A month ago, Kentucky would have lost a game like this. Georgia looked like a totally different team than the one that lost to Kentucky by 34 points last month. In the first half, Georgia made 61% of their shots to Kentucky’s 45%. At halftime, they led Kentucky 49-44, already eclipsing their point total from February’s blowout in Rupp.
Surely they couldn’t keep that up, right? Wrong. Georgia kept making shots in the second half, and it wasn’t until the 8:16 mark in the second half that Kentucky finally took the lead off an Isaiah Briscoe layup. The fact that it was Briscoe that put the Cats ahead speaks volumes of his performance. Twelve points and seven rebounds aren’t exactly MVP numbers, but Briscoe’s defense in the second half was crucial. Derek Willis capitalized on Briscoe’s game-turning layup with a big block, and from there, Kentucky slowly pulled away, winning by a final score of 93-80.
At halftime, Briscoe definitely wasn’t MVP material. Calipari ripped into the freshman guard early on for his play, and after the game, the two joked about a “very private conversation” at halftime.
“As a coach, he demands the best out of you. And that’s all he did. I appreciate him for pushing me,” Briscoe said.
“Did you appreciate me at halftime?” Cal asked.
“Now that the game is over, yes. But at the moment, no,” Briscoe joked.
The rest of the backcourt wasn’t bad either
…and that’s the understatement of the century. Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis combined for 51 points, the first time in school history that two UK players have each scored 25 or more points in an SEC Tournament. For Murray, it was the 12th straight game he’s scored 20+ points, and in the first half, he passed the UK freshman single-season scoring record. After the game, he felt so good, he photobombed Calipari:
I’m totally fine with this becoming a thing again, by the way.
Derek Willis is back
Willis had a big game vs. Georgia in February, and today, he made the most of the matchup once again. Willis finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocks, helping fill in for an AWOL Skal Labissiere. His two threes rivaled Tyler Ulis’ for the biggest of the game.
How about Alex Poythress down the stretch?
Kentucky’s frontcourt was atrocious during the first half, but when the Cats needed points, Alex Poythress stepped up, scoring two huge baskets to get Kentucky closer to the lead. He was hampered by foul trouble during most of the second half, but finished with ten points. Not quite yesterday’s monster performance, but valuable contributions all the same.
Charles Matthews didn’t score, but made an impact
Matthews played well vs. Georgia last month and, even though he didn’t score, infused the team with energy and hustle. Matthews’ three rebounds were crucial, but it was his defense that earned him a bear hug from Calipari, who was so happy he broke
“I was happy for Charles,” Cal said. “He’s been struggling, and I’m trying to get him to understand the best version of him is an unbelievable defender, sprint the court, slash for baskets, offensive rebound, rebound defensively and fly. That’s the best version of him.”
There’s a lot to like about this win
The first half may have given me a few gray hairs, but there are a lot of promising things about this afternoon’s win. With the bigs MIA and Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis having to carry the load throughout the first half, this game felt like all of Kentucky’s losses this season; however, Briscoe, Willis, and Poythress stepped up to help right the ship and hold off a red-hot Georgia team.
“That was a great test,” Calipari said. “That was a war. We got down, and we didn’t stop. We kept playing. And they didn’t go away. We had to make big plays and big rebounds down the stretch to even think about beating them.”
Next up: Texas A&M
The Aggies had a cakewalk vs. LSU today, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about the chance for some revenge. Bring it on.