The Kentucky Wildcats finally got a win over the Duke Blue Devils, and they did so in convincing fashion.
Not since 1998 had UK taken down Duke, and this is just the second win the 'Cats have over Duke under Mike Krzyzewski. This time around, there was really no question who the better team was as UK cruised to a 74-63 win and were in control for really the entire ballgame. Here are our biggest takeaways from the 'Cats' win over the Blue Devils.
Skal (and UK) Not Physical Enough Yet
When Marshall Plumlee is dominating in the paint, something's wrong. That was the case early on in this one as the senior center was controlling the paint on the offensive end as he scored four times in the game's opening four minutes. Making it worse was that all four came off of offensive rebounds, most of which Skal should have been responsible for blocking out.
Adding to this, Skal picked up two quick fouls and was essentially a non-factor in the first half. Having arguably your best player on the bench for most of a half against a top-five team is never ideal. It didn't help that Plumlee and Amile Jefferson continued to get offensive boards and score most of the Blue Devils points in the paint.
The Cats would eventually find their way and control the pain, but for the most part, it was without Skal, who finished this game with just seven points and four rebounds before he fouled out late in the second half. As John Calipari has said, Skal has to fight more and be more physical if this team is going to reach its potential.
Isaac Humphries will be Factor vs. Bigger Teams
Remember Saturday when Humphries didn't play until the game was effectively over with six minutes left? That was against an NJIT team with no size, something Duke actually has, as evidenced by the above point. Humphries came into the game early after Skal was unable to box out Plumlee, and not only did the big Aussie do that, he even affected several shots and blocked Grayson Allen twice. That alone deserves a shout out.
Unfortunately, Humphries picked up three fouls in the first half and didn't do much after that. It still was good to see him making an impact in the limited minutes he got, and he should continue to do so when Kentucky plays teams with size. He finished with two points, three boards and two blocks while also helping UK control Duke on the boards after the Blue Devils dominated there early on.
Marcus Lee is an X-Factor
Coming into the season, one of the biggest questions surrounding this Kentucky team was what was Marcus Lee going to be. A rotational big? A spot starter? Would he even play much once Alex Poythress was healthy?
Not only is Lee starting, he's making a huge impact on both ends of the court and has been a real game-changer in all three games thus far. He's swatting shots and affecting others while averaging a double-double this season. He really stepped up in this game when Skal went out and more than made up for the freshman's struggles.
Lee finished this game with 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting and 10 boards to go with two blocks. He averaged 11 points, eight boards and three blocks through his first two games, and he's established that he's an x-factor for this team with how much of an impact he has.
Kentucky Dominated Duke on Perimeter
The Cats' struggles in the paint shouldn't overshadow how great the 'Cats were on the perimeter against a very talented Duke backcourt. Grayson Allen looked like an All-American in the National Championship and in Duke's first two games this season, but he looked lost against UK's guards.
Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe and Tyler Ulis were suffocating on the perimeter, and it really showed how special they can be doing so. They dogged Allen and most of Duke's guards for much of the night and didn't give them anything easy.
They still have some work to do on how effective they are on the offensive end, but they're already showing they can make this UK team one of, if not the nation's best at defending the perimeter. Oh, and they can handle and dish the rock out pretty good too.
This. Just. Happened. #BBN @UKAthletics https://t.co/3jdttfAiqj— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) November 18, 2015
filthy https://t.co/0lG1NIgLNm— Six Second Sports™ (@SixSecSports) November 18, 2015
Ulis, Murray and Briscoe scored or assisted on all but six of Kentucky's 30 field goals. This is clearly UK's biggest strength, and it was exerted over Duke.
And in the Fast Break
Kentucky is far more skilled than Duke, and that really showed itself on the fast break on both ends. At one point in the second half, Kentucky held an 18-0 edge in fast-break points as they were dominating in transition. Murray was especially good in transition as he embarrassed the Blue Devils several times while hitting some tough shots in transition.
The Blue Devils simply did not have the horses to run with these Cats, but then again, not many do. This goes back to UK having one of the best backcourts in America, something this Duke team is nowhere close to having right now.
Free Throws an Issue...Again
It's the same old song and dance. Like many of John Calipari's team at Kentucky, they're struggling from the charity stripe early on in the season. Missed free throws early on kept Kentucky from building a bigger lead when they repeatedly looked poised to take control of the game.
They missed 10 of their first 16 attempts and really could have put this game away had they just converted at the line. UK did better in the second half and finished the game 11-of-18, which is still just 61.1%. That's not good enough for a team that has the talent to win it all.
Tyler Ulis has Breakout Game
It wasn't the greatest start for Ulis this season after dishing out seven assists vs. six turnovers and just 17 total points. Against Duke, he was the best player on the floor while scoring 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting with six assists vs. no turnovers to go with two steals. Ulis was also a bulldog on defense and harassed Allen for much of this game and kept him from ever finding some rhythm.
Gimme Tyler Ulis as my point guard any day of the week. Tough kid, makes people better, defends, makes shots, leads, controlling game.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) November 18, 2015
Having Tyler Ulis as your point guard is like investing in a ROTH IRA that's FDIC-Insured. Safe, secure, and super reliable. #BBN— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 18, 2015
Ulis is one of the best guards in America, but if he keeps putting out games like this, we may have to start calling him the best guard in college hoops.
All in all, this was a great win for the Cats as they showed they were a legit Final Four contender.