The Cats led Southern Illinois by just three points at halftime: 31-28.
After basically three halves of incredibly frustrating basketball, Kentucky had to find a way to win against the Salukis tonight. Now, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to write.
And yet, Coach Calipari and his team finally did just that – and just in time to come away with the win. The Cats cut their number of turnovers from 14 in the first half to just five in the second. Kentucky scored just 31 points in the first 20 minutes of action; in the back half of the game, they scored 40. What was the difference? Nick Richards says it was the team’s attitude and aggression.
“That’s not something coaches can teach. That’s just something we as a team have to come together and put our foot down and say that’s not going to ever happen to us again,” referring to their lackadaisical efforts against Duke. “And today, we saw ourselves going back toward that in the beginning and just fought through it. We got some defensive stops…coaches drew up some wonderful plays and we just got a “W” out of it.”
Even Calipari came out with more aggression tonight, according to the head coach himself.
“I was more aggressive today. Could you tell? I was a little more aggressive today,” Cal said. “And I was happy with Immanuel [Quickley] and how he dealt with it, because it is what it is. It’s a man’s world, let’s go.”
Kentucky definitely brought a stronger performance in the second half, but Southern Illinois started to slip up as well. Kentucky’s bench was too deep for the Salukis to handle, and once UK started picking up the pace and drawing fouls, the Cats began to pull away.
“We knew that wasn’t the best we could do in the first half,” Richards said. “Coaches were just telling us to keep pushing for it, keep pushing for it, keep fighting. They said [Southern Illinois] would eventually let go of the rope and you saw what they did – they let go of the rope.”
And thank goodness they did.