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Cats put the throttle to Missouri, pull away for 87-66 victory

UK players enjoyed Saturday’s win. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

On a night where Kentucky honored its 1978 national championship team, coach John Calipari’s team played like a team with championship aspirations of its own.

The Wildcats took control of the game late in the first half and easily avenged an earlier loss by thumping Missouri 87-66. To make it even better for UK fans, Brad Calipari hit a 3-pointer to end the scoring and give UK its biggest margin of victory in a SEC game this year.

“Right before your eyes we are becoming a better basketball team,” Calipari said. “I am not fighting anybody. It took us a while to figure out the team. We are an athletic team. We can play different ways.”

Coming off a win at Arkansas when it fell behind by 11-0 and then won by 15 points, this win certainly continued to send the message that Kentucky is not dead yet like it appeared during a four-game losing streak. Remember then that Calipari said his team just needed to win one game to get back on track, and now UK has won three straight and played perhaps its best back-to-back games of the year.

Kentucky got 23 points on 12 Missouri turnovers and outscored Missouri 10-0 in fast break points.

Kentucky had six players in double figures — and Jarred Vanderbilt had his first double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds in 27 minutes. He’s been a beast on the glass during UK’s win streak and was again in this lopsided win. He has 33 rebounds in the last three games. He’s averaging 11 points and 11 rebounds per game during UK’s three-game win streak.

Kevin Knox, who had his named linked to a FBI probe of college basketball Friday, played like a player who no worries — and UK obviously had no worries about playing him. Despite getting in early foul trouble, he led Kentucky with 21 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 at the foul line.

“I think he was great all week,” Calipari said. “He was patient in the second half when he didn’t play much the first half. It’s amazing in the last three weeks how much he has learned. He needs it badly.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was superb with 14 points, eight assists, five rebounds, one steal and just one turnover in 35 minutes. Quade Green was just as good with 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, two assists, two rebounds, one steal and just two turnovers in 27 minutes.

“We have guards that are talking and playing,” Calipari said.

Hamidou Diallo has struggled in recent game but he had 11 points and more impressively was 3-for-3 from 3-point range. He did not have a turnover in 25 minutes.

“I gave Hami a hug and the team gave him a standing ovation. I wasn’t going to kick him to the curb,’ Calipari said. “I love that our fans gave Hami a standing ovation. You should see the smile on his face. The players love it. They know he was struggling.”

Then throw in 12 points, five rebounds and two assists from P.J. Washington and it was a total team domination victory by Kentucky, which opened the game 6-for-8 from 3-point range and finished 10-for-16. The eight first-half 3’s were a season high for any half.

“They are a talented team. It was more than shooting. With Vanderbilt and P.J., two young guys that rebound and keep balls alive. That was the biggest key. Their movement and relentless effort. I thought both those guys played great games,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin.

“They were at home. Most teams play at home with more energy. When you make shots, it also looks differently and they just played well as a team. From a toughness standpoint, they set the tone and we could never match the toughness level.”

Calipari said Missouri is one of the top 25 defensive teams in the country but his team passed and executed better and shot much better.

“We just made shots,” Calipari said. “In March you got to be able to score. I kept telling these guys you had to get 75 or 80 on the board against a good team. We are starting to play and figure it out. I am proud of them.

“We are scrambling now. All of a sudden there are effort plays we are making. We can risk more and the more you can risk, the better you are going to be. This team is beginning to know we have to do this together.”

That showed when Kentucky ended the first half with some dynamic plays to break the game open.

First it was a half-court pass from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to P.J. Washington for a dunk. Next came a Quade Green fast break basket where he never slowed down. Then the best of the best was a steal by Hami Diallo and a dunk that took out six weeks worth of frustration on the rim followed by a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to boost UK to a 44-32 halftime lead — and Kentucky didn’t let up the second half.

* * *

The win keeps Kentucky (20-9) tied for third place in the SEC with a 9-7 record. Arkansas won at Alabama Saturday to improve to 9-7 while Mississippi State is also 9-7. Florida upset SEC leader Auburn in Gainesville to go 9-7 also.

The top four teams in the SEC get a double bye into the quarterfinals. With wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State, UK would have the tiebreaker edge over both teams. Florida currently would have an edge over UK because of its win in Rupp Arena but the teams play March 3 in Gainesville to end regular-season play.

10 comments

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  1. 3-0…you gotta like it. Seems like the guys starting to get some confidence. They are moving better and communicating a little more. Six players in double figures. Wenyan, SKJ, and Richards had a total of 3 points between…hard to believe most of them 5* recruits or at least 4*. One of two of them will probably have to show up if we are to make deep run. Vando certainly the game changer for us, especially on the inside. Our inside defense showing up but need to find a way to defend the three more. Looking forward to Wednesday.

  2. I’m pretty sure I said this before”the sky is not falling”. 6 guys in double figures so no big deal a few others did not score much. Amazing how much better a coach Cal is and how the BB IQ of these guys has changed. Truth is the negative Nelly’s have issues with what Cal is doing win or lose. They wait for the loss then repeat their often heard agenda. Even when we win the responses are passive aggressive with a just wait till they lose again undertone. Not quite sure why that is but hey. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I for one will be positive when or lose. Great win .

    GO BLUE OR STAY HOME!

  3. Negative Nelly here:
    Great team effort, but let’s not get too stoked over a three game winning streak.

  4. Why not. You blew a gasket over a losing streak! Like I said “even when we win the responses are passive aggressive with a just wait till we lose undertone”. But hey at least you know who you are !

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK GO BLUE OR STAY HOME! !

    1. Cool your jets, Hoss.
      Nobody has “blown a gasket” around here.

  5. Very nice win. We manhandled Mizzou and it was a sight for sore eyes. Vando is a beast. Heartwarming to watch the big fella rebound. Knox cruised to 21 points. It was wonderful to see Hami have a great game. Green played his usual top notch game at the point with Gilgeous Alexander and Washington also providing solid contributions. It was beautiful to watch.

    GO CATS

  6. UK looked really good last night, and they have improved Team play with each of the last 3 games. Vanderbilt is a difference maker and it really helped when Diallo was able to score some points and play a little bit of defense. As Cal said, it is much easier when you are making shots. From these last 3 games, UK has one more test to see if they are tournament ready. They hit shots last night, so they were talking, passing, and playing decent defense, now can they still do the talking, passing, and defense, if the shots are not falling. This has been, in my opinion, one of their weakest points. In the past, when they weren’t hitting, some players were pressing too much, while others were just not willing to play defense. If they can do those things while not making shots, and make the other team struggle as well, then we will know they are tournament ready. I would also liked to have seen Richards and Jones get into the game the last 2-3 minutes to get some confidence as well. No need for Knox, Alexander, or Vanderbilt to be on the court and risk getting hurt, when the game is decided.

  7. Vanderbilt is exciting to watch and the other team members appear to feed off his energy. I’m really impressed with him.
    In regards to the overall team performance…I’m cautiously optimistic at this point.

    GO BIG BLUE !!!

  8. UK has simply done for the last several games what BBN expects them to do, and that is win. That said, they are still not atop the SEC. For many basketball fans, and UK, that is not a good place to be. They are rising up, playing team ball now, with the right players on the floor, that’s good, but it ain’t over yet. They have not done anything to crow about yet with Auburn and UT sitting atop the SEC. Let me see what this team does at SEC tournament time. As for their play recently, glad to see effort, and fight. Vanderbilt has been the difference IMO. That and putting several others on the bench to watch and get motivated. Go Cats!!!!.

    1. AMEN !!!

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