It’s happened time and time again this season: just when you get comfortable with Kentucky, they find a way to disappoint you. Not tonight. Kentucky built on an impressive performance against Florida with another big outing tonight, beating Georgia 82-48 on a rather weird night at Rupp Arena.
Simply put, the Cats were everything we knew they could be, shooting 52% from the floor while holding Georgia to a paltry 22%. Jamal Murray followed up his 35-point outing with another hot night, scoring 24 points, including six threes. Tyler Ulis and Derek Willis had good games, finishing with 14 and 11 points, respectively. The Cats were in cruise control for most of the game, and honestly, outside of a scoring drought near the end of the first half, there’s not a lot to complain about.
Regardless, I’m sure some of you will find something, so let’s break down the 34-point romp.
Jamal Murray had the hot hand again
Coming off a career-high 35 points vs. Florida, Murray was on fire again tonight, finishing with 24 points off 8-14 shooting from the floor and 6-10 from behind the arc. At times, when Jamal had the ball and time to set his feet, you knew it was going in. Calipari’s been on Murray to make the easy shots first and stop showboating, but old habits can be hard to break. At the end of the first half, Murray couldn’t help himself from trying to float a shot in from the baseline, drawing the ire of Cal in the postgame presser.
“Better. He’s getting better. He had the one baseline flip, he could not help himself. It’s like crack cocaine; I’ve gotta do this. And he flipped it under, had no chance of making it. But he’s getting better,” Cal said.
I’ll admit that Murray’s antics have annoyed me at times, but when he’s scoring 20+ and shooting like that, you can’t be too upset.
Derek Willis looked great
Willis had 11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block in 28 minutes, helping fill the void inside with Alex Poythress out. Willis reasserted himself in the post, showing some major confidence with this steal and slam:
“I’m really proud of him,” Calipari said of Derek after the game. “He’s rebounding the ball. He’s getting better defensively. Still not there. But this team believes in him and he believes in himself more.”
Here’s an interesting stat from UK Athletics’ Corey Price: Willis is the first Kentucky native UK player with six rebounds in seven consecutive SEC games since Winston Bennett in 1987-88. Derek made Bullitt County proud tonight, especially when he spent part of the postgame interviews praising Tyler Ulis.
“Without Tyler, we don’t have a team. Probably not a .500 team,” Willis said of Ulis, who finished with 14 points and 8 assists. “I don’t think he gets enough credit. Every game, he should be the talk.”
He’s right, and whenever Tyler leaves, we’re going to find out just how spoiled we were. Selfishly, I don’t want to worry about that for a while.
Charles Matthews put in some good minutes
It’s been a rough season for the freshman from Chicago, but he bounced back in impressive fashion tonight, scoring seven points and grabbing five rebounds in eleven minutes. Matthews, once a liability on both ends, made the most of his opportunity with Alex out.
“I thought Charles Matthews was outstanding today,” Cal said. “And it’s not because he made shots. It’s because he came up with balls and he blocked shots. He did some good stuff. Happy for him, too.”
An impressive performance on both ends
Tonight was a balanced affair. The Cats took care of business on offense, connecting on 52% of their shots from the floor, but for once, that wasn’t at the expense of defense. Kentucky limited Georgia to 48 points and 22% from the field, their best defensive performance of the season. The Bulldogs went 17:57 between field goals, missing a whopping 22 baskets.
“There were some bad shots in there,” Mark Fox said of his team’s 18-minute scoring drought. “There were some good shots in there. There were a couple great shots in there that just didn’t go down. It just snowballed on us and we could never recover.”
What’s the difference between the team that collapsed defensively at Tennessee and tonight’s steel curtain? Practice and poise.
“A lot of our issues defensively was because we had shifted to really work on our offense, because I thought our offense a month ago was just pitiful,” Cal said. “Now we’re back playing defense, and if you walked in our practice, you’re not seeing us play much offense. We’re really working on our team defense, the ability to fight through a possession, to finish off a possession, to scramble, to not only play your man, play one more, the stuff we normally teach here.”
Alex will be out two weeks
In case you missed Ryan’s scoop earlier, Alex Poythress reportedly underwent a minor procedure on his knee and will be out 10-14 days. Calipari didn’t divulge whether or not Alex had surgery, but did confirm the timetable for his return after the game, telling reporters Alex will be out “about two weeks.”
“It gives him a chance to come back on fire,” Calipari said. “It gives us a chance to get Isaac and these kids chances to play, maybe put Charles Matthews at the four. Our team is playing well, two of our better games. We’ll hold the fort down until Alex comes back. He’s a big part of what we’re doing. He’ll be fine.”
Was this Dancing Guy’s last dance at Rupp?
With Kentucky up big, another story stole the show in the second half. During his “Mony, Mony” routine, Dancing Guy picked up a young girl and slid down the railing, per usual, only to fall and drop the girl to the steps. Thankfully, both of them seem to be okay, but it was a scary, scary moment, and one that may signal the end of Dancing Guy’s ritual shimmy and shake for the cameras. The clip made “SportsCenter.” Will he return? Or, after his Katina Powell quote drop, will Ryan Lemond suddenly be free to replace him? Only time will tell.
For tonight, be happy the Cats won big. Get some rest, we’ve got a lot to talk about in the morning.