Unselfish – Undeterred – Undefeated are three words that describe what we have seen from the up and rising University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team.
The early first season (preconference games) are behind us and as the new year unfolds the Cats are undefeated in the second season (SEC games) and unblemished in the new year.
The latest win came on the road in Gainesville as the Cats went into the swampy marsh of Florida to face off against the Gators. For the third game in a row we saw new and exciting signs of life from this developing team. Kentucky moved the ball well in the first ten minutes of the game, they scored effectively, moved the ball and picked up 7 assists. They played aggressively on defense and may have put together their best first half of play all season. It was a strong twenty minutes of basketball.
Dontaie Allen, Brandon Boston Jr, Olivier Sarr, and Davion Mintz broke out early putting up points and as a unit looked stronger than they have all season. Isaiah Jackson was a gale force underneath, he picked up 3 blocks in the early going and established that if the Gators were going to score, they were going to have to earn every point. Many in Big Blue Nation are abuzz with the anticipated return of Keion Brooks. He returned in the first half for first minutes of this season and played well. Now that Brooks is back, time will tell if they are a better team with him in the lineup, he has the skill set to be sure, it will be up to him if he can inspire the team and be a leader on the court for this team. If he can, that is an added bonus, because this team was on the climb before he returned.
The 35-29 lead at the end of the first half was a welcomed surprise but anyone that has watched the team all season immediately knew that holding leads in the early season was problematic at best. Any concern was shattered when the Cats took the floor in the second half. The Wildcats went at the Gators with an unrelenting aggressiveness that was absent until this weekend. At a crucial time when it looked like Florida was poising to mounting a run, Jackson had the most athletic dunk of the night and then followed it up after a UK stop with a twisting layup and added a free throw.
Florida gave Kentucky a gift even though the game was really not in doubt during the final ten minutes. Their full court press showed some weakness as the Cats struggled to break it. Even after Brooks had grown tired enough to have taken a seat with five minutes left, Coach Cal put him back on the floor to help get the ball in bounds. As mentioned earlier, he is a veteran with some minutes under his belt, whether or not he becomes a leader for this team that makes them stronger will be an unfolding story in the days ahead. His skill set is not in doubt. If he is healthy, then it is up to him to make this team even better.
As always, even though the Cats were in control, strange things happen in the swamp. A loose net had to be repaired which slowed UK momentum, a ball got stuck on a Kentucky jump shot between the rim and backboard, and without explanation the clock quit running. But the BBN had something to cheer about as the team survived their trip south and came away with a 76-59 final score.
That runs the total to 3 – 0 in the SEC.
There has not been a loss yet in 2021.
Alabama is coming up Tuesday and like Kentucky are undefeated – only one will be able to make that claim after Tuesday night. Let’s keep watching this team emerge. The season is starting to be fun and we are in it to win it.