Buffalo was brash.
In the run-up to the Bulls’ NCAA Tournament South Region round-of-32 game with Kentucky, swingman Jeremy Harris opined that UK had too many big guys playing too many minutes.
“I don’t think they can stay with us in transition,” Harris said.
Buffalo guard CJ Massinburg said he expected that UK’s front-court defense would prove less formidable than that of the Bulls’ vanquished first-round foe, Arizona.
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“I feel like my big guy, Nick Perkins, is going to get a lot inside and dominate,” Massinburg said.
Buffalo center Ikenna Smart allowed that the Kentucky roster was stocked with future NBA players — who, he forecast, would be outworked Saturday by the blue-collar Bulls.
“Doing all the stuff they don’t want to do,” Smart said.
After No. 13 seed Buffalo routed No. 4 Arizona on Thursday night in an NCAA Tournament stunner, I suspect a good bit of America found the Bulls’ boldness as they prepared to play No. 4 Kentucky refreshing and fun.
In the UK locker room, the Bulls’ words produced a very different reaction.
“We saw some of it on the Internet,” Wildcats forward Kevin Knox said. “People sent it to us. It kind of motivated us.”
We saw some of it on the Internet. People sent it to us. It kind of motivated us.
Looking very motivated, Kentucky smashed underdog Buffalo 95-75 Saturday before an underdog-backing crowd in the Taco Bell Arena on the Boise State University campus.
Freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Cats with another splendid performance (27 points, six rebounds and six assists). He was backed by a resurgent performance from redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo (22 points, eight rebounds, two blocked shots) and a double-double from sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel (16 points, 12 rebounds).
With the victory, UK (26-10) advanced to the South Region semifinals in Atlanta. Next Thursday, Kentucky will face the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 9 seed Kansas State (23-11) or — I still don’t believe what I saw — No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County (25-10).
The Cats are advancing to the round of 16 in a South Region that has already lost its No. 1 (Virginia), No. 3 (Tennessee) and No. 4 (Arizona) seeds.
Remaining foes of UK would do well to benefit from Buffalo’s example: Talking brash and playing fast is not a combination apt to beat Kentucky.
UK freshman guard Quade Green said Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne made sure the Cats were aware of the Bulls’ pregame words.
“K.P. got us motivated,” Green said. “He just said, ‘They are talking trash, let’s blow them up.’”
That eventually happened, though not before some tense moments.
With the crowd in Boise — seemingly dominated by fans of Gonzaga (facing Ohio State in the second game of the doubleheader) and neutral locals — roaring with every made Buffalo field goal, the Bulls pulled within 72-67 on a conventional three-point play by Dontay Caruthers with 8:10 left.
UK’s response was a 23-8 run with Diallo — who, of course, had endured a rugged second half of his first Kentucky season — scoring 10 of those points.
“Everyone of us,” Knox said, “is happy for Hami.”
Even as the game slipped away from Buffalo, Green said the Bulls did not stop talking.
“It was going on the entire game,” he said.
Can you give us an idea what was being said, Quade?
“Nope, I can’t,” he said.
Not even a PG version?
“There is no PG version,” Green said.
Just as Kentucky showed in high-octane regular-season victories over Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Arkansas, teams that push pace are doing UK a favor.
Buffalo — one of the highest-scoring teams in the country — did not have a choice.
When you reach the NCAA Tournament, you have to play the way that brought you.
“We just wanted to get out (in transition) and make easy plays,” said UK forward PJ Washington (12 points, seven rebounds).
However, Buffalo’s pregame tone was a choice.
As endearing as the Bulls’ brashness after their 89-68 pasting of Arizona was, it was not an approach that lends itself to beating Kentucky.
Yet in a happy UK locker room, the general consensus was the Cats are fully on board with other teams adopting the Buffalo approach.
“We want people to talk,” UK’s Washington said. “We love when people talk. It gives us a lot of motivation.”