Following the UK basketball victory over Alabama in Rupp Arena on Saturday — the one that broke a rare four-game losing streak for Kentucky — the young Wildcats spoke about how that skid might have helped them come together more at a key time in the season.
“I’m just glad we’re not losing anymore,” freshman PJ Washington said, as if the tough times were behind this bunch.
They knew another tough one was on the horizon, however — a road date with the NCAA Tournament-bound Arkansas Razorbacks — and the way Tuesday night’s game started made it look like the tough times were back again.
UK, which had lost its last four SEC road games heading into this one, fell behind 11-0 in the first three minutes, and then the Cats came roaring back. They had already tied it up before the 10:00 mark of the first half, and UK rolled over the Razorbacks in the second half to take a 87-72 victory back to Lexington in one of the team’s most impressive outings of the season.
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A few interesting numbers behind the Cats’ big night in Fayetteville:
15: That was the margin of victory for Kentucky (19-9, 8-7 SEC) on Tuesday night, and it was the Wildcats’ largest in league play all season. Of UK’s seven other conference wins before this one, only one was by more than 10 points — the Cats’ 78-65 win at home against Mississippi State last month.
23: That was Kevin Knox’s point total for the evening. He was Kentucky’s leading scorer, and — somewhat surprisingly — this was only the fifth time this season that Knox has tallied more than 20 points in a game. UK’s record in those five games is now 4-1, with the lone loss coming when he scored 21 at South Carolina last month.
17: That was the rebounding margin for Tuesday night’s game, 46-29 in favor of Kentucky, which also outrebounded Alabama by 17 on Saturday afternoon. UK has been able to match intensity around the basket with its superior length in the frontcourt over the past two games, and the result has been a big advantage on the boards. And two victories.
28: That’s the number of rebounds that freshman Jarred Vanderbilt has pulled down over the past three games. He had 11 points and nine rebounds for the second straight game Tuesday night, and he grabbed 10 boards in the game before those two. Vanderbilt, who missed the first 17 games of the season with a foot injury, is now leading the Cats with 7.1 rebounds per game, and he’s done that in just 15.5 minutes per contest.
13 and 10: Those were PJ Washington’s point and rebound totals against Arkansas, a rare double-double for the five-star forward who came to Lexington this season with a reputation as one of the best rebounders in his high school class. Washington logged just his second double-double as a Wildcat and his first since the team’s second game of the season against Vermont. He has now scored in double figures in three straight games after going five straight games with six or fewer points.
2: That’s not a big number, unless you’re talking about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s makes from three-point range. The Cats’ sparkplug freshman this season has done pretty much everything for Kentucky in recent weeks, except make threes. He was 2-for-3 from long range on Tuesday night — scoring 18 points to go with seven assists and five rebounds. Before the Arkansas game, Gilgeous-Alexander had gone five games without a three-pointer and had only attempted one total three in UK’s previous three games. He was 1-for-12 from long range in the Cats’ last eight games heading into Tuesday night. A stat to remember: UK is now 11-1 this season when Gilgeous-Alexander makes a three-pointer.
10: That was the number of minutes Hamidou Diallo spent on the court Tuesday night. He started the game — and is one of only three Wildcats to start all 28 games this season, along with Knox and Nick Richards — but he got in foul trouble early in the first half and played just five minutes in the second half (with Quade Green starting in his place out of halftime). Diallo attempted just one field goal — an airball three from the corner — and finished with two points, one rebound and one steal. He has scored in double figures just once in UK’s last 10 SEC games, and he hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in any of the Cats’ past five games.