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Kentucky basketball: Leftovers from UK’s mashing of Missouri

Kentucky forward Derek Willis, left, and guard Jamal Murray defended Missouri guard K.J. Walton in the second half. Kentucky beat the Tigers, 88-54.
Kentucky forward Derek Willis, left, and guard Jamal Murray defended Missouri guard K.J. Walton in the second half. Kentucky beat the Tigers, 88-54. Lexington Herald-Leader

Some leftovers from Kentucky’s 88-54 steamroll of poor Missouri on Wednesday night at Rupp Arena:

The commitment to defense

Ask coaches and players about this sudden three-game streak of excellence and all concerned point to a commitment to defense. And that shows in the numbers. After Arkansas shot 40 percent in its loss last week to the visiting Cats, Vanderbilt shot 32 percent on Saturday and Missouri shot 31.6 percent on Wednesday.

Vanderbilt was averaging 1.104 points per possession. The Commodores averaged just 0.892 against UK. Missouri was averaging 0.987. The Tigers averaged 0.750, a season-low for a Kentucky opponent. Missouri was the sixth straight foe that UK has held below that magic 1.0 mark. Kentucky is 47-1 in its last 48 games in which it has held the opponent to less than a point per possession. The one loss was to Auburn, just before this three-game streak.

On the flip side, Kentucky averaged a season-high 1.301 points per possession. The previous high was 1.253 against South Florida.

Getting Tyler Ulis some rest

Wednesday’s 44-point win allowed John Calipari to get some rest for Tyler, his ironman point guard. Heading into the Missouri game, the sophomore had been on the floor for 93.8 percent of the available minutes for every game he had played in this year with the exception of the South Florida game when Ulis was limited to 14 minutes by a hyperextended elbow.

Ulis played 29 minutes against Missouri, his second-lowest total of the season behind that USF game. Ulis made the most of his minutes, scoring 20 points, his third straight game of 20 or more points. Ulis also contributed eight assists.

With Ulis getting a well-deserved break, Isiaiah Briscoe ran the point. The freshman finished with 15 points and six assists, his highest assist total since being credited with seven against Ohio State.

Best of all, Briscoe made five of six free throws, which drew loud applause from the Rupp faithful. In his previous 11 games, Briscoe had made just six of 27 free throws.

Skal Labissiere scores but doesn’t rebound

Most were encouraged by the freshman’s game. Labissiere scored 12 points — his most since his 17 against South Florida — and blocked a career-high five shots. Yet Calipari wasn’t so impressed.

The coach emphasized that Labissiere played 18 minutes without getting a single rebound. It was the 7-footer’s second straight game without a rebound. He played four minutes against Vanderbilt. In his past three games, Labissiere has played 42 minutes and grabbed all of three boards.

“It makes our team different,” Calipari said of Labissiere making and blocking shots. “When he blocks shots, you can’t go in there and he goes and blocks one. But I’m going to say it again. You must rebound and attempt to guard a post player. The guy can’t just turn and score on you. All right? Think of the games we have coming up. You ask me why at Vandy didn’t you play him more? Because of that. They had a moose in the post and they had a 3-point-shooting big. And I didn’t think he could guard either.”

Derek Willis video

Although I wrote my column on him, I didn’t have a chance to talk to Derek Willis. It was a 9 p.m. game. Deadline. Time constraints. I listened to Missouri coach Kim Anderson’s press conference and Calipari’s press conference then started writing.

So here’s video of Willis from Scott Anderson of Nation of Blue:

Kentucky men’s basketball next five games

Jan. 30 @Kansas (7:00/ESPN)

Feb. 2 @Tennessee (7:00/ESPN)

Feb. 6 Florida (4:00/CBS)

Feb. 9 Georgia (9:00/ESPN or ESPNU)

Feb. 13 @South Carolina (12:00/ESPN or ESPN2)

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