Kentucky desperately needed a win in Gainesville to have a puncher’s chance at earning its 49th regular season Southeastern Conference championship and the No. 1 overall seed in next week’s SEC Tournament. And though the Cats were without Derek Willis, who warmed up with the team before the game, it got the job done and handled the Gators in the final true road game of the season, 88-79.
The story of the game is, believe it or not, the emergence of one Skal Labissiere. Labissiere flirted with a double-double with 11 points and eight rebounds, before sitting down with foul trouble in the second half. If Labissiere had been able to play a little more than 15 total minutes, it is very likely would’ve recorded his first double-double of his career.
Skal Labissiere did what?
That’s right; Skal Labissiere was outstanding in his first start since the Ohio State game. He reached double figures in scoring for the first time since late January, and set a new career-high with eight rebounds in only his second game with more than five rebounds in conference play.
Afterward, John Calipari said, “Skal was terrific today. He only played 15 minutes, but if he can give us 15 minutes like that, we are pretty good.”
There is still a whole lot to improve defensively, but Labissiere took a giant leap forward Tuesday, the same day he fell out of the lottery in ESPN’s mock draft.
Was this the “tweak”?
If so, it worked. Simple, yet effective.
Jamal Murray tied Jodie Meeks with nine consecutive 20-point games.
Murray’s 21 points marked his ninth straight 20-piece, tying him with Jodie Meeks for the most in Kentucky basketball history. With one more in Saturday’s regular season finale, Murray will stand out all alone with a record 10 consecutive games with 20 or more points.
The streak didn’t look good at halftime, though. Murray had only three points on 1-of-6 shooting when the two teams went to the locker rooms at intermission. He needed a perfect 4-for-4 (3-for-3 from deep) from the field and five free throws in the second half to reach his team-high in scoring.
With the big night, Murray moves up to fourth in single-season scoring by a UK freshman, passing Terrence Jones and falling two points shy of tying Julius Randle. He needs only 20 points to pass John Wall for second, or another 60 to match Brandon Knight’s 657 scored in 2010-11.
The smart money is on Murray becoming UK’s all-time leading freshman scorer by season’s end.
Kentucky’s frontcourt combined for 33 points and 29 rebounds.
It wasn’t the perfect game from Calipari’s four big man, but it was better than anything they have done lately.
Alex Poythress recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, his fourth of the season and first since the Eastern Kentucky game in early December. It came at the perfect time, too, after a heinous game in the loss at Vanderbilt.
He said, “Coming off a loss, you always want to step up and play big. Nobody likes to lose and we wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths.”
Isaiah Briscoe made five of his six free throws. I repeat: Isaiah Briscoe made five of his six free throws.
AND HE WAS 4-OF-7 SHOOTING FROM THE FIELD!!!
That shot’s coming around, just in time for the postseason.
Florida’s John Egbunu had nine dunks despite Calipari’s game plan to prevent that.
The Florida big man had a career night with 27 points and an absurd nine dunks. Unfortunately, defensive breakdowns paved the way for most of Egbunu’s slams, raising concerns about UK’s frontcourt on that end of the floor.
Calipari said, “A guy went in and left (Egbunu) and they were throwing bounce passes to him. It wasn’t like it was post-ups, it was bounce passes, lobs — our whole thing was back up and make the guards shoot balls, we’re not giving him bounce passes. He got three and I went crazy.”
“That’s what happens when you have a young team.”
Tyler Ulis found his outside shot, and his teammates.
Ulis broke his shooting slump with two three-pointers for six of his 19 points, as well as 11 assists for his seventh double-double and third in the last four games.
With a combined 40 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds between he and Murray, is there any doubt Kentucky has the best backcourt in the country?
Shots fired in the O-Dome!
The win was very, very, very impressive.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, Kentucky didn’t have to rely on Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis to do everything. All five starters scored in double figures for the first time this season, while Marcus Lee and Isaac Humphries contributed off the bench, Lee especially.
Throw in Labissiere’s breakout offensive game, Isiah Briscoe making shots, and the fact Derek Willis did not play; and this was a very promising road win.
Goodbye, SEC road games!
So long, home-cooked SEC officiating! Adios, t-shirt giveaways and sold out seats!
From here on out, it’s one last stop in Rupp Arena and all neutral sites for the remainder of the season. And with the way you crazy people travel, blue will be getting in everywhere.
Happy March, everybody. Let’s do this.