|Kentucky wary of upset-minded Buffalo|
BOISE, Idaho -- South Region No. 5 seed Kentucky knew it would have a battle on its hands to reach the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, it just had no clue that fight would be coming from Buffalo.
The 13th-seeded Bulls will be Kentucky's second-round opponent on Saturday after Buffalo shocked No. 4 seed Arizona 89-68 on Thursday. Earlier that day, Kentucky dispatched No. 12 seed Davidson 78-73.
"If I were on their team, I'd feel very confident too," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "I watched about six tapes of them and they remind me of my UMass teams. Hard-nosed, tough, swagger, chip on their shoulder."
Buffalo, which recorded the biggest upset on the first day of the tournament, entered the field of 68 as a mystery to many. But no more.
Buffalo (27-8) went 15-3 in Mid-American Conference play to win the regular-season championship and then swept three wins in three days for the conference tournament crown and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls enter Saturday's game riding a seven-game win streak.
Pertinent to Saturday's game, Buffalo averages 84.9 points, good for seventh best in the nation. The Bulls have been held below 70 points just twice in 35 games, both losses to Cincinnati and St. Bonaventure.
"The ability to score the ball," Calipari said. "They score 85 points a game. They play fast, but they're tough defensively. They're not afraid to mix it up and be physical.
"Their record indicates what they are, which is they are an outstanding team," Calipari said. "We understand it's going to be a hard game."
Junior guard CJ Massinburg leads Buffalo in scoring at 16.9 points per game followed by junior forward Nick Perkins at 16.5.
Kentucky is riding its own wave, winners of eight of nine games since breaking free from a four-game losing streak late in the regular season. That included winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament out of the No. 4 seed slot.
Buffalo coach Nate Oats stirred the embers a bit Thursday when he made reference to Kentucky starting five freshmen, pointing to it as an advantage for his veteran team.
"Let's say it like it is, let's be real," Oats said. "I'm not going to try to disrespect anybody. If you look at the roster, Wes Clark, senior, their team, freshman, freshman. Their players are going to play in the NBA for a reason. There's a reason that three of these guys are in the first round and I'm going to show you. The talent level is absolutely there. And when they go win the lottery, I'm going to agree with NBA teams that took them, they're that good. They're still freshmen.
"We're experienced. They're inexperienced," Oats said. "It's no disrespect. It is what it is. It's facts. I'm going to tell them, they're not freshmen? You are freshmen. Just like Cal's been saying. Cal's been saying it."
Freshman forward Kevin Knox leads Kentucky at 15.9 points per game, including the 25 he scored in the Wildcats' NCAA opening win over Davidson. Next comes freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at 14.0, freshman forward PJ Washington at 10.6 and freshman guard Hamidou Diallo at 9.9.
As a team, Kentucky averages 76.8 points while shooting 47.1 percent, including 35.6 from 3-point range.
The teams have met just once, a 71-52 Kentucky victory on Nov. 16, 2014, in the Wildcats' run to a 38-1 season. The Bulls led 38-33 at halftime, but Kentucky outscored them 38-14 after intermission.