They’re back to winning! The Kentucky Wildcats put an end to their 4-game losing skid Saturday afternoon with an 81-71 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide. It was Kentucky’s 18th win of the season, moving them to 18-9 on the year.
Lead by Kentucky’s best “team game” this season and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s lockdown defense, here are three takeaways from today’s win.
Are the Cats better without Kevin Knox?
Of course they aren’t. Knox is a sure lottery pick and by far the most talented player on the team. He’s their best outside shooter and can take over a game at any time. But, today, Knox went played six minutes due to picking up two quick fouls and the Wildcats proved they could play quality basketball without their star.
Kentucky lead Alabama 39-34 at halftime and held Collin Sexton’s team to 42% shooting from the field, allowed them to shoot just 26% from behind the arc and forced them to commit six turnovers. They also out-rebounded the Crimson Tide, 22-14, and scored eight second chance points to the Tide’s zero.
The Cats offense suddenly flourished, shooting 45% from the field 40% from behind the arc and 90% from behind the free throw line. Of course, Knox’s presence would likely only increase those numbers, but it was nice to see the young Wildcats play team basketball instead of relying on Knox to carry the offensive load.
Appreciate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
The box score won’t show it, but Shai put the clamps on Collin Sexton every time he guarded him. Sexton is like Knox, a highly talented individual who is a sure lottery pick. And he certainly showed flashes as a future pro, but not when Shai was guarding him. Shai constantly denied the ball, kept Sexton out of the paint and wouldn’t give an inch of space outside. Shai did all of this on defense while facilitating an offense that produced efficient, team basketball today. I’m not sure Kentucky has seen a defender like this since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and even MKG didn’t have the responsibility of running an offense with so many limitations. Shai will almost surely enter his name in the NBA draft this summer, as he absolutely should. Big Blue Nation should appreciate the next month of Shai’s Kentucky career.
What’s next for these Cats?
Kentucky will play at Arkansas, host Missouri and Ole Miss then travel to Florida to round out their season. With an 18-9 record, they could easily split their remaining four games by winning at home and losing on the road. They’ll likely be underdogs at both Arkansas and Florida but should be decently favored over Missouri and Ole Miss. Today’s game showed their mental toughness has grown (losing Knox for most of the first half and managing to have a halftime lead) and Kevin Knox’s ability to take over games is legitimate. The only question left is if they’ll be able to take it to the next level in March. Only time will tell.
Now, let’s celebrate the Cats’ first win in February!