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Risers and fallers following Kentucky’s win over Missouri

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Kentucky needs this Keion Brooks to be a Final Four contender.

Keion Brooks Isamu Haynes-Sunayama - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats won their third straight game last night with an 83-56 win over the Missouri Tigers to open the SEC season. This is also their third straight win by 25+ points.

After Kentucky’s loss to Notre Dame, there’s been a lot to like and some strong performances across the board, including last night.

Now, here is a look at who boosted their stock last night, and who needs to up in the coming weeks.

Risers

Keion Brooks: Brooks played the best game of his junior season against the Tigers with 17 points on 7-11 shooting from the field to pair with nine rebounds and two blocks. Everyone else in the starting unit had shown flashes but Brooks, the most experienced Wildcat of the group, still hadn’t shown he found his footing yet. In his first game back from break, he looked like that X-factor this team needs some nights. The production may not always come with it, but the energy was there with Keion, and you’d love to see him build on this with some consistency.

Starting Unit: Speaking of the starting unit, they were all what we’ve come to expect of them in a third straight blowout performance. Oscar Tshiebwe impacted the game even though he shot 2-10 from the floor as he finished with another dominant double-double of 13 points and 20 boards. TyTy Washington scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, Sahvir Wheeler nearly had his third double-double this season with 11 points and 9 assists, and Kellan Grady shot 2-5 from three for 8 points. It’s good to see this core continue to build on their foundation as they’ve all perfectly slipped into their roles.

Defense: As fun as it’s been to watch this offense work, the defense has flown under the radar. Kentucky has only allowed one team to score over 70 points this season, which was Duke in the season opener. Competition may be questionable when it comes to this statistic, but Kentucky has held teams between 50-59 and 60-69 five times apiece. While averaging 92 points over the last three, they’ve held their opponents to 61 over that stretch as well. That’s the ultimate recipe for success and a side of this group that’s not getting enough love.

Free-throw Shooting: While the Wildcats have been good in the free-throwing shooting department in terms of how well they’re shooting — now 75.1%, good for 61st nationally — they’ve struggled mightily to get to the free throw line. They currently rank 228th nationally in free throws attempted per game (16.1) but managed to get to the line 26 times vs. Missouri, hitting 22 of them. It was really nice to see Oscar Tshiebwe go 9/10 from the line, as Missouri was trying to be extra physical with him in the paint and held him to 2/10 shooting from the field.

Fallers

Three Point Shooting: The scoring from three went cold once again as the Wildcats shot 5-17 (29.4%) from three. Grady and Washington shot 4-9 from distance, but the rest of the roster combined to be 1-8. It’s not an immediate issue during a game like last night where they handle their opponents without it, but it’s proving to be a streaky trend that you’d hate to see cost Kentucky in games like it has in years past.

Bench Play: While the starters are firing on all cylinders, the bench is still trying to figure it out. Davion Mintz and Jacob Toppin played their roles while Lance Ware, Bryce Hopkins and Daimion Collins all got opportunities. Nobody did anything off the bench that would be a cause for concern, but it was just average production again. With conference play starting, the staff and the starters will need to be able to count on some them to bring more than just flashes of potential to help them along during the SEC slate. It’s time for someone to begin to emerge from that group.