Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky basketball: Five quick things from the win over Tennessee

Kentucky guard Jamal Murray leads a fast break in the second half. The University of Kentucky hosted the University of Tennessee, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
Kentucky guard Jamal Murray leads a fast break in the second half. The University of Kentucky hosted the University of Tennessee, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 at Rupp Arena in Lexington. Lexington Herald-Leader

Five things from Knetucky’s 80-70 win over Tennessee:

1. Kentucky keeps channeling its Golden State Warrior. Splash Brothers aren’t just confined to the Bay Area; there’s some in the Commonwealth, as well.

The Cats made 12-of-20 three-pointers in their 80-61 slap-down of Florida at Rupp Arena. They were 10-of-21 in their 82-48 romp over Georgia at Rupp. Last Saturday, they took their accuracy on the road, making 11-of-25 in that 89-62 smothering of South Carolina. Thursday night against Tennessee brought more of the same. UK was 11-of-24 from three in the 80-70 triumph.

It’s the first time UK has made 10-or-more three-pointers in four straight games since 1993. And over the four games, UK has made 44-of-90 three-pointers for 48.9 percent.

Derek Willis was particularly ridiculous against the Vols. The junior, who said afterward that his knees are bothering him, made a career-high seven of 11 three-pointers on the way to a career-high 25 points. (He played 25 minutes.) Jamal Murray made three-of-six threes.

2. Assorted Cats are playing through pain, or not playing through pain. Alex Poythress missed his fourth straight game with a knee injury. Marcus Lee missed the second half Thursday night because of back spasms. And after scoring a career-high 25 points, in large part thanks to seven made three-pointers, Derek Willis said his knees have been bothering him.

“They feel horrible right now, to be honest,” said Willis during the post-game interviews, with ice packs on each knee.

Willis said he believes tendinitis is the problem and he can’t afford to rest. He’s right. The junior has brought an added dimension to the team, drilling machine-gun shots from the perimeter to further open the driving lanes for the Cats’ trio of guards.

Here’s another overlooked and underestimated stat: Willis scored his 25 points in 25 minutes on Thursday without committing a turnover.

3. Rick Barnes complimented UK’s chemistry. The Tennessee coach said he thinks Calipari has his team understanding their roles.

“I said coming in here, ‘You take away the Kansas game, which I though they really had a great chance to win, and we obviously played a great game and our best game of the year (against UK in Knoxville), but you go back and look at the scores; they’ve been playing terrific.’ I felt coming into our game in Knoxville they were starting to find themselves and it’s really impressive the way John has his team really understanding their roles. The chemistry is just great.”

4. Kentucky is all alone at the top. LSU’s 76-69 loss to visiting Alabama on Wednesday night dropped the up-and-down Tigers to 9-4 and out of a first place SEC tie with Kentucky. The Cats win over the Vols made that stand up as UK is now 10-3 in league play.

South Carolina, Texas A&M and Florida are all 8-5. Alabama, Georgia and Vanderbilt are all 7-6. So eight of the 14 teams have a winning conference record.

The team to watch is Alabama. The Crimson Tide has won five straight games and is playing its best basketball of the season. Retin Obasohan scored a career-high 35 points in the win over LSU. Maybe even better, Bama’s Riley Norris grabbed 16 rebounds.

Remember, Alabama comes to Rupp Arena to play UK next Tuesday night. Avery Johnson’s team has a home game with Mississippi State on Saturday.

5. Now for the quick turnaround. Less than 48 hours after beating Tennessee, the Cats must take the floor in the great state of Texas against an A&M team that will (a) be fired up by a College GameDay apperance and (b) needs a win.

The Aggies were rolling along, winning their first seven league games and beating Iowa State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Then came a Texas-sized slump. Billy Kennedy’s club lost four straight, one at home (South Carolina) and three on the road (Vanderbilt, Alabama and LSU).

The Aggies returned to the win column with a 71-56 victory over Ole Miss on Tuesday, but a victory over first-place Kentucky would be a definite boost to the resume.

One consolation: Calipari said his team would rather play games than practice, anyway. Not much time for practice between now and 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.

SEC men’s basketball standings

Team

W

L

W

L

Kentucky

10

3

20

6

LSU

9

4

16

10

South Carolina

8

5

21

5

Texas A&M

8

5

19

7

Florida

8

5

17

9

Alabama

7

6

16

9

Georgia

7

6

16

10

Vanderbilt

7

6

15

11

Ole Miss

6

7

16

10

Tennessee

5

8

12

14

Arkansas

5

8

12

14

Miss State

4

9

11

4

Auburn

4

9

10

15

Missouri

3

10

10

16

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