ATLANTA — Kentucky tried talking down the matchup that went from possible to probable even before halftime.
The Wildcats say they worry only about their own play. No matter.
Bluegrass State bedlam is about to begin.
With defense fueling the transition game, the Wildcats ran their way to a huge first-half lead as they beat Baylor, 82-70, Sunday at the Georgia Dome to clinch a spot in the Final Four and set up a showdown with in-state rival Louisville.
It’s the first time the two programs will meet in the Final Four.
“It’s going to be a hard game for us,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who earned his 100th win as the Wildcats coach. “Don’t worry about them – let’s just worry about us. That’s what I’m trying to get across to our fans. I’m just worried about us playing at our best. If that’s not good enough, it’s been a heck of a season.”
During one 10-minute stretch on Sunday in this Elite Eight game, Kentucky wasn’t just good enough. It was almost perfect.
During that run, the Wildcats didn’t miss a field goal attempt, going 11 for 11 from the floor. The only blemish for Kentucky was two missed free throws.
The Wildcats, once down 10-5, soon completed a 35-8 spurt to put away the Bears and clinch the South Regional title.
With steals and stops, the Wildcats were often on the run.
Regional Most Outstanding Player Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the leader, finishing transition chances with ease. The freshman was 7 of 10 from the field and finished with a team-high 19 points.
With 3:31 to go before halftime, Kidd-Gilchrist had as many points (17) as Baylor did as a team. The Wildcats went on to take a 20-point lead at the half.
“It’s kind of hard because we’re very long and very athletic. Everybody on the team,” Kentucky’s Anthony Davis said of facing his team. “So it makes it challenging for the teams that face us.”
With the big lead, most of the early second-half drama for Kentucky (36-2) was centered on Davis’ left knee.
The 6-foot-10 freshman went down after getting fouled by Perry Jones III. He limped to the bench and took a seat before walking around a bit. He quickly returned and wound up posting 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots.
After the game, Davis didn’t show concern about the knee and should be able to play against Louisville.
But even after Davis’ return, Baylor, which took 23 more shots than Kentucky did in the second half, eventually got as close as 10 on a Pierre Jackson 3-pointer.
But less than a minute remained, and Kentucky closed it out.
Quincy Acy had 22 points to lead the Bears (30-8). The senior scored 42 points and made 15 of his 22 shots in two Atlanta games – the last games of his collegiate career.
“This university has done so much for me. I wouldn’t have asked to go anywhere else,” Acy said. “I’m happy to be a Baylor Bear.”