BOISE (KT) — Buffalo made history Thursday night and Kentucky hopes to end the trend in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday.
The Bulls (27-8) stunned No. 4 seed Arizona for their first tourney victory and Kentucky coach John Calipari isn’t expecting an easy encounter against Buffalo even though many predicted his team would meet the Wildcats in the second round.
“If I were on their team I'd feel very confident, too,” Calipari said Friday. “The way they played, I watched about six tapes of them, and they remind me of my UMass teams. Hard-nosed, tough, swagger, chip on their shoulder … that's what I see in them.”
Buffalo coach Nate Oats isn’t worried about his team’s mentality after pulling off the unexpected upset to open the tournament. Buffalo has won 20 of its past 23 games going into the contest.
“We’ve got a mature group of kids,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of juniors. The maturity of this group and just knowing that we want to get to the second weekend.”
One of his players — Jeremy Harris — said the Bulls’ maturity level exceeds Kentucky’s entire roster.
“I think experience should give us just a little bit of an edge,” he said. “I think the team that plays the hardest is going to come out with the win.”
Although many were surprised by Buffalo’s shocker over Arizona, Kentucky forward Wenyen Gabriel wasn’t shocked by the Bulls’ impressive victory and cautioned against looking ahead following Kentucky’s win over Davidson.
“I've seen Buffalo play a little bit,” Gabriel said. “I know they're a really good team. We watched some film on them, and know they're a great team. We'll have to come out really prepared to beat this team.”
Kentucky (25-10) advanced to the second round following a 78-73 win over Davidson and will see a similar, but more-experienced foe in Buffalo, which made 15 3-pointers in the opening-round stunner over Arizona. It marked the second time the Mid-American Conference program made more than 15 shots from long range in a game this season.
“They play fast, but they're tough defensively,” Calipari said. “They're not afraid to mix it up and be physical. And they've got players that come off the bench and give them a jolt defensively. … Their record indicates that what they are, which is they are an outstanding team. They're well-coached. And we understand it's going to be a hard game. We're walking in with all freshmen. We know it's going to be a tough game. It will be a hard one for us.”
Buffalo is sixth in the nation in scoring, averaging 84.9 points per game and has won 20 of its past 23 games. A big reason behind the team’s success has been the addition of former Missouri standout Wes Clark, a fifth-year senior. Clark is averaging 15 points per game since he became eligible to play at the end of the first semester.
“They've been through it,” Calipari said. “They won their league. They won their league tournament a couple of years running now. They're good. I'm just telling you. I've lived it. I had that kind of team. I had guys with chips on their shoulders. It's fun to coach those guys. I always say when I had a chip I would talk. I would say stuff because I had a chip, I knew, they'd back me up, they'd go play. It should be fun. It's going to be a hard game.”
Although his coach is wary of the Bulls, Gabriel said the Wildcats won’t be intimated by Buffalo’s speed and quickness.
“I think our length is what bothers teams, and our athleticism,” he said. “And we've been able to defend the rim. So we're going to continue with that. And I think as the season, our communication has picked up as a team. As young players, we've been coming together and that's helped us defensively.”
Even though the Bulls are riding high, Calipari said the Wildcats are taking a similar approach to take the next step in the tournament.
“We're playing like we have nothing to lose,” the Kentucky coach said. “If we play and they play, it's probably going to come down to who has the ball last. That happens in the NCAA Tournament when two teams are fighting. If they come after us and we back up, they win the game. It's just how it is.”
Gametracker: Kentucky vs. Buffalo, 5:15 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: CBS, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.