The basketball world anticipated a marquee Kentucky-Arizona matchup here on Saturday. But at least one person was excited about the replacement game: UK playing Buffalo in a second-round game of the NCAA Tournament.
This exceptional person was Buffalo guard Wes Clark, who relished the chance to play against Kentucky after the Bulls defeated Arizona 89-68 on Thursday night.
“Oh, I have a lot of history with those Kentucky guys,” Clark said. “I’m trying to redeem myself a little bit.”
Clark, who led Buffalo with 25 points against Arizona, played for Missouri in the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. In that time, UK defeated his teams in all four meetings. The average margin of UK’s victories was 26 points, a number inflated by a humiliating 86-37 wipeout in Rupp Arena on Jan. 13, 2015.
“I’ve done played them a lot, and they’ve done dominated me,” Clark said. “I’m not feeling too good about that. So I got a little chip on my shoulder. Yeah, I got to get at those boys.”
The Buffalo locker room in Taco Bell Arena was a happy, friendly place. The talk of chips on shoulders contained no animosity.
Clark credited ESPN for helping place a chip on his shoulder.
“I was watching SportsCenter,” he said. “And they were already counting the next game as Kentucky and Arizona. We were just looking at that like, ‘Are we not basketball players? Are we not on the floor?’
“So we had that chip on our shoulders going out there, and we’re going to keep that chip.”
Buffalo (27-8) is a self-described of hard-working players.
“Built on grit and play hard,” Clark said. “Just fight.”
Ikenna Smart , a 6-foot-10 junior forward from Nigeria, saluted Kentucky’s NBA-quality talent.
“For us, we’ve just got to beat them to the dirty stuff,” he said, meaning hustle plays. ‘Doing all the dirty work. Playing hard. Diving on the floor. Doing all the stuff they don’t want to do. …
“That’s what we do. This team is blue collar. We have blue collar guys.”
Nick Perkins, a 6-8 junior forward, suggested Buffalo out-toughed Arizona. He said that the pressure applied by Buffalo’s guards was something Arizona had not experienced.
“Nothing like it in the Pac-12,” he said. “Nothing against the Pac-12. The Pac-12 is kind of soft. Guys just sitting around. Lot of zone played. Guys shooting threes. All pretty.”
It was clear that Buffalo did not see itself as a pretty team. Nor did the Bulls embrace the idea of being giant killers Thursday night with the chance to do it again on Saturday.
“We feel like this is where we belong,” Clark said. “We feel like it ain’t no upset. This is where we’re supposed to play. We got guys who should be playing at high majors and should be at that same level.
“We’re just trying to show we ain’t nothing below that. The MAC (Mid-American Conference) is a better conference than a lot of people think. We just here to represent it.”