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Kentucky Basketball: A switch was flipped against UNCG

Perhaps this is the game in which Kentucky finally found itself.

Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

It was a tale of two halves Saturday in Kentucky’s game against UNC Greensboro.

It looked to be more of the same from our young Cats in the first twenty, but it looked as if a whole other team came out of the tunnel for the second half. It had been a while since I’d seen such a stark difference between not just a team’s play, but the atmosphere in an arena as well.

This kind of battle, though, is exactly what Kentucky needed to grow.

The first half was hard to watch in nearly every way. On offense, UK struggled to knock down shots and finish at the basket. On defense, Kentucky had another fight on their hands as Francis Alonso scored 19 points alone. UNCG’s biggest lead was only 5 in the opening minutes, but it felt like it was an enormous deficit.

Finally, no one can settle the outcome of a game on poor officiating, but there were questionable calls throughout the day that threw Kentucky out of rhythm. The boo’s of nearly 22,000 people were intense and often on the entire officiating crew. With a scary-looking injury to Keldon Johnson that left Rupp silent, things were looking bleak for John Calipari’s group going into the half down three.

The Wildcats flipped the script over the rest of game, though, as almost every issue seemed to be corrected. Kentucky finished the game shooting 48.3% from the field and 41.7% from three.

On defense, Kentucky held the Spartans to 21 second-half points and won the rebound battle 46-30. When it came to some more debatable calls, this team matured and kept their composure to play through them and turn the deficit into a 17-point win. The boo’s changed to an eruption of cheers from a combination of great plays, like Reid Travis and Keldon Johnson slams, Tyler Herro shooting, a slick behind-the-back dribble and finish from PJ Washington and the overall impact of Ashton Hagans.

The team that came out for the second-half is the one we've been waiting to see all year, and they may have finally started to put it together. It’s just in time, though, as Kentucky’s next four games only get harder and will be followed up by the start of SEC league play.

“We needed this game, believe me,” said John Calipari after the win. “The next one, all the games coming up now become harder and harder and harder and harder. The team needs it, and we’ve got to find out who can play in those type of games, like when the stuff is really on, who can make plays.

If Saturday was just a taste of what the finished product will be, this team is trending up and finally seems to be headed in the right direction.

“But let me say this: My team is getting better,” exclaimed Calipari. “And I’m just in this -- in the process of I’m going every day, how do I help them get better. I’m doing individual meetings, we’re doing everything I can to help them, but they are responsible for themselves, and we’ve just -- we’ve got to fight to win games.

“Today we fought to win. We did. And that’s what we’ve got to do for 40. Let’s go. Fight to win.”

Catch UK’s next game against Seton Hall on Saturday from Madison Square Garden on FOX.