Marshall Henderson waited his entire life for this game. But, tomorrow, when he wakes up, he’ll wish it never happened. He’ll want to go back to the buzzer-beater against Vanderbilt, the 32 points at Tennessee, or those game-winning free throws against Auburn. He’ll want to go back to when people outside of P.J’s Wine & Liquor in Oxford, Mississippi cared about his existence. But those days are no more.
Henderson was the hottest thing not named ‘Seth Curry’s mom’ in college basketball entering the game. The nationally-televised contest against the defending national champion was to be the day he sealed his spot as college basketball’s best scorer and despised villain, so he thought. Instead, he looked like that guy everyone hates to play with, the one who jacks up brick after brick with a hand in his face and no sign of slowing down, or making one.
Sure, Marshall Henderson scored 21 points against the Kentucky Wildcats, but it took 19 field goal attempts and the good fortune of an early double bonus in the first half to get there. The three-point sensation who was going to pick Kentucky apart with his sharpshooting connected on just two of his 11 three-point attempts. One of those almost shattered glass, two feet to the left of the rim.
He’s choking, how? Everybody’s joking now. The clock’s run out, times up, over, blaow.
Holy Kyle Wiltjer! Where did that guy come from??? Wiltjer played his best game as a Wildcat, scoring a career-high 26 points and playing assertive on both ends. Wiltjer was absolutely unstoppable offensively through most of the game as he stole the spotlight out from underneath Marshall Henderson’s do-rag. He got buckets, as the kids say. The scoring is something we’ve seen before from Wiltjer, but what stood out the most about his performance is the intensity and emotion he showed after making those buckets. And by that, I mean he talked a lot of sh-t to anyone who thought they could slow him down. And what about that dunk??? What have those chefs in Wildcat Coal Lodge been feeding this guy??? Hell of game from Wiltjer. Man, I’m pumped.
As good as Wiltjer was on offense, Nerlens Noel was just as good on the defensive end. Noel blocked a career-high 12 shots, five of those coming after he re-entered the game with four fouls. Ole Miss went on a 16-0 run after Noel committed his fourth foul but he came back in and played incredible defense around the rim to help Kentucky hang on to what was a 17-point UK lead before the Rebel run when Noel went to the bench. The way he contested shots while avoiding a fifth foul was one of the better defensive performances I’ve ever seen, and it came when Kentucky needed it the most. Some have said he’s a better shot blocker than Anthony Davis, me included, and tonight he proved it by setting Kentucky’s single game blocks record and moving past where Davis was at this point a year ago. Davis had 93 blocks through the first 20 games last season; Nerlens Noel now has 95.
Ole Miss’ Murphy Holloway called Noel “the best shot blocker to ever play the game.” Those are strong words from a strong competitor who has been in the SEC for, like, eight years, it seems. Even Patrick Patterson can’t believe he’s still around.
Excuse me, who are you and what did you do with Alex Poythress? No. 22 came through for Kentucky tonight after struggling with foul trouble in the first half. Big Blue Nation thought Poythress’ two quick fouls would impact the game, but it was the way he responded in the second half that had the real impact. Poythress played like the Poythress we’ve all been waiting for; aggressive, assertive and powerful with no mental lapses or timidness in his game. He ignited the Cats with 13 points and six rebounds in the final 20 minutes and I think we might’ve even heard a loud roar or seen a smile or two from him along the way. It’s a process with Alex, as Cal has said over and over, but he continues to move in the right direction.
Archie Goodwin scored 24 points and most of you didn’t have a clue. Lost in all the love for Nerlens, Wiltjer and Poythress was a steady, high-scoring performance from Archie. He did half of his scoring at the line, thanks to his reckless but effective penetration, and connected on 12 of his 14 free throw attempts. He also made good passes in the open court, seriously, dished out four assists and added six rebounds. We said before the game that Archie needed to worry about defense and leave the scoring to someone else, and, well, he went ahead and dropped a 24-pack on Ole Miss, anyway.
The screen grab sums up SEC officiating this season:
Ummmm… Nothing? You’re just going to look at him?
Hang on, now. We’re not done patting the Wildcats on the back. Ryan Harrow also played well, considering he’s pretty much been absent in Kentucky’s last three games. Coach Cal said he was pleased with Harrow and happy to see him back on track. There were a few lapses here and there — Cal mentioned Harrow hanging his head a couple of times — but still a good game from Kentucky’s point guard. We also saw solid performances from Julius Mays, Jarrod Polson and a brief stint from Jon Hood.
Coach Cal was in good spirits after the game so he used that positive energy to joke about Tad Smith Coliseum: “I said, ‘Andy, want me to mention something about building you a new building?’ You’re 17-2, will you please build the guy a new building? I mean, the locker room we’re in, I’m looking for squirrels in there. You gotta be kidding me. You got all these football facilities — this campus is gorgeous; this campus is like none other; this is one of the nicest college campuses in the country, EXCEPT FOR THIS BUILDING! This is the only bad building on the whole campus.”
Some quick-hitters before I call it a night:
— Have you ever seen so many fouls called in the first 5-10 minutes of a basketball game? I was almost certain we’d see Sam Malone running point to start the second half. Kentucky’s entire backcourt picked up two early fouls each and Ole Miss found themselves in the double-bonus with 12 minutes left before halftime.
— Call of the Game: “Wiltjer passes to Polson… Polson inside to Hood… Hood back out to Wiltjer… Three is good!” Maybe there is some potential in the ol’ Wiltjer-Polson-Hood-Wiltjer offense.
— If there’s an NCAA record for pump fakes after the catch, Julius Mays has it.
— Kentucky ended the game on a 14-2 run to seal the victory, the school’s first win in Oxford since the Tubby Smith era.
— Nerlens Noel has had six or more blocks in six straight games.
— Wiltjer’s dunk was only the fourth of his career. He destroyed Marshall Henderson on a screen before cutting towards the basket for the slam. Hopefully we get a .gif out of it tomorrow.
That’ll do it for now. Great win and Go Cats!