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Cats rout Buffalo, advance to Sweet 16

BOISE (KT) — Kentucky is still standing and dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats (26-10) stayed perfect in the postseason and advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 95-75 rout of Buffalo on Saturday night, earning a spot in the South Region semifinals. Kentucky will take on the winner of the UMBC-Kansas State Thursday in Atlanta.

A region that began with the overall No. 1 seed — Virginia — in the bracket, Kentucky’s path to the Final Four became a little easier following the Cavaliers’ stunning loss to UMBC Friday night.

“You never know what can happen in this tournament,” Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “And you have to step up and make plays. And we don’t focus on any team but ourselves right now. We try to get better each and every game.”

Although the Bulls (27-8) were vocal about being able to compete with Kentucky, the Wildcats used the pre-game chatter for motivation and ended Buffalo’s quest for a second-straight upset at Taco Bell Arena. Buffalo couldn’t sustain the momentum from Thursday night’s 89-69 upset of No. 4 seed Arizona.

Kentucky used the trash talk as motivation, silencing a crowd that heavily-favored the Bulls.

“We saw some of it on the internet, but we just stuck to what we do best,” Kentucky forward Kevin Knox said. “They were sticking in the game, but we made our run in the last eight minutes. That motivated us and (gave us) some momentum.”

At one point in the first half, Gilgeous-Alexander gave the “shhhh” sign after burying a 3-pointer to thwart a Buffalo run.

“The crowd was hyped at the time and they were staying on their feet,” Knox said. “He shut them up. Shai doesn’t talk much trash or anything like that, but when he does, it’s just a great feeling.”

Buffalo coach Nate Oats had nothing but praise for the Wildcats following the loss.

“They’re a great team,” he said. “They’re a great defensive team. Cal has them playing really well at the right time of the year. They’ve won nine of their last 10 and we ran into a buzzsaw tonight.”

Gilgeous-Alexander led the Wildcats with 27 points. Gilgeous-Alexander missed just two field goals on 12 attempts and added six rebounds, six assists, and two steals.

“His confidence right now is through the roof,” Kentucky leading scorer Kevin Knox said. “He’s playing his best basketball (of the season) and getting everyone involved and he’s knocking down shots. He’s grown so much through the year.”

Gilgeous-Alexander said the Wildcats simply played with a chip in their shoulder during the wins over Davidson and Buffalo to open the tournament.

“This whole group is a bunch of competitors, we go after it every day in practice,” he said. “We love proving people wrong, and that’s what we did today.”

On the brink of a breakout during the past six games, Hamidou Diallo broke through against the Bulls and scored 22 points to go along with eight rebounds. Diallo added three dunks, including an exclamation windmill slam down the stretch.

“We just try to come out to prove everybody wrong,” Diallo said. “That’s what we did today (and) I can’t feel better about this one.”

Wenyen Gabriel chipped in with 16 points and 12 rebounds and knocked down three timely 3-pointers, followed by PJ Washington with 12.

“Wenyen had to conquer himself,” Calipari said. “When you’re not playing well, you have to kick out of it and go.”

The Wildcats will keep marching on toward a Final Fourth berth during the second weekend of the tournament next weekend in Atlanta.

“It’s a great feeling and it’s what you work for,” Knox said. “I’m so happy for my teammates and how they all stepped up today. It’s a great feeling and we’re all happy. We just can’t wait to get down there (to Atlanta).”

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KENTUCKY 95, BUFFALO 75

BUFFALO (27-9)

Smart 2-2 0-0 4, Harris 4-12 2-4 10, Clark 9-19 4-4 26, Jordan 0-2 0-0 0, Massinburg 4-11 7-9 18, Agorioge 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Perkins 3-10 2-4 8, McRae 0-1 0-0 0, Bertram 0-0 0-0 0, Caruthers 3-6 1-1 7, Reese 0-0 0-0 0, Moultrie 0-0 0-0 0, Graves 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 26-67 16-22 75.

KENTUCKY (26-10)

Washington 4-7 4-5 12, Knox 4-10 0-0 8, Richards 1-2 0-0 2, Gilgeous-Alexander 10-12 5-7 27, Diallo 9-12 3-6 22, Killeya-Jones 1-1 0-0 2, Gabriel 5-11 3-3 16, David 0-0 0-0 0, Pulliam 0-0 0-0 0, Calipari 0-0 0-0 0, Green 2-9 1-2 6. Totals 36-64 16-23 95.

Halftime_Kentucky 51-42. 3-Point Goals_Buffalo 7-31 (Clark 4-10, Massinburg 3-6, Caruthers 0-1, Jordan 0-1, McRae 0-1, Graves 0-3, Perkins 0-4, Harris 0-5), Kentucky 7-15 (Gabriel 3-5, Gilgeous-Alexander 2-2, Diallo 1-1, Green 1-4, Knox 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Buffalo 27 (Massinburg 8), Kentucky 39 (Gabriel 12). Assists_Buffalo 8 (Clark 6), Kentucky 16 (Gilgeous-Alexander 6). Total Fouls_Buffalo 21, Kentucky 20.