This season has been a hard one to stay patient with Kentucky Basketball.
With all of the veteran players moving on, the coaching staff being recruited to different teams, and what seemed like endless amounts of setback injuries this season seemed to be the toughest mentally in a long time.
Not only was the team losing on the court, they also just lost their top recruit for the 2018-19 class in Zion Williamson to Duke. With John Calipari being judged on both the coaching and recruiting front, his team was on the hot seat. These young Cats needed to go into Morgantown and make a statement on the home court of the #7 team in the nation, and that’s exactly what they did.
The Kentucky Wildcats beat the West Virginia Mountaineers in a tremendous comeback win on Saturday, 83-76. Kentucky went down by as many as 17 points at one time to WVU, but the Wildcats rallied back outscoring the Mountaineers 50-28 in the 2nd half.
Hamidou Diallo had a good game adding in 13 points himself, but most importantly Kevin Knox finally showed the nation who he truly is: The player we don’t deserve, but the one we needed badly if we wanted to win this game.
The game was truly a tale of two halves. The first half was almost unwatchable if you enjoy watching a good game, but if you’re a trooper like me and watched through the 2nd half you got to see some of the best basketball played by Kentucky this season.
No matter how great of a win it was there were still some obvious problems that need to be addressed.
So, let's get down to the nitty gritty and go over this game’s good, bad, and just plain ugly moments.
- Kevin Knox- Freshman forward Kevin Knox played an absolutely tremendous game in Morgantown Saturday night. He scored 34 points on 11 of 17 shooting with 19 of those points coming in the 2nd half. Kentucky came into the half down 17 to WVU, but that didn’t stop Knox from putting the team on his back and taking over the game. His shooting was tremendous with a line of 64/62/87 (FG/3PT/FT).
We’ve been expecting this play from him all season, and when we needed him most he showed up. Knox has been getting dragged through the dirt all season for not playing to his potential, but he finally broke out of his slump. Knox was interviewed after the game and said: “I love playing away games and going against people on the road.
That was something that I loved growing up when the other team starts yelling and all of the hype, the student section. All of that just gets me going. It’s just something I live for.” Hopefully, Knox plays like this on the road in March.
- Free Throw Shooting- One thing Coach Cal is known for getting truly mad about is poor free throw shooting. The Cats gave him nothing to be upset about in that category after yesterdays game. As a team, Kentucky shot 79.3% from FT, but in the 2nd half, they shot 100% going 18/18 to help cement their amazing comeback.
- Rebounding- In a lot of games this season Kentucky has been weak inside, and that includes attacking the boards. They showed no signs of weakness in this game. Through the first half, both teams were even in rebounding, but WVU had the big advantage on the scoreboard. Kentucky knew if they wanted to win they needed to start using their length to take over the boards. In the 2nd half, they did that in a big fashion, outrebounding WVU 29-13. Jarred Vanderbilt in just his fourth game back added to that domination with 11 rebounds of his own.
- Turnovers- Although Kentucky did turn it around in the 2nd half they still had a horrible start to the game. In the first 12 minutes of the game, the Cats had 10 turnovers resulting in a half-time defect of 15 points. Also resulting in adjusting their game plan and fighting towards their 3rd biggest half-time comeback in school history.
- PJ Washington- This bad isn’t about PJ’s play but his health. In the interview with Coach Cal after the game, he told reporters he didn’t return PJ to the game because he was hurt. The status of his injury is unknown, but we do know that it is a knee contusion. It didn’t seem to be major, but any time spent without him being able to play isn’t good.
- The 1st Half Wildcats- We’ve heard many times that Kentucky is a 2nd half team, but this game was a little too much of only 2nd half ball played. The Wildcats were down 48-33 at the half and it seemed as if the game was lost. The young cats had trailed just 20-19 with 8:06 to go in the first half, but the veteran Mountaineers went off going on an 18-2 run in less than five minutes, during which star Jevon Carter buried three consecutive 3-pointers. Kentucky stopped playing defense late in the half and couldn’t buy a shot going nearly 6 minutes without a made field goal. Luckily all of this bad play was erased by almost perfect play in the 2nd half. If Kentucky can apply this kind of fight for a full game there isn’t a team they can’t beat.
The Wildcats beat a ranked team for the first time this season and have won two straight since dropping out of the AP Top 25 last Monday for the first time since March 2014. This should give Kentucky a good chance to be ranked once again. Next, we will see Kentucky host Vanderbilt(8-13) on Tuesday at Rupp Arena. The game will be at 9 PM EST.