#2 Wildcats to clash with #15 Saint Peter's tonight in Indy
The Kentucky Wildcats are just hours away from taking the court in their opening round matchup against Saint Peter’s in the NCAA Tournament and they need to get their mojo back after that disappointing loss to Tennessee in the SEC Tourney. WUKY SportsPage podcast host Keith Elkins and Alan Lytle discuss the keys of the game.
No team in the history of college basketball has made more appearances or won more games in the NCAA Division I Tournament than Kentucky. The 2021-22 version of the Cats will try to add to those numbers beginning on Thursday night when second-seeded Kentucky faces No. 15 seed Saint Peter's in Indianapolis.
Kentucky is making its 59th appearance, seven more than North Carolina, which sits in second place. The Cats have played in 181 tournament games, also seven more than the Tar Heels. And Kentucky's 129 wins are three more than North Carolina's total of 126.
None of that will mean anything on Thursday night when the Cats and the Peacocks begin the 2022 NCAA Tournament. In fact, despite having a lot more experience than normal on the roster, Kentucky does not have much tournament experience.
In total, players on this year's Kentucky roster have played in exactly three NCAA Tournament games. Davion Mintz played in Creighton's first-round loss to Rhode Island in 2017 and in the Bluejays' loss to Kansas State in 2018. Mintz scored a total of 12 points in those two games.
Kellan Grady is the only other player on the UK roster to play in an NCAA Tournament game. Ironically, Grady was on the losing end when his Davidson team lost to Kentucky in 2018. Grady, then a freshman, did score 18 points in the game. It was a game that Grady and his team expected to win.
"My whole team was on an emotional high because we had just won the Atlantic 10 Tournament," Grady said. "We felt really good and we truly thought we were going to beat Kentucky."
Ultimately, Kentucky prevailed in that game 78-73. Now, he's glad to be on the other side of a similar type of game.
"It's a different predicament for me, compared to my experience at Davidson," Grady said. "But the overall focus of trying to focus and play the best game you can remains consistent."
After falling to Tennessee in the SEC Tournament semifinals on Saturday, the Cats had individual meetings with UK head coach John Calipari to define each player's role. Grady found the meetings to be helpful.
"I think all of us can say that the meetings were very productive," Grady said. "My role has been consistent all year – to make shots and to help defend and be reliable on defense. I think all of us have a good concentration on what to do for our team and how to be most productive in helping us win."
Calipari used a two-pronged approach to help his team get past the loss to the Vols. In addition to the individual meetings that helped each player understand their role, Calipari made one other adjustment. Or, as he sometimes calls it this time of year, a tweak.
"The injury to our two guards (TyTy Washington Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler) – because we survived it, we thought now, they're coming back and we're OK," Calipari said. "We're not where we were when we had them all and we were going hard. You think about how we were playing and who we were beating and what we were doing.
"So, getting beat in the SEC Tournament was like a godsend because we scrimmaged an hour and 15 minutes. We scrimmaged 45 minutes yesterday," Calipari said. "We needed to get back to free and loose and open and playing off of one another and the roles of what we needed to do and the only way you can do that is scrimmage. And, it was competitive and they went at each other."
Saint Peter's comes into Thursday's game with a 19-11 record overall. The Peacocks won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament by beating Monmouth in the title game.
SPU is led by guard Daryl Banks III, who averages 11.0 points per game. Forward KC Endefo is the only other Saint Peter's player averaging in double figures, scoring 10.6 points per outing.
The Peacocks hang their hat on defense. Saint Peter's allows its opponents to shoot just 38.4 percent from the floor, which is fifth in the nation. SPU allows just 61.8 points per game, which is 18th in the country.
Grady knows that the Cats cannot overlook anyone in the field of 68.
"We understand everybody in this tournament is here because they got an at-large bid or they're champions in their own right," Grady said. "Saint Peter's is a very good team. We can't take the seeding for granted or think that it's going to be an easy task at all."
Kentucky is hoping to make a deep run in March and that all starts with a first round game against Saint Peter's on Thursday. The winner will play either Murray State or San Francisco on Saturday.
Tipoff tonight is set for around 7:10 p.m. The game can be seen on CBS.