Your University of Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team survived and advanced with a win over Georgia on Friday in a very solid performance given the circumstances. The Cats were without Jarred Vanderbilt, who we labeled as the difference-maker only a few weeks ago, but they played well in his absence and sent the Bulldogs home with a 62-49 defeat in St. Louis. Let’s talk about it with some takeaways from the win…
PJ Washington shined when Kentucky needed him most.
With Jarred Vanderbilt out and two centers who have underachieved, Kentucky needed a big game from PJ Washington, and he answered the bell. Washington had a game-high 18 points plus seven rebounds in 35 minutes of action against a bruising Georgia frontcourt. He was also great defensively in a near-perfect game in his first SEC tournament, with a lot of eyes looking to see what he would do.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was also great.
Washington earned our imaginary Player of the Game award, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also received votes in a close second-place finish in the race. Gilgeous-Alexander was a stud on both ends and fell one assist shy of a double-double with 15 points and nine assists. He now has the fourth-most assists by a freshman in the programs’ history, and you can go ahead and get ready to hear his name being whispered a little bit more on the national scene. It was a great first start to his first college basketball postseason, which I think will be his only college basketball postseason, especially if he continues to play like he did against Georgia.
Kentucky might’ve played its best defense of the season.
The Cats held Georgia to under 50 points in the win, which is easily the lowest point total by an opponent this season. Georgia isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse, but it was still very impressive to watch UK hold them to 49 in the game, and at a time when the Dawgs were playing their best basketball coming into the game.
Yante Maten couldn’t do Yante Maten things.
Adding to the praise of the defense, we should note that Georgia’s best player made only two shots in the entire game. Yante Maten, who came in with averages of 19.6 and 8.7 rebounds per game, was held to only nine points and four rebounds. Kentucky successfully stopped the one Georgia player who could beat them.
Nick Richards can’t do it.
Nick Richards, bless his heart, just can’t contribute, despite John Calipari still starting him every game. He played only six minutes in the game and scored as many points as you and me, while grabbing only two rebounds and allowing many more to someone in red. Richards will be good one day and it’s great to have him in UK blue; that day, however, is unlikely to come this season. He has regressed and Cal cannot continue to play him when he isn’t contributing anything.
Hamidou Diallo is smiling again.
Diallo hit his only three-point attempt and finished with seven points. Decent game for him, but the smile and confidence appear to be back, and that’s what really matters. Maybe he’ll break all the way out of the funk and start getting buckets again?
Kevin Knox rebounded.
Knox had nine rebounds, the most for him since the LSU game over two months ago. Someone needed to step up on the boards with Vanderbilt out, and Knox took on a big part of that load.
He also passed to a teammate on a fast break!
Kentucky will get red hot Alabama in the semifinals.
Auburn got sent home early in an embarrassing loss to Alabama, therefore Kentucky will get the Fighting Collin Sextons in Saturday’s first semifinal game, not the top-seeded Tigers. Sexton has been incredible through two games in St. Louis. The freshman point guard averaged 29 points per game in two upset wins, and he’s hot from outside with a 9-for-14 clip from three-point range. It’ll be a huge test for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the UK backcourt to contain him. If they can’t, he may keep Alabama’s SEC tournament dream alive another day.