The Kentucky Wildcats just defeated the nation’s 13th-best team.
Why is that so significant? Here’s why. Kentucky’s starting point guard De’Aaron Fox was held out due to a left knee injury and was replaced by sixth man Mychal Mulder. Mulder has been nice shooting off the bench for the Wildcats. But he’s not comparable to the value of De’Aaron Fox when it comes to running the show.
Isaiah Briscoe was handed the keys to the offense, and it didn’t take long to lose them. Senior Dominique Hawkins came off the bench to supply a team-high 37 minutes to aid Briscoe’s poor performance.
Kentucky also was held to just 8-28 from the floor in the first half while committing 12 turnovers. After adding in the questionable calls that came early against Kentucky, the Wildcats had pretty much very odd against them. But they came out with a win, and here’s how they persevered.
Since they were missing their rocket PG Fox, Kentucky made the adjustment of slowing the game down in the first half with incredible half court defense. They held the Florida Gators to just 11-37 shooting and out-rebounded them by 13. A key factor to this success was starting center Bam Adebayo. He racked up 6 points to go along with 11 rebounds in the first half, showing signs of Dwight Howard in his game. While it may not show up in the box score, Hawkins and Adebayo seemed to win every 50/50 ball against the Gators, too. Their effort was just enough to pull Kentucky even with Florida at halftime, 28-28.
Going into halftime, you probably would have never guessed that Malik Monk (at home) would tie a career high five turnovers while taking just as many shots and only hitting one for 3 points. Instead, the Wildcats found offense from every one of their guys, even Briscoe contributing at some points.
Coming out of halftime, however, would change everything.
Head coach John Calipari has been heavily criticized by both fans and media for lack of quality in his half-time adjustments this season. Saturday, however, wrote a new narrative for this criticism.
Remember how I said Monk had just 3 points at halftime and only took five shots?
He came out to score 30 points in the second half, shooting 8-13 from the field and 10-11 from the FT line. I’m not joking here: you would’ve thought it was Kobe Bryant on Rupp’s hardwood. The message was clear: get Monk the ball and get the hell out of the way.
While this adjustment was crucial to Kentucky taking the lead and winning the game, I truly don’t believe they would’ve won without Bam today. Bam barely saw any touches in the first half, grabbing most of his points off of second-chance opportunities. However, in the second half, Calipari coached the Monk & Bam pick-and-roll quite efficiently as Bam scored 12 points on 5-5 shooting. Not only was his scoring in the paint a dominant force but his hustle and rebounding down low was unmatched.
Kentucky also shot 16-25 in the second half from the field including 4-6 from behind the 3-point arc. Kentucky continued to out-rebound the Gators for the rest of the game, which eventually put it away.
While this game more than likely would have never been won without Bam or Monk, the entire team played a key role today. Many NCAA Basketball analysts recognized the team’s heart, hustle, and passion while adding they looked grown up. The win also secures Kentucky the right to control their own destiny for the SEC Tournament seeding because of the one-game lead they now hold over Florida.
Hot or cold, Kentucky proved today they can beat a quality team with effort and clutch shot-making. The Wildcats will next take the floor on Tuesday night. It will be senior night as it’s the last home game of the season. Kentucky will recognize Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, and Mychal Mulder. Vanderbilt will be the visiting opponent, and tip-off is set for 9 P.M. EDT. Following senior night, the Cats will head to Texas A&M on March 4th to wrap up their regular season and begin preparing for the SEC Tournament.
Here are the full postgame notes, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky has won six in a row and is 24-5 overall. UK is 14-2 in the Southeastern Conference and takes a one-game lead in the standings with two games to play.
- Florida ended a nine-game winning streak and is 23-6 overall, 13-3 in league play.
- Kentucky leads the series 100-38, including 51-9 in Lexington.
- Next for the Wildcats: UK plays host to Vanderbilt on Tuesday at 9 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN. It will be Senior Night as UK honors Dominique Hawkins, Mychal Mulder and Derek Willis.
In the First Half
- With De’Aaron Fox out with injury (left knee contusion), senior Mychal Mulder got his first collegiate start, joining Isaiah Briscoe, Malik Monk, Wenyen Gabriel and Bam Adebayo in the starting lineup.
- Florida zipped to an 8-0 lead, prompting a UK timeout at 18:09.
- UK eventually got on the board with a pair of Adebayo foul shots with 16:23 on the clock but Florida stretched its lead to 12 points at 18-6.
- From that mark, UF would score only 10 points the last 13 minutes of the half.
- UK responded with a 17-3 spurt, giving the Wildcats their only lead of the half at 23-21. At that point, however, UK did not make a field goal the last seven minutes of the half.
- Early in the 17-3 run, Derek Willis extended UK’s streak of 1,004 consecutive games with a 3-point shot.
- Florida came back with a 7-0 run to make it 28-23 Gators. The Wildcats hit five foul shots to send the game into intermission tied at 28 despite shooting just 28.6 percent in the first half.
In the Second Half
- Florida came out hot, scoring 17 points in the first 4:17 of the half to make it 45-37.
- Monk carried the Cats by scoring 19 of UK’s first 23 points in the opening 8:30 of the half.
- UK returned to the lead, 53-52, on an Adebayo bucket with 10:45 to go.
- Tied at 55, Adebayo got a pair of foul shots and a dunk, sparking a 15-5 run that gave the Wildcats the lead for good.
- Monk scored 30 of his game-high 33 points in the second half, going 8 of 13 from the floor with four 3-pointers.
- Kentucky held Florida to 66 points.
- UK is 15-0 this season when limiting the opponent to 72 or fewer points.
- Florida shot 36.6 percent from the field. UK is 14-0 this season when limiting the opponent to less than 43 percent.
- Kentucky shot 45.3 percent from the field. UK is 23-1 this season when shooting at least 42 percent.
- Kentucky won the rebounding for the sixth straight game – coinciding with the six-game win streak – 48-30.
- UK has outrebounded opponents by 11.8 boards per game during the current six-game win streak.
- After being outrebounded by 25 in the loss at Florida, Kentucky was plus-18 Saturday, producing a 43-rebound swing over the two games.
- UK is 20-2 this season when outrebounding the opponent.
- UK is now 209-4 (.981) under Calipari in games leading by at least 10 points.
- Calipari has a 686-192 (.781) on-court record, including a 241-52 (.826) mark at UK.
- Kentucky has an all-time mark of 560-66 (.895) in Rupp Arena.
- UK is 133-6 (.957) at Rupp Arena under John Calipari.