Tammie Brown | Kentucky Today

Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drove toward the basket in the first half against Kansas State in the South Region semifinals on Thursday night at Phillips Arena in Atlanta.

Slow start costs Cats in Sweet 16 loss

ATLANTA (KT) — Kentucky fended off one set of Wildcats in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament but couldn’t duplicate the feat in the Sweet Sixteen.

The fifth-seeded Wildcats saw their postseason run come to an end with a 61-58 loss to No. 9 seed Kansas State on Thursday night at Philips Arena. It marked John Calipari’s first loss in the regional semifinals in his tenure as coach of the Wildcats.

Prior to Thursday’s loss, the Wildcats were 6-0 in Sweet Sixteen games under Calipari. Kentucky ended the season at 26-11.

Kansas State (25-11) will face Loyola of Chicago in the South Region finals Saturday. The Ramblers (31-5) edged Nevada 69-68 in the opening game of a doubleheader.

Kansas State guard Barry Brown made two free throws with 19 seconds remaining to break a 58-58 deadlock and Amaad Wainright made one of two free throws to send the Wildcats into the regional finals. Kansas State made nine shots from long range.

Kentucky missed a pair of 3-pointers — one by Quade Green and another by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — in the final seven seconds and failed to overcome an early deficit. The Wildcats committed 15 turnovers and failed to get into a consistent flow against the stingy Wildcats.

PJ Washington paced Kentucky with 18 points and 15 rebounds but missed 12 free throws. Overall, the Wildcats finished 23 of 37 at the free-throw line.

Gilgeous-Alexander followed with 15 points, scoring 13 of those in the first half. Gilgeius-Alexander made just one of his first seven shots from the field, but connected on 11 of 12 free throws. Gilegous-Alexander and Washington combined for 20 points in the first frame.

Kentucky trailed 33-29 at the half but scored seven of the first nine points of the second half to claim its first lead of the game. Quade Green’s 3-pointer with 17:18 remaining gave the Wildcats a 36-35 advantage.

Kansas State, known for its stingy defense and timely shooting, responded with a 9-0 run and rushed the margin to 47-38 with 12:45 remaining.

Kentucky, which trailed for just two minutes combined in wins over Davidson and Buffalo, got off to a slow start against the opposing Wildcats, who scored seven in a row to open the contest.

Kansas State connected on four of its first five field goals, including three shots from long range and built a 13-1 four minutes into the contest. Kentucky fell behind 11-0 at Arkansas last month but rallied and tied the score at 43-43 at the half before posting a dominating 87-72 win over the Razorbacks in Fayetteville.

The two teams combined for 26 fouls in the opening half, with four Kentucky players collecting more than two fouls in the first frame. The Wildcats made just six shots on 23 attempts, including just one 3-pointer on five tries in the first half.

Xavier Sneed led Kansas State with 22 points, but fouled out with 1:14 remaining.

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KANSAS ST. 61, KENTUCKY 58

KANSAS ST. (25-11)

Sneed 7-14 3-7 22, Mawien 0-4 0-0 0, Diarra 2-6 0-1 5, Stokes 2-7 1-1 6, Brown 4-15 4-5 13, Stockard 0-0 2-2 2, Wade 1-2 2-2 4, Wainright 2-3 2-4 6, McGuirl 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 19-54 14-22 61.

KENTUCKY (26-11)

Washington 5-7 8-20 18, Richards 0-0 1-2 1, Knox 5-10 2-2 13, Gilgeous-Alexander 2-10 11-12 15, Diallo 1-4 0-0 2, Gabriel 1-5 1-1 3, Killeya-Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Green 2-5 0-0 6. Totals 16-42 23-37 58.

Halftime_Kansas St. 33-29. 3-Point Goals_Kansas St. 9-22 (Sneed 5-8, Diarra 1-2, McGuirl 1-2, Brown 1-4, Stokes 1-5, Wainright 0-1), Kentucky 3-12 (Green 2-4, Knox 1-3, Diallo 0-1, Gabriel 0-2, Gilgeous-Alexander 0-2). Fouled Out_Sneed, Mawien, Stockard. Rebounds_Kansas St. 27 (Sneed 9), Kentucky 38 (Washington 15). Assists_Kansas St. 12 (Stokes, Brown 3), Kentucky 6 (Gilgeous-Alexander 5). Total Fouls_Kansas St. 30, Kentucky 21. A_15,616 (19,049).