Kentucky beat Ole Miss 96-78 tonight at Rupp Arena, but that score hardly reflects what a weird and sloppy game it was. Let’s go over the Cats’ fourth-straight win before we turn our sights to Florida and the SEC Tournament.
The first five minutes were unwatchable
The first five and a half minutes of the game took 25 minutes thanks to four technicals, three reviews, and a whopping twelve free throws. Ole Miss’ Marcanvis Hymon managed to get thrown out three and a half minutes in, a good indicator of how dirty the Rebels were willing to play. As a result, it took Kentucky forever to get into a flow, but an 8-0 run over 1:38 helped the Cats assert control and take an eight-point lead into half.
The second half didn’t start much better
Just when it looked like Kentucky was ready to rout, they lost focus and let Ole Miss cut the lead to two at the 14:37 mark. Instead of face planting, the Cats fought back with strong post play before Quade Green and Hamidou Diallo broke the game open with back-to-back threes. Before the game, John Calipari said he was worried about his team reverting to bad habits; when asked, he said Ole Miss just wanted it more at times tonight.
“They didn’t revert back, but we didn’t play with the kind of intensity and passion we’d been playing with. I thought Ole Miss outhustled us, beat us to 50/50 balls, and until the last 15 minutes, I thought then we got after it a little bit.”
A loss to Ole Miss would have been unforgivable, so you really can’t complain about Kentucky pulling away to an 18-point win, no matter how ugly it got.
The offense continues to improve
Given how stilted the first half was, how amazing is it that Kentucky finished it with 50 points? The Cats’ 96 total points are the most they’ve scored in an SEC game this year. Tellingly, they’ve scored at least 80 points in each of their last four wins.
Kentucky finished the game shooting 50% from the field, 44% from three, another encouraging sign for the offense. For the fourth straight game, five players finished in double figures, nearly six if Hami had one more point. Calipari once again told the story of a scout watching the team over ten practices and telling him he didn’t understand how this team could shoot so well in practice and so poorly in games.
“It’s not one of my best shooting teams, but it’s far from being my worst. I would say right now it’s in the top-three of my shooting teams.”
Top three may be a stretch, but man, they look a lot better.
Shai flirted with a triple double
Shai did more Shai things, notching his first double double of the season with 17 points and 10 assists. He was also assertive on the glass, pulling down seven rebounds to flirt with a triple double. Shai may not throw lobs as well as Quade Green, but no one drives the lane better than he does, making him a cornerstone of this team’s success.
Speaking of Quade, he was excellent again tonight, finishing with 18 points (7-12 FG, 2-6 3PT) and four assists. As Calipari said, he’s flourishing in his role off the ball.
“Quade was good. Quade again away from the ball, one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three. When he’s got it and they’ve got their defense synced in, he’s not that guy. But away from the ball, killer. Absolute killer. And makes basket, he’s a scorer. He makes great decisions. He was great today.”
Knox had his third-straight 20+ point game
Kentucky goes as Knox goes, and tonight, he led the Cats in scoring once again with 22 points (7-17 FG, 2-5 3PT) to go along with four rebounds. Knox wasn’t perfect — he knows he can pass on a fast break, right? — but there’s no denying that when he’s playing well, the team is way better off for it. According to Corey Price, Knox now has nine 20+ point games this season, the most of any forward in a single season in the Calipari era.
Vanderbilt didn’t play great and still had 11 rebounds
Vanderbilt only had five points tonight but made up for it on the glass, pulling down eleven rebounds. As Calipari said, only Jarred could register in double digits on an otherwise off night.
“This game he had 11 and I didn’t even think he really got after it,” Cal said. “He didn’t have the passion, he didn’t have the energy he had had those other games.”
Ugly game aside, Calipari is excited about progress
Kentucky’s winning streak has everyone feeling better, particularly Calipari, who said this team wore him out so much a few weeks ago he had to start taking naps in the afternoon. With four straight wins under their belt and March around the corner, there’s no denying Swaggy Cal is back.
“I’ve been through all the stuff, I know when a team is getting better. My team was getting better. We got better when we played Auburn. I mean we were getting better. We needed a break through, we needed to build their confidence, they had to go win a game.”
Bring on Florida.