Following two impressive performances, and with a showdown against a top five Kansas Jayhawks team looming on Saturday, the Wildcats avoided a letdown and dismantled the Missouri Tigers by 34 points. There were plenty of things to be happy about, giving fans optimism heading into Saturday, but there is also plenty of room to improve.
Let's get to it.
The Good: Multiple options
There are several positives from Kentucky's matchup with Missouri. Coach John Calipari said that this was one of his team's best performances and it was easy to see why in the Cats' 34 point rout over the Tigers.
First of all, the team got off to an excellent start. After Missouri scored the first basket of the game, the Wildcats countered with a 20-0 run. 20 unanswered points. From there, the Cats never looked back. When the Cats can get going early and build confidence in the first few minutes of the game, they are hard to beat.
Secondly, the team played strong defense throughout the game. The Tigers managed a measly 25.9 percent field goal percentage in the first half, making seven of 27 attempts. For the entire game, the Tigers shot 18-57 from the field and 4-14 from the three point line. Since the Auburn loss, Kentucky has shut down teams on the perimeter. In the last three games (Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Missouri), teams have shot 11-41 from the three point line (27 percent).
Derek Willis played really well once again, notching his second double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds while adding two blocks. Willis knocked down four of his five three-point attempts on the night. Willis' improvements have made huge differences for this team.
Skal Labissiere also had a big game against the Tigers, scoring 12 points on 6-8 shooting while recording five blocks in 18 minutes on the floor. Skal's production and ability to stay on the floor flip the switch with this team from "good" to "really good." I hope Skal's performance against the Tigers is a big step in the right direction for him.
Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe once again played really well, combining for 35 points and 14 assists. Isaiah Briscoe performed well at the free throw line as well, making five of six attempts.
The Bad: Jamal Murray's shooting performance
For all the good, there is usually some bad. Jamal Murray's shooting performance against the Tigers was bad. Luckily enough, the rest of the team played really well and Murray's shooting was overshadowed. For the game, Murray was 4-14 from the field, including 3-8 from the three-point line. He finished the night with 11 points.
Murray is one of the best scorers in the conference, if not in college basketball. He has the ability to create shots for himself and is very skilled at finding open looks. When he is hot, he's arguably the most dangerous offensive threat in the country. However, some nights he simply doesn't have it and this was one of those.
On a positive note, Murray managed to find other ways to impact the game, as evidenced by his nine rebounds (second most behind Willis). This will be key for Murray going forward. When he's not able to put up big-time numbers in the scoring column, he has to find other ways (such as rebounding) to contribute.
The Ugly: Marcus Lee's performance
Usually when Marcus Lee has a poor performance, it is because of foul trouble. However, that was not the case this time. Lee just failed to make much of an impact when he was on the court, and with Willis and Skal playing really well, Lee managed to spend just nine minutes on the floor. He finished with two points and three rebounds, to go along with three blocks.
I really think Marcus Lee is a vital part of this team. He brings a ton of energy to the floor and is one of the best offensive rebounders in the conference. Those extra possessions can be critical in close games, and Lee is able to create extra opportunities when he is on the floor. However, with Willis playing well and if Skal continues to be productive, Lee will find himself on the bench more often than not. Lee has to provide energy (which he seems to be lacking slightly) if he wants to see more minutes.