Ask a basketball coach, any basketball coach, and they will tell you that they want their team to play their best basketball at the end of the season leading up to their postseason tournaments.
This is exactly what Big Blue Nation is hoping to see from the Kentucky Wildcats.
The Cats come into Saturday night match up with Missouri with some great momentum on their side thanks to their 87-72 victory over Arkansas and their 81-71 win over Alabama recently.
In those games, UK looked more like the team that can overwhelm you with size, athleticism, and defensively and less like the team that can underwhelm you with low effort, bad attitudes, and taking terrible shots.
Make no mistake, though. The Tigers from Columbia, MO can play. Tomorrow’s game is yet another tough game in a killer end of season stretch for the Cats. It’s very winnable for UK, but at the same time UK will have to play really well to defeat Mizzou.
I think there are three things that in my mind Kentucky needs to do to see the continued growth and development Cat fans long for. Let’s take a look at the keys to a Wildcat win.
1. UK needs to play through distractions. You could audibly hear the gasps and moans across the Bluegrass when the Yahoo! Sports report came out stating two former and one current Wildcat players took impermissible benefits as part of the scandal uncovered by the FBI which has rocked college basketball. All reports out of Lexington have been somewhat mute while more data is gathered and rightfully so. Way to early to tell how it all comes down. A little side note, I COMPLETELY trust our compliance office at Kentucky, led by Sandy Bell. If it happened, I fully believe Bell and her staff either have it completely under control or will soon.
The problem is UK’s best player to date is the one named in the report, Kevin Knox. Knox has been playing really well as of late as the Cats go to scorer. The combination of Knox’s alleged involvement and Kentucky’s youth could be a definite distraction Saturday night. I fully believe, however, that coach John Calipari and his staff will put the safeguards in place that will allow Knox and his teammates to perform at their highest level.
2. Play the rotation from the Arkansas game again. It’s no secret that the combination of guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green, and Hamidou Diallo with forwards Knox, PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Wenyen Gabriel give the Cats the best chance to win. I really like SGA and Green in the game together. The pair have a great chemistry and give UK two solid point guards on the floor together. As mentioned earlier Knox has emerged at the Cats go-to scorer; now combine that with the improved play of Washington and the effort of Gabriel and it’s obvious that the Cats are trending the right way.
It’s also so encouraging to see Diallo’s effort and attitude improve. I really respect Coach Calipari defending his mercurial wing recently. Over my career as a coach I have done the very same thing for my players. In return, I gained their trust and usually their output improved. I strongly believe that this will happen with Diallo. Trust and love go a long ways in life.
But the real gas to the Cats collective fire is Vanderbilt. He is quickly gaining his game legs to go with his already high motor and makes UK even more dangerous. If Vando can give the Cats 11 points and 9 rebounds a night along with his ability handle and pass, the Cats go from a threat to win some games to a threat to play really deep in March.
3. Rupp Arena needs to be loud and active. My third key isn’t geared at the players as much as it is the 23,000 fans that will watch this game Saturday. Look, I firmly believe the best, most knowledgeable fans in college basketball are Kentucky fans. I am one of them. But this team as we all know is very hot and cold. If the fans in the seats get loud and proud then the Cats energy level spikes. I love it when Rupp becomes a sea of noise in support of the blue and white, and I know the team does as well.
What do you think are the keys to the Cats success against Mizzou?