In other news …
On a weekend dominated by a news story implicating Kentucky in an ongoing FBI investigation of college basketball, a game was played in Rupp Arena on Saturday night.
And UK played plenty well enough to cause the investigation and its season of fits and starts to fade away.
Good shooting, good defense and good everything propelled Kentucky to an 87-66 victory over Missouri. It was UK’s largest margin of victory since the 29-point rout of Louisville on Dec. 29.
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Talk of turning a metaphorical corner, which began after a victory at West Virginia four weekends ago, resurfaced.
When asked if UK had turned the corner, Quade Green said, “We’re playing off each other, that’s all it was,” he said of turning the corner. “We weren’t trusting each other. We trust each other on offense and defense now.”
The difference in shooting in the first and second games against Missouri could hardly have been starker. At Columbia, UK made a season-low 31.3 percent of its shots. In battering the Tigers in Rupp Arena, UK shot with 54.9-percent accuracy.
On this night, a UK team that ranked 345th among the 351 Division I teams in three-pointers per game, made 10 of 16 shots from beyond the arc. The Cats had made that many three-pointers only once previously this season: 11 of 22 against Virginia Tech.
Kevin Knox, whose eligibility was called into question when Yahoo Sports broke a story Thursday about the FBI investigation, had been the team’s best long-range shooter. Although he played and led a balanced attack with 21 points, Knox barely participated in the three-for-all. He made one.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander equaled a career high with a pair of three-pointers and scored 15 points. Hamidou Diallo, who had been more like Hami-don’t Diallo during recent struggles, made all three of his three-point shots. That equaled the number he’d made since Jan. 13. His 11 points marked his third double-digit scoring game since Jan. 13.
Brad Calipari gave the game a fitting punctuation by making his first of the season. It set the final score with 27.6 seconds left.
Kentucky won the rebounding competition, though not by the overwhelming margin (17) in each of the last two games. Jarred Vanderbilt led the way with 15 rebounds. That equaled the most by a UK player this season (Nick Richards had 15 against Fort Wayne).
Kentucky, which won a third straight game, improved to 20-9 overall and 9-7 in the Southeastern Conference. The victory kept Kentucky in a tie for third place with Mississippi State, Arkansas and Florida.
Missouri fell to 18-11 overall and 8-8 in the SEC. Kassius Robertson, who ranked second in three-point shooting accuracy and baskets in SEC play, led the Tigers with 26 points.
The first half saw Kentucky shoot from the perimeter like never before this season. UK made eight of 10 three-point shots en route to a 44-32 halftime lead.
Diallo’s three-pointer with 11 seconds left set the halftime score. It was the second three in the half for a player who had made one of 12 shots from beyond the arc in the last seven games.
The eight three-pointers were six more than UK made at Missouri earlier this month and was more than the Cats had made in 24 of the previous 28 games.
“Tonight was a totally different team than we were at Missouri,” Knox said. “We played aggressively tonight.”
Vanderbilt grabbed 10 rebounds in the first half. UK Coach John Calipari called upon Vanderbilt for more rebounding early in the second half. When Missouri scored twice on second-chance opportunities inside the first two minutes, Vanderbilt reported to the scorer’s table and replaced Richards at the next stoppage of play.
Barely two minutes later, Vanderbilt reminded everyone how how this was Kentucky’s night. He scored on a post-up that expanded UK’s lead to 54-38. The margin reached its zenith at 82-58 with less than three minutes left.
Green cited a team meeting that came in the midst of the four-game losing streak as significant.
“Everybody cleared the air,” he said. “Everybody said what they had to say. We had to fix everything we had to do. And we did it.”
Mississippi at Kentucky
7 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN2)