INDIANAPOLIS – No, he didn’t get 18 rebounds like he did on Friday night.
Bam Adebayo was still the difference-maker against Wichita State.
“He was amazing today,” Dominique Hawkins said. “We kept on feeding him the ball inside. He was scoring a lot of buckets for us and also getting a lot of rebounds. He played an excellent game today.”
Box score | Postgame notes | Photo gallery | Kentucky’s post-Wichita State press conference | Adebayo rebounds, blocks UK into Sweet 16 | Offensive star Malik Monk helps lead UK to win on defense | Notebook: Experience in close games pays off in clutch | Kentucky-born seniors help raise Cats over Shockers
The biggest player on the floor of Bankers Life Fieldhouse also happened to be the best for most of Sunday afternoon. Adebayo had 13 points and 10 rebounds to lead second-seeded Kentucky (31-5) past No. 10 Wichita State in a game as hotly contested as it was expected to be, and into its sixth Sweet 16 under John Calipari, 65-62.
“We’re maturing and we listen,” Adebayo said. “We may be all freshmen, but it doesn’t matter. We’re maturing and we’re starting to get experience because we had experiences in the SEC. We had big games and we had to stay cool. We won together.”
With the Shockers succeeding in forcing UK into a half-court battle, Adebayo stepped up with his second double-double in a row and fifth in nine games. He joins Julius Randle as the only UK players since 1985 to post double-doubles in their first two NCAA Tournament games, but Randle never had a block as clutch as the one Adebayo had on Sunday.
A possession after Malik Monk turned away a Markis McDuffie 3-pointer that would have given Wichita State a lead with less than 15 seconds left, Adebayo helped off his man when he saw Hawkins bit on a pump fake. Just before the buzzer sounded, Adebayo blocked Landry Shamet’s 3 that would have sent the game into overtime.
“My man was setting a back screen for Zay’s (Isaiah Briscoe) man so I told Zay to twirl and then I guess they couldn’t get open,” Adebayo said. “They pump faked, Dom jumped, so I was like, I gotta jump. I ended up with the game-winning block.”
There were a few brief moments when it appeared Adebayo might not be on the floor in the clutch. With 5:13 left, Adebayo went up for an offensive rebound and was undercut by Zach Brown and landed hard on his hip. The thousands of UK fans in attendance collectively held their breath, but Adebayo only had one thing on his mind at first.
“For one I said ‘ow,’ ” Adebayo said. “After that, my teammates were like, ‘Are you good?’ I was like, ‘I’m good.’ I went back in the huddle, Coach talking and went back out there, the same mentality I had before.”
That mentality helped UK battle to a near draw with a Wichita State that, according to Coach Cal’s description, “viciously” attacks offensive rebounds, but it had little to do with the chatter by the Shockers that came out of Saturday’s pregame media opportunity.
“I just go out there and play basketball,” Adebayo said. “There’s nothing to trash talking. Trash talking is not for me. I just stick with my teammates and we get things done. We fight, we play hard, we go out there and just play.”
The soft-spoken Adebayo wasn’t about to engage in any back-and-forth, not even after UK eliminated the Shockers. He was characteristically quiet when asked about the trash talk, but Adebayo was much more interested in talking about his mother, Marilyn Blount, who was in attendance in Indianapolis.
“She was in the stands,” Adebayo said. “She texted me she loves me and she’s proud of me, so I just texted her back, ‘I love you too.’ ”
Adebayo isn’t shy about discussing his love for his mother or the way she sacrificed to help him pursue his dreams. There’s also little question that his humility has everything to do with the way she raised him.
“I’m blessed to have a mom because some people don’t have mothers in this world,” Adebayo said. “I feel sorry for them. They’ll never learn what a mom’s love feels like. So I’m just blessed I have mine and I can get to see mine almost every day and just kiss her on the cheek.”
Adebayo was excited to wrap up his postgame obligations so he could do exactly that, though he knew a message would accompany that customary greeting.
“She might just kiss me on the cheek and say, ‘You still got two more weeks,’ ” Adebayo said. “She’s going to tell me to keep playing hard and keep playing with my teammates.”
UK survives first round, needs to improve for next