No. 1 for a Reason
The preliminaries are over. Now, Kentucky can get down to business.
The top-seeded Wildcats cruised into the round of 16 for the ninth time in 11 years, routing Utah, 74-54, Sunday at the Midwest Regional.
The way Kentucky is playing, there wasn’t much need to spend the weekend in Nashville. The Wildcats (31-3) cruised through the first two rounds by a combined 52 points, stretching the nation’s longest winning streak to 25 games.
And they don’t plan on stopping at Minneapolis, where they’ll meet Wisconsin in the regional semifinals Thursday night.
“Reaching the Sweet 16 doesn’t do it for me,” Cliff Hawkins said, knowing that’s the point where his team was knocked out the last two years. “I want more.”
Teammate Gerald Fitch agreed.
“We still have four games to go,” he said. “We don’t have any reason to be happy yet.”
Keith Bogans and Marquis Estill scored 18 points apiece in a convincing display of Kentucky’s myriad options. And ninth-seeded Utah (25-8) couldn’t do much against the Wildcats’ in-your-face defense, which held the Utes to 39.6% shooting from the field.
“They’ve got the look of a Final Four, if not a national championship, team,” Utah Coach Rick Majerus said. “They took it to us.”
Join the club. The Wildcats haven’t lost since an 18-point setback to rival Louisville on Dec. 28, winning all but seven by at least 10 points.
“We played the way a team that’s ranked is supposed to play,” Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith said. “We came in and took care of business as far as staying focused.”
It wasn’t a shock at all that Utah’s season ended at the hands of Kentucky. The teams were meeting in the tournament for the fifth time in 11 years -- the Wildcats have won each time, including a victory in the 1998 national championship game.
Kentucky’s winning streak is the fourth-longest in school history.