UK takes care of NKU, sets up second round matchup with Wichita State

Chris Angolia

In what was the first NCAA Tournament game for this year’s UK men’s basketball team, the Cats took care of business defeating Northern Kentucky 79-70 to advance to the second round and extend its winning streak to 12 games.

Unlike other top seeds that struggled in the early going of its opening round game, the Cats made sure that the Norse were unable to settle in by forcing the issue down low. Forcing the issue down low was largely because NKU did not have a single player over 6’7’’ and Bam Adebayo is 6’10’’.

Adebayo had six early points that came courtesy of a few monstrous dunks, but his dominance was short lived as UK stopped feeding the beast. Thus, UK went scoreless for over three minutes and the Norse continued to hang around, and at one point had the UK lead down to just two points which had NKU fans riled up and Cats fans worried.

Fortunately for the Big Blue Nation, their anxiety was short-lived as UK went on a 15-3 run to close out the first half. That run was jumpstarted by De’Aaron Fox who showed no tightness playing in his first ever NCAA Tournament game.

Fox had six straight points to start the run and create separation between the Cats and the Norse and showed yet again that he will be the Cats’ go-to guy when things get close at any point as he did in Nashville. Fox finished the first half with 10 points and three assists and was joined by Adebayo who was one rebound shy of a double-double in the first half finishing with 10 and nine.

Fox finished the game with a team-high 19 points, and Adebayo added his team-high seventh double-double with 15 points and 18 rebounds.

Up 14 points heading into the locker room, it was a comfortable lead for the Cats in a game that they were not going to struggle with from the start. UK took its 14-point halftime lead and comfortably cruised in the second half despite NKU hanging around throughout the second half.

“You have to give Northern credit,” coach John Calipari said. “The thing they did all season is make 3s. And what I said at halftime, the one thing I’m worried about is they missed a bunch of 3s that they normally make, or the game would have been closer. And then late in the game, they made them all. So they made the game close.”

In cruise control and with the game in hand, the Cats were not exactly impressive in the second half which resulted in the Norse getting a little too close for comfort at times. Nonetheless, UK did what it needed to and advance to Sunday.

The Cats will face the tenth seeded Wichita State Shockers in their second-round game on Sunday at 2:40 p.m. ET. The Shockers are riding a 16-game winning streak following their win over Dayton on Friday.