BOISE, Idaho — Davidson is the imaginary team John Calipari cooked up in his head years ago. The one he always describes when he’s trying to motivate his young Kentucky Wildcats to defend the perimeter. They’re gonna take 50 threes, he’ll say, and if they make 30, we’ll go home.
But nobody ever really takes 50 or makes 30. Well, except that Davidson attempted 53 threes in a game this season. And made 26 of them.
Steph Curry’s alma mater also hit 20 of 39 in a game last month and just shot 47 percent from deep over three days as it stormed through the Atlantic 10 Tournament to earn a shot at the classic 12-seed upset of 5 th-seeded Kentucky on Thursday night.
“We’re hot right now,” 6-foot-6 sophomore guard KiShawn Pritchett said. “On any given night, multiple people can make shots, and I think that makes us dangerous.”
Pritchett is one of seven Wildcats who’ve made at least 20 threes this season and all five starters have hit at least 36 shots from beyond the arc. Davidson ranks 10 th nationally in made 3-pointers per game (10.7) and attempts 27.3 on average.
If threes are the great equalizer in basketball, David(son) has the perfect slingshot for a showdown with Goliath.
“We know what they’re capable of and how they try to beat teams,” UK point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We’ve game-planned for it, and we’ll be ready, but this will definitely be a tough one.”
The good news: those other Wildcats have rarely faced the kind of length and athleticism they’ll see from Kentucky, whose starting lineup features five guys with wingspans of 7 feet or longer. And Calipari’s Cats, perhaps heeding the threat of his fictional (until now) opponent, have been quite good at defending the three this season.
Opponents have shot just 29.9 percent from deep, which ranks fourth nationally.
The bad news: Davidson sank 14 3-pointers against defending national champion North Carolina back in December and kept it close throughout. (UNC won 85-75.) And every once in a while, the Cats do let a team get loose on the outside, which usually costs them.
COUNTERPOINT: Why the Wildcats won’t
In 6 of 10 losses this season, Kentucky allowed 8-plus made threes. Davidson made at least eight threes 25 times in 32 games.
“They’re shooters,” UK guard Quade Green said. “I see why Steph Curry shot 30 times a game sometimes. They’re a shooting team, got a lot of actions, and we’ve gotta make those threes into twos. No easy shots, everything is contested. That’s the whole thing of it.”
Exactly 10 years ago, when Curry led Davidson to the Elite Eight, the Wildcats hit 11 of 22 from three to upset Gonzaga and 12 of 24 to take out Wisconsin.
“This is a really good 3-point shooting team. We’re not going to downplay it at all,” Kentucky guard Hamidou Diallo said. “We’re going to be locked in on defense. That’s going to be the biggest part of the game.”
The Cats will hear that message from Calipari over and over and over before tip-off Thursday night in Boise — and this time it’ll be a warning with some teeth.
“They’re going to take 30 3-point shots [which Davidson has nine times this season. If they make 20 [which the Wildcats have done twice], it has been a heck of a season for us,” Calipari said Wednesday. “They are a really efficient team. They’re an execution team. We’re an experienced team. We’re not an execution team. We’ve got to make it difficult.”
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