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Kentucky Wildcats: Takeaways From Cats' Squeaker vs Bulldogs

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Coming off the solid win at Alabama this weekend, the Cats returned home as big favorites against the fighting Ben Howlands.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

First-year Bulldog coach Ben Howland brought his team into Rupp with a player in Malik Newman who spurned Calipari and the Cats for the hometown team.

One of the cooler aspects of the broadcast was Shannon Spake telling the Calipari Powerball story.  I am paraphrasing but she said he had the team over and pulled out a Powerball ticket he had purchased.  He proceeded to ask them if they knew just how many people were out there buying one of these KNOWING they were not going to win.

He went on to look at them all and explain that they all already had a winning lottery ticket that could be worth millions. All they had to do was apply their effort to their talent.  Pretty powerful message in my opinion.

FIRST HALF

The Wildcats started off very sloppy with a Tyler Ulis turnover, a layup by State, a brick by the 'Cats, then an And-1 by State and it was a 5-0 start and bad vibes.  Luckily that was the end of that as Jamal Murray decided to get hot by hitting three 3-pointers and a midrange jumper to get the 'Cats to a 17-10 lead.

It seemed like UK would start pulling away early when they went up 23-11 but the shooting dried up and Malik Newman hit some shots and Cal took a timeout to end the 8-0 run that brought State back to 23-19 and a steamed Cal on the sideline.

The Bulldogs got the lead down to two points before Derek Willis and Mychal Mulder took over for UK.  Willis hit two three-pointers and Mulder scored and assisted on one of those threes to help extend the 'Cats to a 38-31 halftime lead.  Truth be told Kentucky was lucky to be up by 7 because the defense was not good.  The Bulldogs shot over 60% from the field and if not for a lot of careless turnovers, the 'Cats could have been trailing.

SECOND HALF

Isaiah Briscoe started the second half much like the first one.  He took a great pass down low and somehow got it over the trees for a bucket, giving him 10 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds with 19 minutes left.

The 'Cats would go on to a 9-2 run to extend the lead to 16 with under 16 minutes left.  The 'Cats forced 4 turnovers in the first 4 minutes of the half to help seemingly put a stranglehold on the game.

Kentucky would play Cat and mouse the rest of the half until about 7 minutes to go when Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe got technical fouls.  The Bulldogs also went from zone to man-to-man around that time and Kentucky did not adjust well.

State got to within 67-59 with five minutes left and it looked like UK might be imploding.  State's Fred Thomas would hit a three-pointer to bring it to 7 points but Jamal Murray dropped what seemed like a dagger on the next possession with his fifth three-pointer.  However, Fred Thomas once again hit a three-pointer to cut it back to 7 points with under three minutes remaining.

Unbelievably, the lead got down to THREE points with 1:14 left after a Derek Willis turnover and the 'Cats were officially in trouble.  They would trade points and with 33 seconds left it officially became a game where free throws would win it for UK.

Kentucky would make their free throws and avoid a disastrous loss, winning 80-74.

The bottom line is the Frontcourt not showing up nearly cost them a game they should have dominated.  The 'Cats have got to find someone to help Murray, Ulis, and Briscoe or they are going to be home early in March.

PLAYER TAKEAWAYS

  • JAMAL MURRAY: Murray was his normal self, getting hot early, then cold, but ending up with a big scoring game.  He is more and more coming into his game and not forcing the game to him so much.  With the lack of front court help, Murray may need to be more Jodie Meeks down the stretch for us to get a great seed.
  • TYLER ULIS: Ulis missed some shots in the first half and had a few non-Tyler type plays but he quickly righted the ship and ended up having a strong scoring game and a big second half to hide the lack of frontcourt scoring.
  • MARCUS LEE: Lee did not have a great scoring night but he put up his usual 9 rebound effort.  The good thing is with the backcourt dominating the lack of scoring did not cost UK the game, but it nearly did.
  • ALEX POYTHRESS: Alex the Enigma was on a milk carton tonight.  The guy played the game of his career three nights ago but disappeared tonight.  Mr. Hyde was at Rupp and Dr. Jekyll stayed in Tuscaloosa apparently.  If you have seen the movie 'The Prestige' with Christian Bale, I think we have that situation going on.  Alex did come up big on one occasion, getting an offensive rebound and fouled with under 1 minute to go.  He made both free throws to extend the lead to 5.  He also hit two more free throws to essentially ice the game with 20 seconds left.
  • MYCHAL MULDER: While Mulder did not get much clock in the second half, I thought he played well in the first half.  He missed shots, but he had a few good rebounds, a few good assists and a very nice fast break layup where he sidestepped a charge and still finished.
  • DEREK WILLIS: Derek Willis ended the first half nicely with a couple of three-pointers and a blocked shot.  However, he gave up an end of the half three pointer and that seemed to put him in the doghouse for the rest of the night with Cal.  He did hit two clutch free throws late to help his cause.
  • ISAIAH BRISCOE: Briscoe may have been the most impressive player of the game for UK.  He had 8 points, 4 assists and 2 rebounds in the first half. Briscoe ended with a great line of 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists.
  • SKAL LABISSIERE: Skal was mostly forgetful again, although he did have a nice dunk off a great Briscoe pass, a strong blocked shot and a few rebounds.  However, his night ended when he checked into the second half and immediately gave up an and-1 to a driving guard.  Word is he is even struggling in practice and the staff is at a loss on what to do.  I think it is clear that we will have Skal back next year.