One game removed from Jamal Murray having to do all of the scoring on his own against the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Kentucky Wildcats gashed the Florida Gators in Gainesville in a total team effort, 88-79.
The importance of this win is that the 'Cats have clinched one of four double-byes in next week's SEC tournament in Nashville while also keeping UK trending upwards on the NCAA Tournament seed line.
Derek Willis went through pre-game warm-ups but was held out yet again. The 'Cats didn't need his scoring as all five starter scored in double digits. The biggest surprise was seeing Skal Labissiere in the starting line-up for the first time since December.
Skal made the most of it and played arguably his best game as a Wildcat. Skal found out he was starting yesterday and was given the job because of how well he has been practicing.
Here are my takeaways:
- The story of this game has to be Skal. The maligned big man from Haiti has been on a downslide and has witnessed his minutes disappear. He had appeared timid on offense and unwilling to rebound despite his 7' height. But tonight he came out firing on all cylinders, scoring 11 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He shot 50% from the field and was was smart with his shot selection. Skal finally looked like a player that can make a difference for Kentucky but is it sustainable?
- The big men overall were great, scoring 32 points between Skal, Alex Poythress (12 points, 10 rebounds), Marcus Lee (5 points, 8 rebounds), and Isaac Humphries (4 points, 3 rebounds). The 'Cats got what they needed from their interior for the most part but there was one glaring negative: Florida center John Egbunu scored 27 points, nine of those points came by the way of slam dunks. The bigs have to do better defending the paint.
- Tyler Ulis bounced back from a very un-Ulis like game against Vandy. The point guard was brilliant yet again with the second double-double scoring 19 points and dishing 11 dimes. He did commit four turnovers but that can be forgiven.
- What about Isaiah Briscoe? The freshman guard was hitting corner jump shots and looked comfortable in his stroke. That was the best perimeter shooting we have seen from him since the Alabama game. He finished with 13 points and was 5-6 from the free throw line. That wasn't a misprint.
- Jamal Murray was held to just five points and his eight straight 20 plus point game streak looked in jeopardy. But he exploded in the second half and ended the game with 21. The Gators did a good job of covering him up in the first half but they couldn't keep it going. I've learned that Jamal is going to get his. He was also near a double-double with eight rebounds. His overall game really has improved.
- The 'Cats are lucky that Florida is an extremely poor free throw shooting team. The Gators shot 16 free throws in the first half compared to zero by the Wildcats. They ended up going 16-37 from the line while the 'Cats shot 23-32. The whistles continue to be a problem on the road for Kentucky as both Briscoe and Poythress fouled out. You can talk about the officiating in the comments section. I'm not wasting anymore type on it.
- Kentucky also shot a better percentage from long range as they were an efficient 70% from the three. Florida was an awful 5-18.
- The Wildcats out-rebounded the Gators 45-35, another good sign going forward for a team that has struggled on the boards.