The Kentucky Wildcats hit the court for a date with Boston University Tuesday night before a small Thanksgiving break comes.
It wasn't the best game the 'Cats will have this season as BU did a great job of keeping this game close and competitive for much of the night, but a strong push at the end of both halves by UK was enough to put the Terriers away en route to an 82-62 win. The Cats now improve to 5-0 on the season and have won every game by double digits.
Here's our biggest takeaways from win No. 5 for Kentucky.
This was a game that the Kentucky bigs should have their way and make a big impact with Boston having little size. Skal Labissiere in particular. The freshman big man was up and down through the first games, scoring double digits just twice while failing to grab more than five rebounds in any game.
This game, UK made it a point to get it to Skal early and often. The first play of the game went to Skal as he powered in a tough layup. Three plays later, Skal got the ball in the post and dunked right on a Boston defender for a 1-and-1.
That was a sign of things to come on both ends of the floor as Skal had his most complete game as a Wildcat, finishing with a game-high 16 points and three blocks to go with seven boards. He affected several other shots with his size and length while banging his body in the paint more than he has at any point this year.
Skal's impact on defense was the most encouraging as he showed glimpses of being a force in the paint in a similar manner as to other great UK bigs under Cal. He finally was aggressive on both ends of the floor and was the best player on the floor this night.
Kentucky was the Aggressor Early On
After UK had a poor effort in an ugly win over Wright State last week, John Calipari ripped into his team for their lack of fight and aggression. Against BU, it was clear the 'Cats got the message as they were the aggressors early on and pressured the Terriers up and down the court. The size, speed and athleticism of UK was really bothering BU as they committed several turnovers due to the 'Cats' pressure.
It's hard to consistently bring the energy and fight needed to win over an entire season, but UK brought it early in this one and built several big leads early on as it looked like they would pull away...
...But BU fought Back
At one point, UK had a 29-20 lead and all of the momentum, but BU valiantly fought back and became the aggressors. Every shot the Cats took in the paint was contested and the Cats settled for long jumpers. The Terriers bigs also began taking it right at UK bigs and had a surprising amount of success.
BU did just enough to keep this game within striking distance much of the night before the 'Cats finally slammed the door in the final eight minutes to pull out a 20-point win. Though the 'Cats got the win, they can't have these kinds of long stretches of struggling on both ends of the floor against better teams, or the result will be much different.
Suspect Three-Point Defense and Offense
The Wildcat backcourt was strong defensively in the first four games while locking down the perimeter and allowing just 4.25 made three-pointers per game.
The Terriers had four made threes in the first nine minutes as they were getting open looks far too often. Some were defensive breakdowns and others were just 'Cats not getting fighting through screens hard enough and getting out on their man.
Making matters worse was UK was they struggled from the three-point line, finishing just 3-of-15 shooting from deep. BU's zone really flustered the Cats as they couldn't make the Terriers pay enough. Thankfully, the 'Cats did well in transition and off of offensive boards to score enough, but they must get better from beyond the arc while not allowing so many open looks from there on defense.
The second half was the Alex Poythress show as the senior forward dominated in the paint and punished the rim. He finished the game with a season-high 14 points and 10 rebounds, five of which being offensive boards. He looked like the beast in the paint we all know he can be as he skid for several tough boards and emphatically slammed them home.
This was the first time since Alex tore his ACL that he dominated in a game, and it was awesome to see given how hard and long he's worked to come back from his injury.
Isaac and Dom Getting Healthy
The 'Cats were without the services of Dominique Hawkins due to an illness and Isaac Humphries due to a foot injury during last Friday's win over Wright State. While those aren't crippling losses, the Cats have gotten some good production out of Humphries and were hoping to get the same from Hawkins this year.
His hand injury caused him to miss most of October and started the season behind the eight ball, but now that he's healthy, maybe he can work his way into the rotation more. Hawkins ended up getting some key minutes this one when Jamal Murray was dealing with foul trouble, so it looks like Dom may be close to getting into the rotation.
As for Humphries, he participated in pregame warmups and shootaround, but didn't play in the game. Cal said after the game that Isaac was healthy enough to play, but opted to keep him out to keep resting the foot.
The Cats will be back in action Friday afternoon when they take on Orlando Antigua's South Florida Bulls in Miami for the Hoophall Miami Invitational.