The LSU Tigers visited Rupp Arena this weekend with University of Kentucky fans looking for some toughness from the erratic Wildcats. There had been some signs of life after their win against the Gators, but that quickly disappeared. However, much to the relief of the Big Blue Nation, there were signs. These Cats played tough.
The Cats got off to a good start in the opening minutes. Anyone closely observing the game would admit that it was not pretty – but it was gritty. And grit is something the Wildcats had been lacking in their most recent outings. But as the first half continued, the team found their missing offense and began to put on an amazing performance which at one point during the half had them shooting a scorching 60% from the field and close to 50% from behind the three point arc. Those numbers settled down but they smoldered with an impressive offensive production in the opening twenty minutes.
That grittiness carried a team playing strong. They shot the ball with confidence. They scored points and ended the half with only 4 turnovers. The Cats piled on a 49-first half points on the Tigers.
The second half started out a bit rockier. The momentum from the end of the first half had cooled during the break. LSU responded in the second half with more spark than they had shown in the first twenty minutes but something else happened that showed even more life in the Cats that had been missing.
They played scrappy. Now there are probably a variety of better basketball terms to use but scrappy sums it up. The hot shooting of the first half had settled down and so the Cats were forced to play tougher in the second twenty.
Managing turnovers continued and gave them more opportunities to control the flow of the game. The tough scrappy play was evident as on more than one occasion LSU tried to creep back into the game and whittle away at the UK lead. Each time the Cats were able to find the right play, the right open man, make the right stop, and nudge them right back keeping them buried by double digits for much of the half.
The buzzer put the exclamation point on the final score. Kentucky beat LSU 82-69, snapping a three-game losing streak in the process.
The win was badly needed to be sure but so were the signs of toughness. The grit and the scrap of the Cats is something that has been elusive for this talented team throughout much of the season. If they are going to emerge from the conference schedule and be poised at all to play in the SEC tournament, they have to start now. The 82 points were the most points Kentucky has scored in a game this season. So both scoring and taking care of the ball allowed them to chalk up the win.
“Well, we’ve been saying the biggest thing is turnovers,” Coach John Calipari said. “So today, we had nine turnovers, and probably four of them or three of them were shot clock violations… everybody was playing for each other instead of themselves,”
B.J. Boston Jr showed flashes of excellence as he led the way for the Wildcats with 18 points. His play along with Mintz, Allen, Jackson, and Brooks tamed the Tigers and gave the team a badly needed boost. Kentucky will now face four straight opponents who are currently ranked, starting with Alabama on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is one of the hottest teams in the country, ripping the Cats 85-65 two weeks ago.
“We needed to win a game. We needed to win this,” Calipari said. “Now, we’re going and playing the best team in our league. They beat us here, now we go down there. They’re good. They’re a top 10 team.”
Now we enjoy the win, but we also know that the grittiness and scrappiness that were on display in Rupp are essential if this team is ever going to live up to the potential that most people have been waiting to see. There were moments this weekend and that toughness gives us hope for the week ahead.