College basketball may be falling apart behind the scenes, but in Kentucky, things are coming together, and at the right time.
Kentucky looked great for a third straight game on Saturday with a redemption win over Missouri. The 87-66 victory stretched UK’s current win streak to three and pushed the ugly four-game losing streak farther back in the rearview mirror. It also propelled the Cats in the SEC standings, which had a six-way tie for third place entering the day.
As I’m sure you saw, there is a lot to be excited about from the blowout win, Kentucky’s 20th on the season. Join me in numbering that excitement in this weekend’s edition of the 10 takeaways and observations from the game.
1. Six of the Cats reached double digits.
The Cats shared the rock and got everyone involved as six players scored 10+ points in the game. Kevin Knox led the bunch with 21 points; followed by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 15; Quade Green and P.J. Washington with 12 apiece; and Jarred Vanderbilt and Hamidou Diallo, each with 11. Gilgeous-Alexander also had eight of the team’s 16 assists. It was a great game for the offense, which is finally answering Calipari’s call to trust each other.
2. Jarred Vanderbilt was a rebounding machine.
Vanderbilt matched his career-high in rebounds (11) with 15 minutes still left in the game, and finished it out with a remarkable 15 rebounds in a career-high 27 minutes of action. The big night produced the first double-double of his career, and you’d be smart in assuming it won’t be his last.
Oh, and he was perfect from the field, so it’s time we lay off his scoring ability too. He’s playing insanely well.
3. Hamidou Diallo smiled again.
Diallo got a warm reception from Rupp Arena when he drained a three-pointer early in the game. He would go on to hit another two three-pointers, and throw down a big dunk, all part of a bounce-back game for him. Hopefully, it got him out of the nasty funk he’s been in and will get his confidence back up because he’s too good to be a non-factor like he had been in recent weeks. Good for Hami.
4. The win likely punched Kentucky’s ticket to the dance.
Not that there was any serious doubt about Kentucky’s postseason future, but let’s say there was; it’s gone now.
5. Missouri scored all of its points on that one guy’s stepback three.
Kassius Robertson has one move and it’s a deadly one. You know what I’m talking about — that stepback contested three-pointer he kept taking over and over. I think it’s the only way Mizzou scored all night. Good for him. He can step back to Missouri with the L.
6. Michael Porter Jr. DNP
Mizzou’s Michael Porter Jr. once projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, decided not to test his back against Kentucky. After missing all but two minutes in the first game of the season, Porter Jr. was cleared to return to basketball this past Thursday. There was talk that he might give it a go in Rupp, but he did not get out of his warmups.
I will say, though: Porter Jr. looked like the best basketball player ever in the pregame. I watched him hit about 49 of 50 three-pointers, some as deep as the UK logo, prior to the game. He has a great outside shot and plenty of size and athleticism to go with it. He’ll be special if he can stay healthy.
7. Where is Jemarl Baker?
I couldn’t help but notice Jemarl Baker wasn’t on the UK bench for yet another game. I do not know what’s going on with Baker, but something’s up there. He’s been missing from the bench the last couple of games.
Tai Wynyard was also MIA again.
8. E.J. Montgomery saw a good game.
Saturday was a big recruiting night for the future of UK basketball. E.J. Montgomery was the biggest name in attendance; the five-star power forward, ranked sixth overall in the 2018 class, was on an unofficial visit. UK also hosted KyKy Tandy, an in-state kid out of University Heights Academy in Hopkinsville, and point guard Elijah Wood, a 2020 prospect.
9. The 1978 reunion was very cool.
The ’78 national champs were honored at halftime with player-by-player introductions after a special tribute video to their special season. Like many of you, I didn’t exist when Joe B. Hall coached the Cats to a 30-2 record and the title, but it was still a very cool experience to be in Rupp Arena as they were celebrated, 40 years later.
10. It’s impossible to not be excitement about March.
If you watched Kentucky’s last three games, you know they’re looking much better each time out as the pieces are finally falling into place. The fans who wrote this team off as “never getting out of the first weekend” may want to backpedal on that mindset and keep an open mind toward what can happen. I’m not saying this team will do anything amazing, but you can’t ignore the potential of some fun in March if they keep pushing forward. And as we’ve seen around the landscape of college basketball, there isn’t an unbeatable team in the country.
All together now… “I like my team.”