Kansas City, here we come.
Kentucky can sing that classic song after a 62-56 victory over Wofford on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament’s second round. The victory advanced UK to the Midwest Region semifinals next Friday in Kansas City, Mo. It will be the first time UK has played an NCAA Tournament game there.
UK (29-6) got there in a game that largely validated Coach John Calipari’s philosophy of not living and dying with three-point shooting.
Wofford, which ranked in the top 10 nationally in three-pointers per game and shooting accuracy from beyond the arc, made only eight of 27 shots from that distance. Guard Fletcher Magee, who set a Division I career record for threes on Thursday when he made seven against Seton Hall, never found his shooting touch. Hounded primarily by Tyler Herro, Magee failed to make a three-point shot for just the second time this season. He made only four of 17 shots, none of 12 attempts from three-point range, and scored eight points.
During Friday’s pregame news conference, Calipari said he counseled the Cats not to overreact should Magee get hot.
“You try to tell a young team like mine, this isn’t football,” he said. “It’s not a touchdown. So don’t foul. …
“You may play a team that shoots 25 threes, and shoots some of the worst threes, and they go in. That could demoralize you. … At this time, how can you stay focused on us?”
Kentucky did not have to withstand a shooting barrage. But Wofford (30-5) competed as you’d expect a team to do with a better NCAA Evaluation Tool rating (No. 13) than every Southeastern Conference team except UK (No. 6) and Tennessee (No. 5).
Kentucky led for only 23 seconds of the first half. But that included the last 1.2 seconds, which meant a 28-26 lead at halftime.
Reid Travis made two free throws with 1.2 seconds left to give UK’s its lead. That capped a 10-2 UK run in the final 2:48.
Wofford might not have felt discouraged being down two points. Magee made only one of six shots, none of four from three-point range. His only basket came with 27.5 seconds left. UK protested, saying he double-dribbled to get off his only made shot.
Herro led the defense on Magee. Perhaps this took away from Herro’s offense. He made only one of five shots in the half.
Wofford made five of 12 three-point shots. The fifth came with 5:53 left in the half. Hoover, who led all first-half scorers with 11 points, hit a high-arcing three as the shot clock buzzed. That enabled Wofford to match the five three-pointers Abilene Christian made against Kentucky in round one.
Wofford scored the first five points and did not trail until Ashton Hagans hit a floater in the lane with 49.7 seconds left. That put Kentucky ahead 26-24.
Adversity clustered early in the second half for Kentucky. EJ Montgomery and Keldon Johnson picked up their third fouls inside the first three minutes.
Herro missed his first two shots, making him one for seven at that point.
Kentucky responded to the challenge. The Cats reeled off eight straight points to take their largest lead, 45-37. That prompted a Wofford timeout with 12:02 left.
Johnson capped the mini-run with a three-pointer and a putback.
During this span, Magee missed a wide open three-pointer from the right side. Wofford fans sighed audibly as Magee missed his sixth straight three-point shot with a make.
Wofford missed its first seven three-point shots of the second half. Magee had four of the misses.
But Nathan Hoover broke the ice by banking in a three-pointer to reduce UK’s lead to 50-44. Thirty seconds later, Johnson picked up his fourth foul, which further kept the outcome in doubt.
As Wofford and Magee kept missing, Kentucky held on. Barely. A tip-in reduced UK’s lead to 58-56 with 38 seconds left.
True to his core belief, Calipari ordered the ball to Reid Travis in the post. Fouled on the shot, Travis made two free throws to ease the tension.
Then capping a frustrating day, Magee missed a three-pointer to seal Wofford’s fate and point Kentucky to Kansas City.