Count me as one who thinks Kentucky will beat Davidson, Arizona

P.J. Washington enjoyed UK’s SEC Tournament championship. (Jeff Houchin Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Too bad Kentucky is going to lose to Davidson Thursday night.

No, I don’t believe that but it sure seems like a lot of national media members doing. Picking No. 12 seed Davidson to beat UK is the trendy pick nationally right now.

Never mind that Kentucky has won seven of its last eight games and won the SEC Tournament championship when it played perhaps its best three consecutive games of the season.

No, the national media members are going all-in on Davidson to beat UK — and I know Kentucky coach John Calipari is loving it.

At the SEC Tournament freshman P.J. Washington told me how nice it was to be in an underdog role because Kentucky players had never been in that role during their five-star careers. Now Calipari can really hammer away at the lack of respect UK is getting.

Calipari has been at Kentucky nine years now. One year his team went to the NIT. In 2016 the Cats lost to Big Ten champion Indiana in the second round. The other six years — Kentucky reached at least the Elite Eight.

In SEC Tournament, Wenyen Gabriel was 13 of 18 from the field overall, including 11 of 15 on 3’s, and 4 for 4 at foul line. He averaged 27 minutes, 13.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was 21 of 38 from the field, including 4 of 10 on 3’s, and 17-for-21 at foul line. He averaged 21 points, 6.7 assists, 5 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.

What Gabriel did was force the defense to extend or it left him off for a Gilgeous-Alexander pass. When the defense extended, the UK guard often got inside.

With no Jarred Vanderbilt, Sacha Killeya-Jones played 47 minutes — and his time went up each game to where he got 20 minutes against Tennessee. He played his role as he was 4-for-7 shooting and had four blocks and nine rebounds. The rebounds he kept opponents from getting and easy shots he did not allow were even bigger factors.

Davidson has three players who have made 57 or more 3-pointers. Davidson takes 27 per game and makes almost 11 on average. Kentucky takes 15 and makes five but the Cats are holding opponents to 29 percent from 3-point range.

Peyton Aldridge, a 6-8 senior, averages 21.5 points per game, has 76 3’s and is a 39 percent shooter from 3-point range. Kevin Knox leads UK with 56 3-pointers while Gabriel has 39 and Quade Green 38.

Davidson lost 85-75 to North Carolina and 80-60 to No. 1 Virginia this season. It beat New Mexico State 69-68 and the Aggies are 12 seed in the NCAA tourney. Davidson also took two of three from Rhode Island, a top 25 team most of season.

If Kentucky does beat Davidson, few believe it can play with Arizona Saturday if Arizona beats Buffalo as expected. Arizona was just a 1 1/2 point favorite over USC in its conference championship game. USC is not a NCAA Tournament team.

I would love to hear Calipari doing his spin with his team: The NCAA messed over us again making us a No. 5 seed and sending us to Boise to play on Thursday knowing we had a game on Sunday. Everybody says Davidson will beat you or if not that Arizona and DeAndre Ayton will kill you. It’s us against the world.

Maybe that wouldn’t be exactly right but I bet it would be close.

Again, put me in the minority but based on what I saw at the SEC Tournament, I believe Kentucky can beat both Davidson and Arizona. I could be wrong but I’ve seen Calipari’s teams play enough in March now to not underestimate the magic he can work in postseason play.

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