By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky didn’t make a 3-point shot for the first time in 30 years — a stretch of 1,047 games — and got outscored 33-0 from 3-point range.
Kentucky coach John Calipari also thought his team play “undisciplined” at times in the second half and didn’t match the energy that Davidson had.
However, Kentucky still found a way to win 78-73 Thursday night in Boise in the NCAA Tournament South Region first round and advance to Saturday’s second round matchup against the Arizona-Buffalo winner.
“I thought the second half they just played harder than us. We didn’t get to any 50-50 balls,” Calipari said. “These guys thought Davidson was going away (after UK got a 13-point lead in the first half). This is life and death. Heck of a lesson for a young team against a good team.
“I thought Kevin (Knox) made some good baskets when we needed them and then Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) just took over the game.”
Knox finished with 25 points and six rebounds. Gilgeous-Alexander had 19 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals. Knox was 8-for-16 from the field and 9-for-11 at the foul line while Gilgeous-Alexander was 5-for-13 from the field and 9-for-10 at the foul line.
The two combined to score 26 of Kentucky’s final 28 points in the final nine minutes. They were both money at the foul line. Gilgeous-Alexander also had three rebounds and forced two Davidson turnovers in the final 2 1/2 minutes.
“I don’t think I played too well today,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I have been just trying to do what coach asks. Today I didn’t do too well and got a little selfish in the second half.”
Calipari warned all week that Davidson would be a “hard” game for his team, especially with the way it could make 3-pointers.
“We became undisciplined (the second half). There was a stretch where guys did what they wanted to do. I don’t know if they were tired or what. I even thought we were tired to start the game and then we played with more energy and got going,” Calipari said. “But they play a style that is hard.”
Kentucky dominated the first half. It outscored Davidson 26-10 in the paint in the first half but got just 10 points in the paint the second half. Davidson entered the tournament allowing only 26.2 points per game in the paint.
Davidson also missed its last eight 3-point shots in the first half and finished the half 3-for-15 from long range — not what a team ranked 10th nationally in made 3’s and 28th in 3-point field goal percentage expected or needed. Davidson missed 17 of its final 20 shots in the half. It opened the second half making its first five shots and was 8-for-18 from 3-point range.
Jon Axel Gudmundsson had 21 points the second and made his first five 3-point goals to put Davidson back into the game.
“The second half we didn’t guard. We just kind of let it go,” Calipari said. “The first half proved that this team could guard an execution team. We were trying to go inside and drive the ball. We wanted to get to the foul line.
“You have to defend and rebound in this thing. We can’t go 0-fer from the 3-point line. You don’t have to make them all but you can’t miss them all. This is a good shooting team. We only took six. If we took six more, we would have been 6-for-12.”
That’s the theory Calipari has to sell his team going int the second round.
Kentucky had just 11 field goals in the second half but went 22-for-26 at the foul line thanks to Knox and Gilgeous-Alexander.
Davidson coach Bob McKillop said limiting Kentucky’s 3-point shooting was a point of emphasis for his team but might also have resulted in putting UK at the foul line too many times
“The point of emphasis was on a couple of their shooters, but not to the point of not being connected. And I thought we had such a sense of urgency about covering their shooters that we didn’t stay connected on penetration,” McKillop said. “There were several penetrations that we should have had much more help, which we didn’t, because we were concerned about the shooters.
“When they send them to the line for 32 shots and they make 80 percent of them, you’re putting yourself in jeopardy right away. And you give them a couple of undefended baskets with turnovers, you’re talking about 35 points right there. And that 35 points in a 5-point game is very pivotal.”
Calipari and his players said they didn’t know Kentucky had not made a 3-point shot until after the game ended.
“I didn’t know that at all. We just shoot the shots that were open,” Knox said. “They didn’t fall tonight. It’s rare for us not to get a 3-point shot. But yeah, I didn’t know the whole game.”
Calipari was worried about more than 3-point shooting knowing a tougher game will be coming in two days.
“I told them in this tournament you enjoy wins, but you still need to learn that if we played the way we played in the second half, it’s been a heck of a year, but you’re not advancing, doesn’t matter who you play,” Calipari said.
“You’ve got to play 40 minutes and fight like heck and then go back to the hotel room and pass out. And then get a day in between. This is not a conference tournament where it’s game, game, game. You have a day in between to recover.”