DES MOINES — Kentucky looked ugly in the first half of its tournament opener against Stony Brook on Thursday night.
The Wildcats’ rough start netted 10 points over the game’s first 11-plus minutes, allowing the Seawolves to stick around despite their own horrid shooting, which included 14 straight missed shots during one early stretch.
Nerves were a factor, according to point guard Tyler Ulis, but a lack of Kentucky fans at the Wells Fargo Center — several thousand fewer than the number that showed up in Nashville last weekend for the SEC tournament — apparently threw Kentucky’s game off.
“A couple guys weren’t ready to play and everyone wasn’t excited,” Ulis said. “With the TV timeouts it was a little dead, but we will be excited for Saturday.”
Junior Marcus Lee was a little more blunt.
“Where is everybody?” he asked Courier-Journal.com‘s Kyle Tucker. “It’s weird not having all of Kentucky follow us this time.”
Kentucky caught fire in the second half and rolled to an 85-57 victory against the overmatched Seawolves, but it wasn’t necessarily due to a renewed vigor from those in attendance. By the final whistle, there were nearly as many red-clad supporters from tiny Stony Brook as there were fans in blue.
In Saturday’s Round of 32 game against Indiana, Wildcats players might not be able to rely on a surge of Big Blue fans to spur them on.
Athletic director Mitch Barnhart thinks fans are focused on buying Sweet 16 tickets in Philadelphia instead of traveling to central Iowa.
“I’m confident we’ll be outnumbered on Saturday,” Barnhart told Tucker, “which is unusual for us.”
What’s next? Kentucky-Indiana tips off at 5:15 p.m. ET Saturday at Wells Fargo Center (CBS).