For the first 58 seconds, Missouri led Kentucky, but Derek Willis quickly dashed the Tigers’ dreams with a three, the first of four for him on the night. From there, the rout was on, and Kentucky didn’t let its foot off the gas until the very end, winning by a stunning score of 88-54.
From start to finish, tonight’s win was an incredible performance by the Cats, who, sure were playing a bad Missouri team, and yes, expectations should be tempered going into Saturday’s game at Kansas, but for now, let’s just enjoy this beatdown, because we haven’t had a lot of them this season.
How about that start?
“They played great. We didn’t play very well.”
That’s how Missouri’s Kim Anderson summed the game up afterwards to reporters, and he’s right. Kentucky did play great, holding Missouri to 20 points in the first half. After Missouri’s opening layup, Kentucky went on a 20-0 run until the Tigers finally hit a free throw with 14:29 left in the first half.
“I don’t want to say we didn’t compete, but I think we just got run over by a truck early in the game,” Anderson said. “From the start, I thought they played with an incredible amount of energy. It reminded me of last year’s game, to be honest with you, when we came in here.”
Considering last year’s team, I don’t think you could ask for bigger praise, but Anderson kept doling it out. He was so gracious that when a reporter forgot his name, calling him “Ken,” he said, “It’s okay, I’d forget my name too.” Ouch.
“We had no answer. We had no answer to anybody for a long time. I think you have to give them credit. They played great. They seem to be playing better and better,” Anderson said. “But when they’re playing like they’re playing tonight, they’re really, really good.”
John Calipari admitted Anderson and Missouri caught Kentucky on a bad night.
“They got the buzz saw today,” Calipari said of Missouri. “This, we played as well as we can play. And we did it the entire time.”
Derek is the difference
After being just a blip on the stat sheet, Derek Willis has broken out in the past four games, averaging 12.2 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Tonight, he had a career-high 18 points and 12 rebounds, only the second double-double of his career. He looks like a totally different player in every possible way.
“I just said after the game, I said, Derek, you’ve taken minutes from people in this room, do you want to give anybody back minutes? And he’s even being honest. He said, Coach, I just want to win. He’s playing desperate,” Calipari said. “He’s made us a different team.”
I mean, just look at him:
DEREK!! (The montage music to this is hilarious) pic.twitter.com/D3N5G67Rg5
– Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) January 28, 2016
To Derek’s dad, girlfriend, and whoever else lit a spark under him, thank you.
Skal flexed them bones
After sitting out most of the Vanderbilt game because of mismatches, Skal Labissiere burst back on the scene tonight, scoring 12 points off 6-8 shooting and blocking a career-high 5 shots. After a few of them, he actually flexed at the camera:
Skal ðŸ’ª pic.twitter.com/IbdtSGW9Q8
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) January 28, 2016
“Skal certainly was a factor and is obviously one of the best players in the country,” Kim Anderson said afterwards. “Unfortunately for us, he kind of really started to find himself tonight.”
At halftime and after the game, Calipari accepted blame for trying to make Skal a big like Karl Towns or Shaquille O’Neal when he clearly is not.
“I probably screwed Skal up, I’m trying to make him Karl Towns. He’s not Karl Towns. Can’t play like Karl Towns. He probably shoots better than Karl Towns. Karl will love hearing that, but he’s not Karl. Karl had a nasty beast streak in him.”
The one bad part of Skal’s stat line that Calipari was fine pointing out during his postgame show?
“He’s got to rebound or I cannot leave him in the game!” Cal exclaimed. “How many rebounds did he have today? None! Now, listen. We’re going to play Kansas. What if he doesn’t defend and rebound, can I just leave him in the game to shoot shots? You can’t be in! I mean, I love you, stay with me tonight at my house, I don’t care, but I can’t leave you in against Kansas unless you defend and rebound.”
Odds Skal is on his way to the Calipari’s with his sleeping bag right now?
Tyler Ulis, as always, was amazing
Again, it speaks volumes that Tyler had 20 points and 8 assists tonight and I’m just now getting to him in the recap. If you’re keeping count, that’s Tyler’s eighth game this season with 20 or more points and 5 or more assists, a historic feat that I’m not sure we can ever appreciate enough. Tyler isn’t just leading this team, Calipari says he’s coaching it.
“Tyler was ridiculous,” Cal said. “He’s basically coaching the team. I mean, he’s making comments at halftime or telling, where are they playing, how are they playing this, and he’ll go tell his teammates, and he’s on the board.”
Isaiah Briscoe had himself a night, putting up 15 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 0 turnovers. How good was he feeling? He hit back-to-back free throws, earning an enthusiastic round of applause from Rupp Arena. After spending time trying to teach Briscoe and Jamal Murray to play “winning basketball,” Calipari couldn’t have been prouder, calling him “the best defensive guard and rebounding guard in the country.”
Calipari also added that Tyler and Briscoe have started the “Breakfast Club” up again, following in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s footsteps from 2012. If that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will.
Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee still struggled
Alex Poythress did okay tonight, scoring eight points and pulling down seven rebounds, but Marcus Lee was missing in action, finishing with two points, three rebounds, and three blocks in nine minutes. Towards the end of the game, Lee finally got rolling, but Calipari was disappointed in both veteran big men after the game.
“Our team, we’re playing desperate now. We’re playing with an attitude. Refuse to lose. That’s their — now Alex didn’t today. Instead of saying I’m getting 25 today, Alex didn’t. I don’t know why,” Cal said. “Marcus Lee, not enough energy.”
I’m all for Derek and Skal playing well, but you have to think that for Kentucky to make some serious noise in March, they need Alex and Marcus playing well. But for now, Derek’s play is putting them on the bench.
“Now they got to fight to get minutes back, which means our practices will be better or they will give up,” Cal said of Alex and Marcus. “They got a choice. You can give up or fight.”
Bring on Kansas
A few weeks ago, I dreaded Saturday’s game against Kansas. After three incredibly promising performances, I’m not expecting the Cats to go in there and win, but I feel a hell of a lot more confident about their chances.