It’s been a month since Kentucky has faced a ranked opponent (Louisville, December 21), and that game ended up as a loss for the Cats. We’ve seen this young team improve in several areas, but they’ve also continued to struggle with playing disciplined for a full 40 minutes. Having South Carolina roll into Rupp Arena with a #24 ranking was timely. The Cats needed another test before facing Kansas next weekend.
Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, their 2nd leading scorer, PJ Dozier, was unable to play due to back spasms. But the Wildcats had bad news of their own when Mychal Mulder became ill and was unable to play. And the bad news for the Cats didn’t stop there. Freshman phenom, De’Aaron Fox, rolled his ankle early in the first half and left the game for good, having only played 8 minutes. So what started as anticipation to see how the Cats would perform against a top 25 opponent quickly turned into a game of survival.
As it turned out, the Cats did indeed survive and retained their perfect record in the SEC, downing the Gamecocks 85-69. Despite the absence of Mulder and the early departure of Fox, Kentucky managed to defeat the #1 defense in the conference. The game wasn’t without some bumps along the way; frankly, there were several stretches of pure ugliness with unnecessary turnovers, and attempts to make “hero plays” instead of taking higher-percentage, albeit less exciting shots. But it’s always good to learn lessons, especially if you get a victory as well.
So what did we learn? Quite a bit, actually. For example:
— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) January 22, 2017
Make no mistake; the Cats still have lots of room for improvement in several areas. Sindarius Thornwell had far too many uncontested shots (and too many trips to the free throw line). Discipline on offense seems to evaporate too often, and a few of the Cats still prefer to attempt the spectacular instead of going for the less impressive, yet safer play.
All that said, there is much to like about how the Cats won. They managed to figure things out with Fox on the bench. They managed to survive Briscoe’s uncharacteristic 7 turnovers. In short, they found a way to win against what had been the toughest defense in the conference.
In my book, an ugly win beats a pretty loss every day of the week.
Next game: at Tennessee, Tuesday 9 pm
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