Kentucky came out firing on all cylinders tonight, and it was much-needed.
After a lackluster performance against Florida that left fans wondering whether this team would even make it out of the first weekend in March, or if the players even cared, the Wildcats showed they cared. For the first half of tonight’s game, they cared a lot.
But even as they played well in the second half, they couldn’t defend well enough, and what was a 20-point lead eventually dwindled to just six points, and in the end the ‘Cats won by just seven, 92-85.
Nonetheless, a win is a win, and there were flashes of great team basketball tonight.
Here are three things to know.
Wenyen Gabriel was the spark plug tonight
Gabriel was dominant, putting up a career-high in points before the end of the first half (16 points). He also 7 first half rebounds, and played with a ton of energy. Every one of his big plays was a high-energy play.
New career high for Wenyen Gabriel on this 3 pointer giving him 16 points in the 1st half. pic.twitter.com/aCit3ykFe6— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 8, 2017
He didn’t have the same success in the second half, but his energy in the first got Kentucky off on the right foot, and some of his teammates picked up the slack later on to keep the Wildcats well in front of LSU. He ended the game with 23 points and 8 rebounds, but fouled out in the final moments.
Malik Monk bounced back well
After being the center of most of the criticism following the Florida game, Monk was under the microscope tonight. Fortunately, he delivered a performance that will hopefully quiet his critics. Against Florida, Monk didn’t score a single point in the first half. Tonight, Monk had 14 first half points, including 2 three-pointers, and this incredible alley-oop finish.
Fantastic alley oop from De'Aaron Fox to Malik Monk. pic.twitter.com/MM6rxGBbT5— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 8, 2017
He ended the game with 23 points, and went 4-8 from deep. Was it Monk at his best? No. But it was far better than his bad night in Gainesville.
Kentucky’s on-ball defense is terrible
We already knew this, but tonight we realized just how bad it is. The Wildcats gave up 58 points in the second half to a team that came into the game averaging 74.6 per-game. There were plenty of great offensive performances tonight; Monk and Gabriel scoring 23, as well as Isaiah Briscoe scoring 12 in the second half, but the defense is still terrible. We’ve heard that John Calipari isn’t going to tweak this team, he’s going to reboot this team. But he may just want to reboot the defense, because that’s the biggest issue right now.