INDIANAPOLIS — Bam Adebayo isn’t so much asking for Kentucky’s guards to get him the ball anymore. It’s more of an expectation now.
The freshman big man tallied another double-double in Kentucky’s first round win over Northern Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament during a Friday night game that leaked into Saturday morning. The 79-70 tally was an underwhelming performance from the Cats, but Adebayo’s 15 points and career-high 18 rebounds overwhelmed the Norse.
His efficient scoring on just 9 shots is what makes Kentucky’s offense dangerous. De’Aaron Fox can fly by folks and Malik Monk can shoot it, but Adebayo’s 6-foot-10, 260-pound frame is a bullying force.
“They was trapping him all game, but Bam’s a fighter,” sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe said. “We found ways to get him the ball and get him easy baskets.”
Adebayo was 5 of 9 from the floor and 5 of 6 from the free throw line. His free throw percentage is still below par, but it’s risen to 66 percent.
“All I can ask from my teammates is to get me the ball and hopefully I keep scoring and getting fouled,” Adebayo said.
Calipari said he expected Northern Kentucky to trap the big man, but he still managed to command a post presence. NKU doesn’t have a player on its roster taller than 6-foot-7 and it showed.
“The offense was to get Bam the ball pretty much,” senior guard Dominique Hawkins said. “We were playing through him.”
Kentucky can play through Adebayo like it did Friday. Other days it can play through sharpshooting Monk, slashing Fox or bruising finisher Briscoe. The Wildcats can still win even without all the components clicking. Monk was just 3 of 11 from the field and 0 of 6 from behind the arc against Northern Kentucky.
“We’ve got a lot of mismatches,” Adebayo said. “I believe can’t nobody guard Fox one-on-one in open court or Malik one-on-one. Just taking all the mismatches and use it to our advantage.”
Adebayo was Kentucky’s advantage at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday. He recorded his fifth double-digit rebounding performance in his last 10 games after going on a 17-game stretch earlier in the season without one. He’s averaging 14.4 points and 11 rebounds in his last 10 games.
The “give-it-to-Bam-gameplan” could change against No. 10 seed Wichita State on Sunday, but if Kentucky’s guards are blanketed, Adebayo doesn’t mind being demanding.
“If they’re open I’m gonna tell them to shoot it,” he said. “But if they’re covered and I got a man behind my back, then yeah, I expect them to throw me the ball every time.