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I like the team I saw tonight

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

Three minutes in, it looked like another one of those nights. Kentucky was down 11-0 in a deafening Bud Walton Arena with Arkansas showing no signs of slowing down. Then, something funny happened. Instead of shrinking into the shadows as they have several times this season, the Cats fought back, going toe-to-toe with the Razorbacks to turn a horrible start into an 87-72 win. More importantly, for the first time this season, they seemed to find their identity, giving a weary fanbase a much-needed dose of hope heading into the final stretch of the season.

Here’s what I liked from my team, because for the first time in a long time, there was a lot to like.

We found the lineup

After much experimentation, it’s clear that Kentucky’s best lineup is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, and Jarred Vanderbilt. Funny enough, three of those guys didn’t start. Calipari went away from the rotations last week in hopes it would inspire his players to fight for minutes; it worked. Quade, PJ, and Jarred came off the bench to put up 36 of Kentucky’s 38 bench points. With Wenyen rotating in as the sixth man, Kentucky was the best version of itself, which is why it’s a little perplexing to this blogger that Calipari doesn’t just go ahead and start them.

What about Hami? He struggled again, putting up only two points and one rebound in ten minutes. His plus/minus was the lowest on the team, at -9. Still, Calipari insists this team will need him down the stretch.

“Here’s what I told Hami, just so everybody knows,” Cal said afterwards on the postgame show. “I said, Hami, we need you to do what I want this team to do. I’m not — you’ve understand, I’ve got to win the game. If someone’s playing better than you, I’m leaving them in. If you look a little confused, I’m taking you out. but you have to keep working to play great. And it may take another week or two. We need you to do this.”

The second half was the best we’ve seen since West Virginia

Kentucky’s regression a few weeks ago was troubling to say the least, which is why it was so refreshing to see them play coherent basketball in the second half. The fundamentals that have perplexed this squad so often this year were their biggest strengths in the second half. The ball movement was better (thanks, Jarred Vanderbilt!), the defense around the basket was better, guys weren’t afraid to fire away from the outside, and the Cats dominated the boards 46-29. As Cal would say, what?? There’s no denying that tonight was the best Kentucky’s played since coming back vs. West Virginia — or maybe all season —  a testament to their newfound crisp, confident attitude.

Kevin Knox was more consistent

Kevin Knox has a bad habit of disappearing in games, but tonight, he contributed 11 points in the first half and 12 points in the second. A 30-second span in the second half shows you just how important Knox is to this team. With twelve minutes to go, he hit a jumper to tie the game, grabbed a huge rebound off an Arkansas miss, and laid it up to give Kentucky the lead for good. We’ve said it all season, but for Kentucky to be its best, Knox must score consistently.

PJ Washington earned his flexes

With Nick Richards struggling to contain Daniel Gafford down low, Kentucky needed someone to step up and be physical in the post. PJ Washington answered the call. Calipari has begged PJ to take leadership of this team throughout the season to no avail, but the freshman was Kentucky’s most efficient player tonight, registering a +24 in plus/minus. He had 13 points (6-10) and 10 rebounds off the bench, along with 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. For Kentucky to keep building momentum, PJ cannot revert. Not even an inch.

That flex to give Kentucky the lead late in the first half said it all:

Jarred Vanderbilt’s becoming a game changer

A month after his debut, Jarred Vanderbilt has knocked off the rust to become the dynamic playmaker Kentucky needs, but not in the way you’d expect. Vanderbilt gives the Cats two things they desperately need: good passing and rebounding. Watching him run the floor and look ahead to deliver the ball to the open man is a thing of beauty. He finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal in 19 minutes. To whatever extent Vanderbilt disrupted Kentucky’s flow a month ago, the team is better off with him now that he’s settled into his groove.

Hello, momentum

Does this win mean Kentucky is over its growing pains? Certainly not. I fully expect more face plants before all is said and done; however, it is a big step in the right direction. Kentucky now has a path to the double bye in the SEC Tournament, which is more important than ever. After the game, Calipari said the four-game losing streak was the best thing to happen to this group because it made them confront their issues and band together. Nothing is better for a young team than a little momentum, and after back-to-back wins, Kentucky finally has some; how will they carry it over to Saturday’s rematch with Missouri in Rupp Arena?

Time will tell, but man, I feel better about it after that win. Phew, what a day.


Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

19 Comments for I like the team I saw tonight

  1. syrin23
    12:49 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

    So the question is does Cal stick with this line up, and can they keep playing like this consistently? We didn’t have a 5 minute scoring drought and had more assists than TO’s. We have to keep that trend. Our defense has become championship caliber, and the rebounding has followed suit. Those teo things alone will keep you in most games.

  2. callitlikeiseeit
    12:55 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

    It was a road win but I am still not expecting anything from this team, maybe 1 win in tourney. Last 7 games vs average to bad teams we are 3-4 and only cause Vandy {a bad team} handed us a home win. Ark has now lost 6 times by 14 points or more and their best non conf win is vs a bottom Big 12 team. SEC has no title contender but I will say the bottom of the league, even Vandy and Ole Miss, is better than any other conf bottom feeders. Trouble is the top of the league is not good. Auburn has zero quality non conf wins, a big 0. UF is in same boat, heck we probably hav the best non conf win of any SEC team…vs WVU. Ark and Bama are bubble teams and we are acting like beating them has made us so much better, yes is better than losing but does not mean we will beat any good teams.

    • callitlikeiseeit
      1:00 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

      Should also add that seeing Knox and Washington get 6 def rebounds each is a good sign they are becoming more physical.

    • DelrayCat
      2:06 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

      You seem knowledgeable…however, I think the ENTIRE country is average. Watching Michigan State before the UK game and wondering how is this team #2 in the country??? Purdue, Nova, Kansas, Duke, etc. all have warts. This season is WIDE OPEN…and whoever is playing best at the end will win it all.
      Cats play like they did today…we got as good a shot as anyone!!

    • kenny
      6:33 pm February 21, 2018 Permalink

      He’s so knowledgeable! That’s why he predicted a beat down in Fayetteville, glad he was wrong.

  3. 72uksprinter
    12:59 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

    What a day, indeed.
    It’s always good to bleed blue but today is one to remember.
    Thanks for the late night post.

    • Luether
      12:46 pm February 21, 2018 Permalink

      Agree! Another spot-on post, Mrs TT…

  4. BigBlueNationDude
    2:35 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

    Me too. Its the other nights that are brutal.

  5. Aar
    2:39 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

    Mrs TT, I like the way you’re thinking and would like to add a few thoughts.

    I really like Washington and Vanderbilt together on the front line. They instinctively play well together, off of each other, space well and communicate. It somewhat reminds me of a Roby/Phillips combination (I know, too much of a way back machine thing). I’d rather say Bowie/Turpin but the sizes match Roby/Phillips better and the outcome of their Senior season is more what we want. So, who are this team’s Macy and Givens?

    I like it that 3 of these core 5 come off the bench. I think Green, Vanderbilt and Washington bring better energy to the game, for this team, when they have a chance to read the opponent from the bench first. Also, this is silly but it just seems like this team fouls early and I’d rather that those fouls get hung on the starters instead of the core 3 that we want to have closing out the game.

    Gabriel is a really good 6th man in this scenario. He matches the energy and rhythm of the core 5 and gives a different look.

    Diallo, Richards and Killeya-Jones all need to continue to get 10 minutes per game. They are good players, need to improve, need to get more in sync with the core 5 and will make valuable contributions down the stretch. Diallo and Richards seem to need to start to be at their best.

    For all of the posters who call Arkansas out as a soft team to beat, two stats: with this win the Cats are 2-3 on their last 5 in Bud Walton and opponents are now 2-14 in Bud Walton this season. Further, Arkansas HATES UK with a blood vengeance (who knows why they even think this approaches a rivalry – they never beat us outside Bud Walton). This much-maligned UK team just spanked that @$$ in their house.

    I like this team’s upside. I’m never gonna be comfortable that “they got this” but they are showing signs of coming together the way I’d hoped at the beginning of the year. Vanderbilt’s emergence has been a catalyst as I expected. Bring on Michael Porter Jr. As bad as college basketball is this year, we can still keep our “on the 8s” streak alive and get number 9. Three more games to “land this plane”….

    • Aar
      2:56 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

      Cal’s favorite thing to say about MKG was that he always found a way to help his team, even when his shot wasn’t falling.

      Until the WVU game, Diallo was the antithesis of that. If he wasn’t scoring, he wasn’t helping. Since WVU he’s been making strides in that area. Look at the stint he play around the 12:00 mark in the second half tonight. He did some unselfish things that delivered decent results (note that I refrained from using the word great). He’s moving in the right direction and more is needed. As Cal says, we’re gonna need him.

  6. Jiminy Crickets
    8:13 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

    The “tweet” this team needed was benching Hami. Since his minutes dropped to less than 10 per game, they look more cohesive. The fan base has been screaming all year Hami is a team ball destroyer. I hope the best for him, but he has a long way to go to just be a rotational player

    • Jiminy Crickets
      8:31 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

      Tweek, damn autocorrect

    • UK Big Board Update
      9:01 am February 21, 2018 Permalink


  7. Biglaw Dawgin'
    8:27 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

    Regardless of how Hami is playing, if Coach puts him in, it’s got to be for more than 10 seconds at a time, then pulling him straight out. I certainly like Coach’s comments to him after the game, but getting yanked immediately is the most frustrating thing in the world and depletes confidence. Hami just needs to get hot one game to get his confidence back up. And, I agree, he needs to swing the ball more instead of being a Carmelo-like ball stopper, but I’m betting he’ll correct that once he gets going.

  8. Shagaris Sock Puppet
    8:37 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

    Ive said for weeks now you have to trust that Cal knew what he was doing if there was any hope. Playing players that wasnt ready and sticking to his instincts is what got these guys to trust him and finally start to turn into a complete team. He knows what it takes to be great. He kept hammering the idea that if these guys could eventually play man to man and rebound and start to make shots, this team could contend in March. Not be a 40-0 veteran mixed with talent squad, but a squad that by march, would be able to gain more confidence by the day and be able to compete with the best teams in the country. The good news is that they will only play in 1 more hostile environment before its all neutral or big blue take over country after Florida. When you think of it, this has never been done before, there is no model to base this off of because the team is so young and inexperienced. The level of improvement is so fast and grew so quick because of Cal getting them to excel in a short amount of time. When you look at that, how can you not marvel at what hes been able to do?

  9. Alleykat16
    8:38 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

    I don’t understand why all these dook and parrot fans come on here talking out the side of their neck yall dont know dodo just a bunch of egg sucking dogs and you know what happens to a egg sucking dog, you get dropped at the dog pound. This team has withstood all the talk and now they are starting to grow up to be a big dog you have got to be a puppy first well these boys ain’t ?’s no more. They’ll still take a lost but they ain’t going to run back up on the porch no more they gonna fight till the last horn these ?’s are now big dogs they dont sqaut to pee they hike their leg

    • Bob Sacamano's Rat Hat
      9:22 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

      Google Translate couldn’t do anything with this.

  10. PillsburyThrowboy
    9:27 am February 21, 2018 Permalink

    If there is one player I want back for next season more than anyone, it’s Vanderbilt. That dude is as athletic as they come at 6’9″ and he’s a game changer. He is my favorite player on the team right now. I love watching him play.

  11. jonthes
    12:07 pm February 21, 2018 Permalink

    This should be followed by two home wins, and they showed at ARK they can beat FL at FL. Payback game. If not for two bad non-calls at Rupp, they’d be 10-5 and solidly in second place in the SEC, with Auburn fading.