Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s impressive win over Missouri

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s impressive 87-66 win over Missouri:

1. Sudden chemistry amid all the chaos.

After a weekend of bombshell reports concerning the FBI investigation into the corruption of college basketball, including a Yahoo Sports story that named two former and one current Kentucky player, among many others, the Cats came out against Missouri on Saturday night and continued to click.

The victory was the third straight, an abrupt U-turn from the team’s disheartening four-game losing streak, a skid that began with a 69-60 loss at Missouri on Feb. 3. The Kentucky that performed Saturday at home was a far cry from the Kentucky team that lost at Mizzou.

In fact, you could make the case this was UK’s most impressive all-around performance since the 90-61 beatdown of Louisville way back on Dec. 29. In fact, the Cats’ halftime lead of 44-32 over Missouri was the UK’s largest since leading the ’Ville 41-27 on the way to crushing the Cards.

It wasn’t just the first half, either. On the night, Kentucky shot 54.9 percent from the floor, the first game in which it reached the 50 percent mark since the Jan. 13 overtime win at Vanderbilt. Overall, it was UK’s highest shooting percentage since the Cats shot 55.8 percent in the 74-73 home win over Texas A&M on Jan. 9.

Wait, there’s more. Kentucky was 10 of 16 from three-point range for 62.5 percent. The Cats outrebounded Missouri 36-32. They also committed just nine turnovers to 17 assists.

And Kevin Knox, the current player named in the Yahoo report for allegedly having a dinner with an agent, came out and scored 21 points after the school announced that it had found nothing that would affect the freshman’s eligibility.

“I just blocked it out,” said Knox. “I just focused on my family and basketball.”

2. The difference that Jarred Vanderbilt and PJ Washington makes.

This was Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin after the game on Kentucky, “I think more than their shooting, their ability, especially PJ (Washington) and Jarred (Vanderbilt), the way they rebound the basketball. Keep balls alive. For those young guys, they’re relentless rebounders.”

Washington was credited with just five rebounds in 29 minutes, to go with 12 points, but the freshman forward had a way of keeping balls alive. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt continued his tear on the glass, collecting 15 boards in just 27 minutes. The freshman recorded his first collegiate double-double with 11 points to go with his boardwork.

And if you are looking for a common thread in these wins over Alabama, at Arkansas and now Missouri, rebounding has played a big role. Kentucky bashed Bama 44-27 on the boards. It won the glass 46-29 at Arkansas. It ended up with a 36-32 advantage over Missouri, but for much of the night the margin was much higher. First half, UK outrebounded Missouri 19-11.

It was Vanderbilt’s third straight game of double-digit boards. He had 11 rebounds in 19 minutes against Alabama followed by 11 rebounds in 19 minutes at Arkansas. His 15 boards against the Tigers tied Nick Richards for the team’s season-high. Richards had 25 points and 15 rebounds in the Cats’ win over Fort Wayne back in November.

“PJ and Jarred stick out in my mind just with their movement and relentless effort,” said Martin. “I thought both those guys played great games.”

3. Are these Cats clicking at just the right time?

The better question may be this: Can they keep it up? There are just two regular season games remaining — Ole Miss at home on Wednesday followed by the finale at Florida on Saturday. Currently 9-7 in the league, Kentucky has a shot to be 22-9 and 11-7 heading into the SEC Tournament in St. Louis.

The record doesn’t matter as much as the way the team is playing on the floor. Right now, the Cats appear to be playing with more confidence, especially on the offensive end. As Calipari pointed out after the game, there was a stretch where this team was struggling to get into the 60s. Now, UK put up 81 points on the Crimson Tide, 87 on the Razorbacks and now 87 on Mizzou.

Kentucky averaged a season-high 1.353 points per possession against the Tigers, its highest PPP since 1.402 against Texas A&M on Jan. 3 of the 2016-17 season. And Missouri has been known as one of the better defensive teams around.

“I’ll say it again, in March you’ve got to be able to score more than 60,” Calipari said. “You’ve got to be able to get 75, 80 on the boards against a good team because they may get the same on you because they’re a good team. We’re starting to play and figure it out and I’m proud of them.”

Kentucky men’s basketball 2017-18

Date

Opponent

UK

Opp

Dec

Rec

SEC

11/10/17

Utah Valley

73

63

W

1-0

11/12/17

Vermont

73

69

W

2-0

11/14/17

vsKansas (chicago)

61

65

L

2-1

11/17/17

East Tennessee

78

61

W

3-1

11/20/17

Troy

70

62

W

4-1

11/22/17

Fort Wayne

86

67

W

5-1

11/26/17

UIC

107

73

W

6-1

12/2/17

Harvard

79

70

W

7-1

12/9/17

vsMonmouth (New York)

93

76

W

8-1

12/16/17

Virginia Tech

93

86

W

9-1

12/23/17

vsUCLA (New Orleans)

75

83

L

9-2

12/29/17

Louisville

90

61

W

10-2

12/31/17

Georgia

66

61

W

11-2

1-0

1/3/18

@LSU

74

71

W

12-2

2-0

1/6/18

@Tennessee

65

76

L

12-3

2-1

1/9/18

Texas A&M

74

73

W

13-3

3-1

1/13/18

@Vanderbilt

74

67

W

14-3

4-1

1/16/18

@South Carolina

68

76

L

14-4

4-2

1/20/18

Florida

64

66

L

14-5

4-3

1/23/18

Mississippi St

78

65

W

15-5

5-3

1/27/18

@West Virginia

83

76

W

16-5

1/30/18

Vanderbilt

83

81

W*

17-5

6-3

2/3/18

@Missouri

60

69

L

17-6

6-4

2/6/18

Tennessee

59

61

L

17-7

6-5

2/10/18

@Texas A&M

74

85

L

17-8

6-6

2/14/18

@Auburn

66

76

L

17-9

6-7

2/17/18

Alabama

81

71

W

18-9

7-7

2/20/18

@Arkansas

87

72

W

19-9

8-7

2/24/18

Missouri

87

66

W

20-9

9-7

2/28/18

Ole Miss

3/3/18

@Florida

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