kentucky waged the most UNLV-like assault on another elite team as we’ve seen in the NCAA tournament in 20 years.
The Wildcats were down 10-5 early in the first half and completely flipped a switch. Baylor did everything right in the first few possessions by being aggressive and attacking the basket.
And then the Bears did everything wrong. They got careless with the basketball. They turned the ball over. They were left to watch a number of run-outs.
Kentucky, meanwhile, put on a clinic. The Wildcats forced turnovers and ran the floor exceptionally well. They shared the ball. They made transitions, on-the-catch jumpers and 3-pointers to completely take over the game. They finished with authority.
The lead grew to 20 at one point and Baylor was reeling by halftime.
But to Baylor’s credit, the Bears didn’t quit and had the Cats nervous late in the game, especially with foul troubles for Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (four each). Kentucky allowed Baylor to get the game down to a 13-point difference.
The biggest scare was when Davis went out briefly with a left knee contusion and looked to be in pain. Davis had the knee worked on, returned, came out and then returned again.
If you were in awe of the display then you weren’t alone. Big Blue Nation gobbled up the Indiana and Xavier tickets here at the Georgia Dome and dwarfed the Baylor contingent. This was truly a Catlanta crowd. No other school had its own souvenir stands littered throughout the Centennial Olympic Park area near the Dome. They were loud and boisterous early, but didn’t need to say much late.
Kentucky entered the NCAA tournament as the favorite. The Wildcats arrive at the Final Four in the same position.
Key stat: The Wildcats shot better than 50 percent and continued to take high-percentage shots. Baylor couldn’t defend the Wildcats' transition at all. Kentucky was efficient on the break, and even in the half court, working the ball when it needed to share. It played unselfish basketball.
Key player: Do we have to choose? The Wildcats were so good that it was a tough call. But Kidd-Gilchrist gets the nod. He scored 19 points, didn’t miss a free throw and was efficient from the field. He helped lift the Wildcats from an early deficit to getting up by 20. MKG continued to look to take the basketball to the hoop. He never pulled up or tried to take the easy shot. Instead, he was always about going straight to the hoop and if there was contact, so be it.
Turning point: When the Cats were down 10-5 and Baylor turned the ball over. Kentucky converted at a clip that was unheard of during the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats raced out to a 40-18 lead at one point.
What’s next: Call it a Commonwealth of Kentucky explosion or the ultimate utopia. Kentucky versus Louisville in the national semifinal Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Rick Pitino coaching against John Calipari for the right to play for the national title.
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