The final score doesn’t reflect it, but there were times in this game that it seemed Kentucky was in serious danger. De’Aaron Fox turned his ankle about eight minutes in and had to go to the locker room, only to return in a boot and crutches. Without Fox at the helm, Kentucky had a bit of a go to pieces, letting South Carolina narrow the lead to three. Thankfully, a host of role players stepped up and propelled Kentucky to an 85-69 win over the Gamecocks, which is pretty encouraging when you consider the Cats played without their star point guard for 32 minutes and still beat the most efficient defense in the country by 16.
Let’s break it down, starting with De’Aaron Fox’s injury…
How long will Fox be out?
At first, it didn’t seem like Fox’s injury was too bad. He turned his ankle and went to the bench to switch to high tops, and after coming back in for a moment, went to the locker room. He returned later on crutches wearing a boot, but seemed in good spirits. How long will he be out?
“I think it might’ve been a stinger, I don’t know. But something hit his ankle,” Cal said after the game. “He is in a boot but they said there is no swelling, so I don’t know.”
Hopefully, Fox is back by the Kansas game, because without him, Kentucky looked a bit rudderless. After Briscoe struggled at point, Calipari turned to Dominique Hawkins, who filled in ably, scoring five points and dishing out a game-high seven assists to only two turnovers. With Mychal Mulder also out due to an illness, Dominique more than answered the call.
“Dom was terrific,” Cal said. “Kenny Payne just said, ‘Put Dom at point’ because Dom plays point every day in practice against De’Aaron Fox. Every day. So Dom looked fine. Again, Dom had seven assist and only two turn(overs) and one was late when none of the other guys could get open for him, so he did fine.”
Simply put, Dom was stellar, and if Fox is going to be out for multiple games, Kentucky will need more of that because…
Isaiah Briscoe had zero points
The most surprising stat line of the night belonged to Isaiah Briscoe, who had zero points, SEVEN turnovers, and only four assists. Calipari and Briscoe yelled at each other throughout the game, and when South Carolina narrowed the lead to five at the start of the second half, Calipari called a timeout to yap at Briscoe some more.
“I just told him, ‘You’ve got one minute to get it going or you’re out and I’ll go without you because you’re not doing this.’ ‘I’m okay, I’m okay.’ ‘Alright you’ve got one minute if you’re okay to play then I’m going without you.’ Then I put Dom at point guard and he played like he didn’t have every second on his shoulder. And he started making plays and coming up with balls.”
Cal was clearly frustrated with Briscoe, and came back to his performance later on.
“He had no points today. Come on. He backs into points. He had nothing today. That’s okay. We still won and he was happy as heck in there, but there’s a concern for him. Now it’s like, come on, I know I’m better than this. The kid had seven turnovers. What? Seven turnovers. And he’s not the kind of kid that does that. Not the kind of player.”
Frank Martin agreed that Briscoe running the point made Kentucky more vulnerable.
“With Briscoe, I think what hurt him too was he moved to point guard in the second half and he wasn’t off the ball, where he’s more in attack mode, but he made plays for them,” Martin said. “Seems to me he’s the backbone of that basketball team. He’s the guy that makes everyone go.”
Derek had the dunk of the night
Shoutout to the seniors for their leadership tonight. Like Dom, Derek Willis also stepped up, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds; those may not sound like flashy numbers, but Derek made some crucial plays tonight, including a huge three when South Carolina cut the lead to three in the first half and a massive dunk in the second half that got everyone in the arena on their feet.
Can we get a replay of the bench’s reaction, please?
– Dave Scott (@Finna_Go_HAM) January 22, 2017
Same, Sacha. Same.
Wenyen Gabriel turned in his third straight impressive performance
For the third game in a row, Wenyen looked like a different player, putting up 11 points, five rebounds, two assists, a block, a steal, and no turnovers in 27 minutes. Wenyen was 3-8 from the three-point line, and although his shot fell off in the second half and he had a few “freshmen moments,” he did all the stuff that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet as well. With he and Derek playing this well, the four spot suddenly went from Kentucky’s weakest position to a pretty sound one. Cal agreed.
“I thought that Derek and Wenyen, again, they’re just giving us so much now. 23 points, 12 rebounds at that position. Making threes, making open shots. Rebounding balls. They had 23 points combined, 12 rebounds out of that position.”
Malik and Bam led the team in scoring
It says a lot about Malik Monk that he scored 27 points and I’m just now getting to him in the recap. He and Bam led the team in scoring with 27 and 18 a piece, and Calipari implied that he wants Bam to be more demanding in the post to get more touches from his guards.
“I told Bam after the game, you’re too nice. I said I would strangle a couple of these guys that aren’t throwing you the ball. If I was you, I would. You’re so nice, you don’t say anything. And we’re throwing him the ball, but it’s like it’s forced. It shouldn’t be forced, he’s that good. I even said, is he selfish? They said, no, he’s not selfish. Well, then throw him the ball. And if he’s double teamed he gives it back to you.”
When Bam’s 5-6 from the floor, it’s hard to argue with that.
How about that prediction, Seth Davis?
I don’t like to shove crow down people’s throats, but we have to give Seth Davis a little grief tonight. Yesterday, Davis predicted that Kentucky would lose to South Carolina and only score 61 points. Predictably, Kentucky surpassed that mark with almost thirteen minutes left in the game. Granted, South Carolina wasn’t firing on cylinders. Not only were they without starting guard PJ Dozier, the flu bug apparently was going around, making the nation’s number one defense look even weaker. Yet, it’s also worth pointing out that Kentucky was without De’Aaron Fox for 32 minutes, Mychal Mulder the entire game, got zero points from Briscoe, and still beat the second best team in the league by sixteen. Not a bad night in the least.
Finally, congrats to Mitch Barnhart on the birth of his new grandson
UK’s athletic director welcomed a new grandson into his family tonight, Reece Mitchell Willoughby. This is the second child for Mitch’s daughter Kirby and her husband McKenzie, and big brother Cooper looks especially proud in this picture. In a true sign that he’s a Kentucky fan, Reece was considerate enough to wait until halftime to come into the world. Also, I’m pretty sure that’s the beginning stages of a three goggle.