Three take-aways from Kentucky’s 83-58 win over Tennessee on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena:
1. Kentucky looked like Kentucky again
You could label this a #ThrowbackTuesday as the Cats, who have struggled even in victories the past three weeks, suddenly returned to playing, for 40 minutes, the way they played for the most part in November, December and early January. You know, when they were destroying people.
For starters, they crisply and efficiently moved the basketball Tuesday. The result was 17 assists and just seven turnovers. De’Aaron Fox, he of the new hairdo, and Isaiah Briscoe each had six assists. Briscoe had one turnover in 22 minutes. Fox had zero turnovers in 32.
“It wasn’t just ball movement,” head coach John Calipari said afterward. “It was player movement, too.”
All that movement got various Cats open for three-point shots that the home team actually knocked down in the first half. UK was 10 of 18 from beyond the arc in the first half. Derek Willis was four of four from three-point range in the first half, something that Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said his team could not let happen.
Defensively, UK held the Vols to 31 percent shooting in the first half on the way to a 47-32 lead at the break. Tennessee shot just 34.6 percent for the game, much lower than the 46.9 the Vols shot in Knoxville during that 82-80 win over UK.
“We were gosh-awful,” Barnes said Tuesday, but surely Kentucky had much to do with that.
2. Four impressive contributions from four guys
Let’s start with Malik Monk, who scored 20 points, hit four of seven three-pointers but maybe more importantly grabbed a career-high eight rebounds. Remember, this is the same Malik Monk who in back-to-back games did not grab a single rebound. The same Malik Monk who is 6-foot-3 and can jump out of the gym.
“I shouldn’t be getting no rebounds in a game,” Monk admitted after the game. “Coach told me I have to rebound if we’re going to win like we should.”
Speaking of rebounds, Bam Adebayo collected 12 on Tuesday to go with his seven points. It was the first game since Dec. 3 against UCLA that the 6-10 freshman center posted a double-digit number in the rebounding category.
“He should be doing that every night,” Calipari said. “He should be getting 12 to 15 rebounds every night.”
As mentioned earlier, Derek Willis made four three-pointers in the first half. The senior made three in the first nine minutes as UK took a 20-12 lead. He finished with 16 points, making six of 10 shots, including four of seven from three-point range. Willis also had a pair of steals.
Then there was Dominique Hawkins, who came off the bench to score 10 points in 24 minutes. Hawkins was three of six from field, hitting a pair of three-pointers. He also had four rebounds and two assists to go with his usual excellent defensive effort.
“Old Reliable,” is what Calipari called Hawkins after the game.
3. Headed toward a showdown with Florida?
The Cats avenged a loss Tuesday night, beating the same Tennessee team that edged Kentucky in Knoxville three weeks back.
On Feb. 25, Calipari’s team will get the chance to avenge its other SEC loss when Florida comes to Rupp Arena for a 2 p.m. game on CBS, a rematch of the 22-point loss UK suffered in Gainesville on Feb. 4.
Getting revenge against the Gators, however, looks to be a tougher task.
Florida won its seventh straight game Tuesday night, ripping host Auburn 114-95. It was the most points ever by a Florida team in an SEC game. Canyon Barry scored 30 points. The Gators shot 55.9 percent from the floor and made 11 of 19 three-point shots.
So UK and Florida remain tied atop the SEC at 11-2. Both teams are 21-5 overall. South Carolina, which is 10-2, hosts Arkansas on Wednesday night.
A No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament means that team will avoid having to play the No. 2 or No. 3 seed until the tournament final. That might help or hurt the team’s seeding when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.
First things first, of course. Kentucky has a tricky road game Saturday at Georgia, a team that has taken some close, tough losses this season. The Bulldogs are certainly capable of beating the Cats, as they showed by taking UK to overtime at Rupp on Jan. 31 before losing 90-81.
If the Cats played like they did on Tuesday against Tennessee, however, I think Calipari will take his chances over this final five-game stretch.
Kentucky-Tennessee last 10 meetings