Who Needs 3s? Not Kentucky in 78-73 Win Over Davidson
Hitting a 3-pointer is as routine for a college basketball player as rolling out of bed in the morning. So imagine an entire team — one with Final Four ambitions, no less — going an entire game without making a single one.
And winning anyway.
Fifth-seeded Kentucky all but ignored the arc Thursday night and failed to make a 3 for the first time in nearly 30 years in its 78-73 victory over Davidson in the NCAA Tournament.
The 0-for-6 effort snapped the program's nation-best streak of 1,047 games with a 3 that began Nov. 26, 1988.
It's such an overlooked piece of history that not even Wildcats coach John Calipari knew about it until it was pointed out in the postgame news conference.
Reporter: "It's been 30 years since Kentucky didn't make a 3."
Calipari: "Thirty? I was 9 years old."
Actually, he was 29.
But all kidding aside, Calipari insists his team is not that bad at outside shooting, even if the effort on this night added a few more gray hairs.
"We only took six," he said. "If we'd taken six more, we would've been 6 for 12."
The last time Kentucky didn't make a 3-pointer was at the Great Alaska Shootout against Seton Hall in the fall of 1988 — when Eddie Sutton was in his last year with the Wildcats, LeRon Ellis was the team's leading scorer and the 3-point arc was only in its third year in the college game. This marked the first time since the inception of the 3 that Kentucky has won a game without making one.
UNLV now holds the longest streak, at 1,040 games.
Kevin Knox led the Wildcats (25-10) with 25 points, as they pulled away after 12th-seeded Davidson (21-12) tied things at 54 with 8:01 remaining.
Knox finished 8 for 16 from the floor, including a pair of baseline jumpers from the 15-to-17-foot range that helped Kentucky pull away. He went 9 for 11 from the free-throw line, but also 0 for 3 from 3-point range.
"I didn't know that at all," Knox said about the end of the streak. "We just shoot the shots that are open. It's rare for us not to hit a 3-point shot."
Wenyen Gabriel, Hamidou Diallo and Quade Green all missed one 3-pointer apiece for the Wildcats, who didn't even try one over the final 8:46.
There was some irony in winning this way against Davidson, which made a name for itself 10 years ago on the strength of a string of 3-point flurries from Steph Curry, who carried the team to within one basket of the Final Four.
In this one, Davidson made 11 3-pointers, led by six from Jon Axel Gudmundsson, who finished with 21 points.
Unlike Calipari, Davidson coach Bob McKillop said he was well aware of Kentucky's 3-point stats, but said the 0-fer hurt his team as much as it helped.
"It was a point of emphasis," McKillop said. "And it may have caused us the problem of sending them to the line as much as we did. And having them score points in the paint as much as they did."
Kentucky outscored Davidson 36-20 in the paint and went to the free throw line 32 times, compared to 17 for McKillop's team.
Meanwhile, it wasn't all that hard to envision the 3-point streak ending for Kentucky. The Wildcats ranked 344th out of 351 Division I teams in 3-pointers made per game this season. Only 26 percent of their attempts have been from 3.
They were 0 for 13 against Missouri on Feb. 3 before making one with 2:51 left to keep the streak alive. They went 1 for 11 in an earlier game against South Carolina.
Kentucky starts five freshmen — young even for Calipari's standards — and the coach insisted he was more concerned with his team's inconsistent defense in the second half than the outside-shooting woes.
But, he said, it would be nice to make one or two along the way.
"I wouldn't like to go 0 for 6. I'd like to make five, six, seven, maybe eight threes," Calipari said. "Others need 12, 13 or 14 to win. We're just not one of them."
Davidson, which made the tournament by winning the Atlantic-10 Conference tournament, remains winless in the NCAAs since Curry's special performance in 2008.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 19 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals for the Wildcats. He's has 20 assists and only seven turnovers since the start of the SEC tournament.
Kentucky plays Buffalo on Saturday in the second round of the South Region.