Buffalo’s explosive offense carried them to a fist round NCAA Tournament victory. Today they’ll be put to the test against a lengthy, proven defense for the first time. The Bulls average 84.8 points per game, good enough for a three-way tie with Duke and Xavier as the nation’s No. 3 scoring team.
They’ve reached the top through balance. Buffalo pushes the pace, yet they’re still ranked in the Top 20 in offensive efficiency. Four players shoot more than 40 percent from behind the three-point line, yet they don’t completely rely on long-range scoring with just 34 percent of their points coming from three.
The Buffalo blitz kept Arizona on their heels. Ranked No. 88 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating, Arizona’s bigs could not keep up with the athletic Bulls. Kentucky can afford to play small with P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel, yet still have disruptive length. UK’s defense is ranked No. 15 is field goal percentage defense (40.5%), No. 4 in three-point defense (30%) and is No. 22 in KenPom.
“I think our length is what bothers teams, and our athleticism. And we’ve been able to defend the rim,” Wenyen Gabriel said yesterday. “Our communication has picked up as a team. As young players we’ve been coming together and that’s helped us defensively.”
The statistics create an equation for an excellent match-up. The will to win will be tested by a fight to the finish.
“We’re playing like we have nothing to lose,” John Calipari 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.”