Perhaps a little too routine in the view of UK coach John Calipari.Kentucky had no problem dispatching the Pirates 79-56 at the Yum! Center, but the game saw Hampton hang with the bigger, more talented Cats for most of the first half and play within four points of the nation's top-ranked team in the second half.
"I didn't like how we started the game. I didn't quite like how we finished the game," Calipari said. "But it is 1 (a.m.) at night, and we had an overtime game where the guys were hanging out in the locker room for an hour and a half. So I'm going to chalk it up to that and move on."
Kentucky (35-0) advances to face No. 8 seed Cincinnati (23-10) on Saturday in the Round of 32. The Bearcats claimed a 66-65 overtime win over No. 9 seed Purdue in the earlier evening game at the Yum! Center, forcing UK's tip time back to 10:18 ET and perhaps taking a little edge away from the Cats.
"We didn't set the tone we wanted to set," UK junior center Willie Cauley-Stein said. "When you're playing a big-time school, you can't afford to come out and play like that."
The Big Blue did, however, get a huge performance from freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored a career-high 21 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots. Kentucky also got double figures from Andrew Harrison (14), Tyler Ulis (11) and Trey Lyles (10) on a 46-percent shooting night for the winners.
Their overwhelming size advantage loomed large for the Cats, who owned a 51-31 margin in rebounds. In addition to Towns, Cauley-Stein also grabbed 11 boards, while Aaron Harrison chipped in with seven. Defensively, UK held Hampton to 28.8 percent from the field, recorded seven steals and blocked five shots.
"I think a lot of the little shots we normally hit, we didn't make," said Hampton coach Edward Joyner, who joked earlier in the week that he'd need an assist from Jesus to beat UK. "A lot of that, give credit to Kentucky too. Geez, they're long. You have to make shots over long people, and it makes it difficult."
The Pirates (17-18) were led by senior swingman Quinton Chievous, a former University of Tennessee player, with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He was 7-for-14 from the field, but the rest of Hampton's team went 10-for-45.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the night's highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: Kentucky took full advantage of its size, eschewing long-range jumpers in favor of feeding Towns repeatedly for smooth baby-hook shots against the smaller Pirates. The freshman All-American was 8-for-12 from the floor and 5-of-6 at the line for his best offensive night of the season. Thanks in large part to him, the Cats won points in the paint 44-20.
KEY MOMENT: Leading only 18-14 at the 8:27 mark of the first half, the Cats broke the game open with a 14-0 run that included eight points from Towns. UK took a cozy 41-22 lead into the locker room at halftime.
STAT OF THE DAY: The Cats cruised despite seeing wings Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker go a combined 1-for-11 from the field.
BY THE NUMBERS:
8 - Double-doubles for Karl-Anthony Towns this season, a team-high.
12th - Opponent to be held under 30 percent shooting by the Cats this season.
30th - Opponent that UK has out-rebounded.
19-3 - Calipari's NCAA Tournament record at UK.
62-18 - Kentucky's all-time record playing in the Derby City, including a 6-1 mark in the NCAA Tournament.
QUOTABLE: “You can't do things on your terms in this tournament because what happens is you'll have a 12-point lead, and then you'll turn around, and it will be a 2-point game. What just happened? You broke down on two pick-and-rolls defensively, and then someone fouled, didn't need to, and then all of a sudden, they make a play, and it's a 2-point game. You can't do stuff on your terms. You've got to follow the script. Here's how we play. This is what we do. Here's the energy we play with.” – UK coach John Calipari