By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — There was nothing easy about it but Kentucky did win.
After Tuesday’s 34-point loss to Duke Tuesday night, any win was needed and Kentucky got it with a 71-59 come from behind victory. Kentucky trailed 44-37 before guards Quade Green and Immanuel Quickley helped spark a rally that got UK in front for good at 49-48.
Maybe it was a hangover from the Duke loss. Maybe it was just lack of concentration. Maybe it was brilliant Southern Illinois defense. Whatever the reason, Kentucky had 13 turnovers in the first 13 minutes (UK had only six the rest of the game) and center Reid Travis, UK’s best player against Duke, had two fouls in two minutes.
“We are going to show them every turnover and just ask them why,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
It was that kind of night for the Wildcats before the seemed to get in gear a bit midway of the second half, make some shots, get out in transition and also make some defensive stops.
“You have to give credit to the crowd. They did a great job,” Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said. “But those two Quickley 3-pointers were back breakers.
“I thought we played our ass off. I asked our guys to their play butts off, play unselfish and stick to the game plan. I thought we went 3-for-3. There is a difference in losing and getting beat. Tonight we got beat. But I was really proud of our guys. Majority of the game we went toe to toe with them and we knew what we were going to get tonight.”
Quickley had 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting along with four rebounds. However, the point guard did not have an assist.
Green, who was a no-show against Duke, had 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting from the field and 4-for-5 at the line, along with three assists. Like Quickley, he had two turnovers.
Freshman Keldon Johnson had 15 points (5-for-10 shooting), four rebounds and two assists while EJ Montgomery gave a big lift with 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
Nick Richards, another no-show against Duke, had 19 rebounds, eight points and three blocks in 27 minutes.
“We need Nick on the court. I knew after Duke where they shot layup, layup that we need a shot blocker in there,” Calipari said. “The three blocks and EJ got two, that changes the game. Nick gives us something we don’t have. He should have had about 10 more shots. But if he will fight, we can deal with the rest of it. Happy for him. I was worried.”
Travis finished with six points and five rebounds in only 14 minutes.
“We wanted the guards to beat us,” Hinson said. “I thought Travis played pretty good the other night and he was really a focal point for us.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari called Southern Illinois, which returned five starters, a NCAA Tournament team.
“We made strides today,” Calipari said. “I am going to ride the guys who are playing well.”
Calipari said getting “smashed” by Duke has changed how he will coach going forward and he’s leet the team know that.
“I was more aggressive today. Could you tell? I was happy with Immanuel and how he dealt with it,” Calipari said. “It’s how it is. He played really well and made big shots when we needed them.
“But I am holding their feet to the fire and saying what is acceptable. You will see a much more disciplined basketball team. That is on me, not them. I have got a lot of work to get this team where it needs to go but I am loving this group of guys. Don’t blame anybody. Don’ blame fans. Don’t blame the officials.”