INDIANAPOLIS -- Northern Kentucky's first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament drew the ultimate compliment from opposing fan base on Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It came in the form of a standing ovation from Kentucky's Big Blue Nation as the Norse walked off the court following a much closer than expected 79-70 loss to college basketball's all-time wins leader.
The South Region's No. 2 seed was never truly threatened by the 15th-seeded Norse, but NKU won a hefty measure of respect by refusing to allow the Wildcats to run away for a romp.
"Hat's off to John (Brannen) and the job he's done at Northern and their program and the school," UK head coach John Calipari said of his sideline counterpart.
Said Brannen: "I talked to our guys about whenever you're in a first-round tournament game, whether it be
Kentucky (30-5) had the look of a team that knew it had enough to get past the Norse no matter what happened, but maybe not a squad primed for a championship run. The Wildcats will likely face a much more difficult test on Sunday when they face No. 10 seed Wichita State in the Round of 32.
"Move on, next game. We've got to play better against Wichita State," Calipari said.
The Cats shot only 44 percent from the field, including a 3-for-17 performance from the 3-point arc. They only outrebounded NKU by six despite a major size advantage.
Kentucky did, however, get 15 points and a career-high 18 rebounds from freshman center Bam Adebayo to highlight an otherwise forgettable night. It marked the third-highest rebound total ever for a UK player in the NCAA tourney, following Jerry Bird (24 in 1956) and Bill Spivey (21 in 1951).
De'Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe added 19 and 17 points, respectively, for the Cats. Malik Monk, UK's leading scorer on the season, suffered through a 3-for-11 shooting night and scored only 12 points.
Northern Kentucky (24-11) was held to 36 percent from the field, a figure aided by a late flurry of 3-pointers to cut the final margin to single digits. The Norse needed more than their 8-for-32 night from the arc, though, to pull off a major upset.
Lavone Holland II and Carson Williams led NKU with 22 and 21 points, respectively.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...
WHAT WE LIKED:
Despite a ridiculously late tip time against a highly motivated opponent in a virtual no-win situation, Kentucky ultimately took care of business. Several top seeds experienced similar games in the opening round, so the Cats were not alone. Survive and advance.
Bam Adebayo, Kentucky -- With each passing game, the 6-foot-10, 260-pound freshman looks more and more like one of college basketball's most dominant big men. He posted his seventh double-double of the season and set a new personal best with 18 rebounds, topping the 15 he grabbed in back to back games against Missouri and Florida in mid-February. He also continues to be reliable at the free-throw line, hitting five of his six attempts.
BY THE NUMBERS:
3 - Ties season low for 3-pointers hit by
10th - Time John Calipari has led a team to a 30-win season.
12 - Game winning streak for
18 - The largest lead for the Cats on the night.
24-5 - The Cats' record in the NCAA tourney under Calipari.
"A college kid shouldn't be playing at 12:30 (a.m.). The old man that's coaching their team has to watch tapes tonight... We
Kentucky returns to action on Sunday at approximately 3 p.m. ET against 10th-seeded Wichita State (31-4). The Shockers advanced by defeating 7th-seeded Dayton 64-58 in Friday night's first game. It will be a rematch of the memorable second-round clash between UK and Wichita State in the 2014 NCAA Tournament in which the Cats ended the Shockers' undefeated season.