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Kentucky’s win vs. Wofford was the Jemarl Baker game

Baker played an unexpected major role in helping the Cats escape Wofford.

Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

It’s been said that good things come to those who wait.

If that’s the case, then Kentucky’s Jemarl Baker had better get used to the spotlight as the reserve guard has emerged as an unlikely hero in the Wildcats run to another Sweet 16 appearance.

After missing all of the 2018-19 season with a knee injury, Baker missed the first eight games this year before finally logging his first college minutes on December 8th in a loss against Seton Hall.

Through 26 games, the redshirt freshman has averaged 9.3 minutes per game and has scored 64 points (2.5 ppg). However, those numbers have continued to soar during the postseason.

On Saturday, Baker scored a career-high eight points and was part of an outstanding defensive effort that helped lift the Wildcats to a 62-56 win over Wofford.

In two NCAA Tournament games, Baker has had back-to-back career-high games (8 points against Wofford and 7 points against Abilene Christian). His 15 points over these two games are more than he scored in the previous 10 games combined (14).

“First of all, let me talk, you guys haven’t asked Jemarl Baker a question, but let me just tell you, I said it after the game, we coach every kid like they’re a starter. That’s how they’re trained, every one of these kids,” said Calipari during his postgame comments. “And I keep saying, we don’t know who’s going to be a star. What he did today defensively, he made a basket or two and we needed them. What he did defensively meant he was prepared for this moment.”

Considered one of the premier shooters in the country as a four-star recruit, Baker is shooting just 31 percent this season from behind the three-point arc (13-for-42).

However, the California native hit a big three at the 16:04 mark in the second half to tie the game at 35-35 and was a perfect 3-for-3 from the free throw line.

‘We know what he’s capable of,” said Keldon Johnson of Baker’s performance against Wofford. “Just to see him finally get in a rhythm and see him hit shots was great.”

Baker also received high praise from Reid Travis, who led the Wildcats with 14 points and 11 rebounds, against the No. 7 seeded Terriers.

“He always seems to be in the right spot as far as getting loose balls and talking on defense,” said Travis, who’s also battled a knee injury this season. “He just does the little things right…never complains, always works hard so you respect a guy that comes to work every day…does what he has to do, and when he gets an opportunity, he’s able to take advantage of it. I’m really happy for him.”

For Baker, it’s all about enjoying the moment and fighting for survival as the Cats get set for their eight Sweet 16 appearance in the last nine years. Kentucky now travels to Kansas City, Missouri, for third-round action on Friday.

“We don’t want to go home,” said Baker, who played 18 minutes on Saturday. “We know we’re going to have to defend, we know we’re going to have to compete. We just play to win.”