Kentucky last met Florida in Rupp Arena four days after blowing a 21-point lead at Tennessee and took their frustrations out by beating the Gators 80-61. Three days after a similarly frustrating loss to Vanderbilt, the now No.22 Wildcats sought to again exact their frustrations on the Gators, this time in the O’Connell Center.
After building a 14-point lead in the first half, Kentucky let Florida claw to within two as Ulis sat on the bench with two fouls, and led only 36-32 at halftime. But the Wildcats built another double-digit lead after the break, withstood a couple scrappy Florida runs and hung on to win 88-79.
Now for the Good, Bad, and Ugly.
The Good: Skal Labissiere and Isaiah Briscoe
Yes, Skal Labissiere’s name is next to the word "good." This is not a typo, I assure you. With Derek Willis still out with a foot injury, Calipari opted to start Labissiere instead of Marcus Lee, Labissiere’s first start since December 19th against Ohio State.
There are numerous definitions of the word, "good." In Labissiere’s case, against Florida, "good" means "shockingly not that awful." At 6’ll, Labissiere possesses a kind of touch and nimble athleticism big men like him typically lack, but he also severely lacks something big men like him absolutely must have: Grit and a feel for rebounding.
On the season, he averages about six points and two rebounds. Against Florida, he scored 11 points and eight rebounds. Too often throughout the season, opponents easily swiped the ball from Labissiere’s hands, but against Florida he showed some actual fight.
Skal even out-muscled a Florida player for a rebound to the floor--the play resulted in a jump-ball, and though Florida was awarded possession, Labissiere demonstrated some much-needed toughness. If Labissiere can start to routinely play with this kind of fight, he could help make Kentucky’s front court a formidable presence instead of something opponents usually steamroll over.
Briscoe’s numbers weren’t earth-shattering either, but what made his performance last night promising was that he made several jump shots he has a reputation for consistently missing. He finished with 13 points while shooting 57% from the floor (43% on the season) and was 5-6 from the foul line.
Briscoe is known for using his aggressive penetration to finish around the rim, but if he can perhaps add a reliable jump-shot in time for the SEC and NCAA Tournaments, opponents are going to have another dynamic offensive weapon to worry about.
Granted, Briscoe’s shots were largely uncontested, but the simple fact that he made these shots he usually misses, regardless of how wide open he was, may be the sign of a player starting to realize the potential his game has.
The Bad: An uncomfortable amount of turnovers
Kentucky committed 13 turnovers--four of them, stunningly, by Ulis--yet they still won by nine points. In their twelve-point loss to Vanderbilt, Kentucky committed five turnovers. In their 25-point win over Alabama, they committed four turnovers, and in their blown loss at Tennessee, they committed eight.
Whether Kentucky loses or wins is clearly not based directly on the amount of turnovers they commit (most of the time it is based on how aggressive their front court plays), yet it is something to keep a close eye on.
Because this number 13 leaves a nagging feeling. 13 turnovers against a team like struggling Florida in the regular season is a lot different than 13 turnovers against a first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament.
Against Florida, Kentucky were able to compensate for their turnovers by outmatching Florida in the backcourt. But in the NCAA tournament, where absolutely every single play counts, 13 turnovers could translate to an early exit.
The Ugly: Jamal Murray’s three-pointer celebration?
Should Jamal Murray’s three-pointer celebration really be listed under the Ugly section of this recap?
Considering Kentucky’s otherwise solid performance against Florida, yes, it should. Last season, we had Devin Booker’s celebratory shotgun.
This year, we have Jamal Murray’s bow and arrow. Unfortunately, whereas Booker’s gesture was rather quick, and could be executed while jogging backwards, Murray’s celebration appears a little bulky, requiring the use of both hands when, first, he steadies the bow as he reaches for the arrow and, second, continues to steady the bow when he releases the arrow, all while trying to get back on defense.
Before UK’s game at Florida, Murray whipped out his bow and arrow only for big-time occasions, such as tying the game, stealing the lead, or capitalizing on a run. But against Florida, he relied on his bow and arrow what seemed to be after every single one of his four threes, often slowing his run back on defense so he could complete all necessary movements.
No points were actually scored while Murray shot his imaginary foe, but this celebration definitely has the potential to be a liability if Murray gets too carried away emotionally. If Calipari sees that maybe this celebration interferes with Murray’s ability to immediately get back on defense he may put a stop to it.
Like, he perhaps did with Briscoe’s mouthguard that Briscoe liked to obsessively gnaw on as he sprinted around the court.