It looks like it’s going to be a Holly Jolly Christmas break for the Cats as they now depart for some family time after waxing the Winthrop Eagles in front of nearly 23,000 fans at Rupp Arena. You fell in love with Doron Lamb all over again and you want to be his Secret Santa. I get it. But, you can’t get within 500 feet of him, so do the next best thing. Tune in to the UK postgame show on WHAS featuring Matt Jones and you, the star. You can listen online here or let the world hear your thoughts by calling (502) 571-8484.
A few notes…
– Obviously, the big story was the sensational shooting day of Doron Lamb. Lamb started the game 4-4 from downtown as the Cats raced out to a 29-11 lead. As noted below, he would finish with a freshman-record 32 points on an incredibly efficient 11-12. Think about that again for a second. He scored 32 points on 12 shots. Absolutely amazing. It’s been clear throughout the season that he isn’t bothered by coming off of the bench and, arguably, has been the season’s most pleasant surprise to this point as he’s consistently scored the ball as the first guy off the bench. As was the case with Eric Bledsoe last season, you can expect the talk start to heat up about Lamb entering the NBA Draft. It’s probably still far too soon to start worrying about any of that stuff, but the sheer fact that it’s now in the conversation is a tribute to how well he’s performed to this point. Wednesday’s game was just the most empatic statement of a season full of solid offensive performances.
– Somewhat lost in the shade coming off of the bright lights surrounding Doron Lamb was another outstanding game by Brandon Knight. Despite the box score saying that he contributed four turnovers and only two assists, Knight’s performance was again one of the better all-around games he’s had this season. Obviously, he scored the ball well, finishing with 21 points, but he also directed a UK offense that clicked as well as it has at any point this season (more on that in a second). The performance was even sweeter given the panic that set in when he went down early in the first half clutching his knee. He returned with a sleeve on his left knee and did not seem hindered.
– Doron Lamb’s shooting was clearly phenomenal, but you have to give UK’s offense as a whole credit. It seemed as if the Cats got open looks on nearly every possession that they turned over the dribble-drive. Winthrop isn’t the most athletic team, but it was still a nice thing to see in the afternoon game before a holiday break.
– Again, not a great performance by Terrence Jones. He struggled again with putting the ball in the basket (5-16), but seemed to remain active throughout the game, even after being benched to start the second half. Jones is an energy player and that benefits him on nights when he’s knocking down shots. He just has to make sure he’s taking good ones. In one stretch of the first half, Jones forced a bad shot off of a post move, committed a charge and then shot a three-pointer over the rim. He finished the first 30 minutes 2-9 from the field. As he’s shown throughout the early portion of the season, he is an unstoppable force when that energy is corralled. That’s where he needs to be.
– The good news with Jones’ slump, though, was Eloy Vargas looked like a basketball player for the first time in his UK career and posted 8 points and 3 rebounds in 13 productive minutes. He also elicited some feverish cheering from Coach Cal after getting an “And 1” in the second half and caught an assist from Jon Hood for a dunk. Had you bet that exacta, you’d be the richest man on the planet. Nice effort from Eloy. (Jorts had rebounds, he’s not getting his own paragraph).
– As a team, it was another strong shooting performance from downtown. The Cats shot 55% from behind the three-point line against Winthrop, making 12-22. If there’s been anything that’s been a surprising positive to this point, it has to be the ability to knock down the three. But, as we’ve said before, there’s a fine line between being a good team from deep and relying on the shot. It’s going to be important that this team finds the balance. The percentage will likely drop as the year goes on, as it did for last year’s team, which was the best in the history of the school at this point. The three should be a luxury.
– Along that same note, the Cats again did a great job of knocking down free throws. Against Winthrop, they finished 11-13 for 85%. Not bad. It didnt’ really matter on this day, but it will at some point. And the Cats look like a team that can win a game because of that stat. On a related note, I saw something early Wednesday that said Terrence Jones is on pace to break the all-time single season record for free throws. He only shot one against Winthrop, but that’s one heck of a stat.
– As a final quick note, you have to be pleased with the resiliency Kentucky showed in the first half when Winthrop made a comeback to cut the lead to 9. The Cats responded with a 10-0 run to finish the half and bury the Eagles for good. Again, that’s the sign of a good team.
Be back in a few. You can check out the Cats’ box score here in the meantime.