Congratulations to the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans for bringing a terrific effort to Freedom Hall tonight, making the Kentucky Wildcats fight and claw for everything they wanted. The Sun Belt Conference team came into the contest with a 5-10 record, but played, minus its top performer, like a team on a mission. I'm sure the BBN wishes coach Steve Shields and his team the best of luck as conference play begins (of course, except when they play the WKU Hilltoppers).
The 'Cats, trailing by three points at the half, were clearly suffering from a big red hangover after Saturday's huge win over the Louisville Cardinals. UK's offensive spacing was dismal, the perimeter defenders were hedging late on the shooters (a problem all season), and lackluster Wildcat play was the rule, clearly evident by the team's 13 first half turnovers (to UALR's three turns), and inability to gather any 50-50 balls. But something tells me John Calipari got their undivided attention at halftime, sending the 'Cats out of the locker room more focused, more intense, and clearly intent on putting the hard-fighting, upset-minded Trojans away.
For the individual particulars, follow me after the jump:
Anthony Davis -- Coming off a huge effort against the aforementioned Cards, Davis did not rest on his considerable laurels. Instead, he played the most complete game of any Wildcat on this night, finishing the game with a team-high 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, and, yes, a team-high 16 rebounds (four offensive), to go along with three blocks.
Davis continues to be one of the best players in the nation, and with his continuing improvement almost all but assured, his ceiling is as high as Willie Nelson.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- While the frosh wasn't his normal, overly aggressive, intense self through the first 20 minutes of action, MKG picked up the defense and hustle in the second stanza, finishing with 10 rebounds (five offensive) and nine points on 3-of-7 shooting. Evidence that Kidd-Gilchrist wasn't himself in the first half, though, is his five first half turnovers (MKG had but one miscue in the second half).
Per Coach Cal: MKG will be looked at by the UK medical staff tomorrow. He's experienced discomfort in his rib cage the last two games. Cal seems to think it's a muscle issue (perhaps pulled) and not in any way related to his heart.
Terrence Jones -- Jones who played mostly solid for the second game in a row after three consecutive underwhelming performances, scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds, and made 3-of-6 shots from the floor and 3-of-4 free throws, definitely a good sign that his injured digit may be feeling better.
TJ was active on both ends of the floor tonight, not standing around waiting for someone else to defend, rebound, and score. Good signs all with SEC play beginning Saturday.
Darius Miller -- Congratulations to Darius for becoming the fifty-eighth member of UK's 1,000 Point Club. The Mason County alum did the deed with a 3-pointer with 10:57 left in the game. And speaking of 3-pointers, Miller, who started the season as cold as an Eskimo's nose from distance, has, over the last four games, made 8-of-15 from beyond the arc (53.3%). Another great sign as the 'Cats embark on league play.
Miller finished the night with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting (3-of-5 from trey-ville), six rebounds (three offensive), and three assists. Along with Davis and Jones, Miller played pretty well from beginning to end tonight.
Miller Note: Throughout his career, UK is 19-1 when the senior scores 15-plus points.
Doron Lamb -- Defensively, Lamb was pathetic for most of the night. I'll just leave it at that. Offensively, he scored nine points on 4-of-7 shooting (1-of-3 treys), handed out three assists and grabbed five rebounds.
Over his last four games, Lamb has made only 2-of-11 three-point tries (18.2%). For Kentucky to succeed, Lamb has to be solid from outside. He's not "looked right" for a couple of weeks now, here's hoping he gets it together, and soon.
Marquis Teague -- Well, Teague did have more assists than turnovers (5-to-2), but he's still struggling with segueing the team into its half-court sets, and making bad decisions with the basketball. The UALR guards took the game straight to him, and he hesitated in responding defensively, particularly on the perimeter.
For the game, Teague finished with six points on 2-of-7 shooting, and missed both his three-point tries, making him 3-of-20 from long-range over the last eight games (15.0%).
One thing to remember, Teague has had the point guard bar set remarkably high by Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, and Brandon Knight. Teague is clearly not as freaky good as the four Calipari point guard prodigies (at this point), but remember, Rose took until mid-February to hit his stride, and then, BAM, he was da man.
It'll click for Teague.
Kyle Wiltjer and Eloy Vargas -- Neither played very well tonight. Vargas did have two blocks and a rebound in four minutes of play, while Wiltjer posted two points on 1-of-6 shooting (0-of-1 from long-range) while grabbing two rebounds and committing two turnovers in 14 minutes.
It was a very solid second half for the 'Cats as they went on a 23-1 run from the 17:12 mark to 7:14 remaining, effectively putting away the outmanned Trojans. Defensively, UK held UALR to 31.1% overall shooting (19-61), 26.1% second half accuracy (6-23), and out-rebounded the Trojans by a count of 50 boards to 23 for the game. Arkansas-Little Rock did have some outside success against UK, though, making 6-of-17 from long-distance, an unacceptable 35.3%.
Time to look ahead -- SEC play begins Saturday with a Rupp Arena visit from Darren Horn's South Carolina Gamecock squad. Horn, of course a Tates Creek and WKU product, has had uncanny luck against the 'Cats in his coaching career. It's time to stop that nonsense!!
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!