The only time the University of Kentucky has ever played the Buffalo Bulls in men’s basketball yielded one of the most surprising results in UK basketball history.
For one half.
On Nov. 16, 2014, Buffalo came to Rupp Arena to play the 2014-15 Wildcats in the Cawood Ledford Classic.
You might recall the 2014-15 Cats would start that season without a defeat in their first 38 games.
But UK trailed Buffalo, then coached by Bobby Hurley, 38-33 at the half.
Wildcats freshmen Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis and Trey Lyles sparked a second-half rally and the Cats won comfortably 71-52.
Still, for a half, Buffalo had one of the best Kentucky teams ever on its heels.
After Buffalo shocked the college basketball world Thursday night with an 89-68 demolition of No. 4 seed Arizona in the NCAA Tournament South Region round of 64, the No. 13 Bulls will get another crack at Kentucky for much greater stakes.
On Saturday, Buffalo (27-8) will face the No. 5 seed Wildcats (25-10) in the Taco Bell Arena on the Boise State University campus at 5:15 p.m. EDT in a game televised by CBS for the right to advance to the South Region semifinals.
Coached by Nate Oats (64-38 with two NCAA tourney trips) for the three seasons since Hurley left for Arizona State, Buffalo pulverized Arizona behind scalding-hot three-point shooting (15-for-30) and a hustling defense that beat the favored Wildcats to every loose ball.
In embarrassing the Pac-12 champions, Buffalo didn’t just get all the 50-50 balls. The Bulls got most of the 20-80 balls, too.
“We ran into a team that played well on a night when we didn’t,” Arizona Coach Sean Miller said. “We got beat. And we got beat by a good team. A well-coached team. A team that was tough.”
Wes Clark, a 6-foot senior guard from Detroit, had 25 points to lead Buffalo. Jeremy Harris, a 6-7 junior Greensboro, N.C., added 23 points and seven rebounds while CJ Massinburg, a 6-3 junior from Dallas, chipped in 19.
Oats admitted he was as surprised as everyone else at the margin of his team’s win.
The Buffalo coach said he was not surprised by the winner, though.
“I really felt like we were going to win this game,” he said. “I liked our guard play. I’ve said that from day one.”
Before putting up the best league record in the Mid-American Conference in the regular season and winning the MAC postseason tournament, Buffalo played a tough non-conference schedule.
The Bulls lost to Cincinnati by six on a neutral court in the Cayman Islands. They lost at Syracuse by seven and at Texas A&M by 16.
They also played and lost against NCAA Tournament teams South Dakota State and St. Bonaventure.
Buffalo plays at a sizzling pace. The 89 points the Bulls hung on ’Zona were right on their season average (88.1).
Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Buffalo was shooting 50.8 from the field as a team and 38.3 from three-point range.
“They are very difficult to defend,” Miller said of Buffalo. “At the same time, they play tremendous defense.”
For all the kvetching about the difficulty of Kentucky’s draw in the NCAA Tournament, the Cats will now get a shot at a No. 13 seed in the round of 32.
Meanwhile, the South Region No. 1 seed, Virginia, has lost a key player, swingman De’Andre Hunter, to a broken left wrist.
If Buffalo plays as fiercely Saturday and shoots the three as well against Kentucky as it did against Arizona, UK better buckle up for a round of 32 rumble.