Cameron Mills Radio – February 26, 2017 – Hour 2
February 26, 2017
Kentucky is Good… But the League is Too
February 28, 2017
Show all

Cats Knock Off Gators For Sole Possession of 1st in SEC

Malik Monk. Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

It didn’t matter that the Cats were 23-5 and tied for first in the SEC.  It didn’t matter that a spot in the NCAA Tournament, likely a 3 seed currently, was already secured.  This rematch with the Florida Gators had a “must win” feeling to it.

This feeling was no doubt fueled by the Cats’ inconsistent play the past few weeks, and it certainly didn’t help matters that Kentucky had been thoroughly embarrassed in Gainesville three weeks ago.  And because it seems this edition of the Wildcats cannot seem to catch a break, the status of De’Aaron Fox was in doubt after having banged up his knee in Tuesday night’s contest versus Missouri.in

When the teams came out to warm up, fans were encouraged when they saw Fox in his uniform, participating (somewhat) in the shoot around.   The happiness was short-lived however when Fox returned for player introductions dressed in street clothes.   We knew UK was in for a tough game even if Fox were playing, but to face the Gators without their starting point guard would provide a big challenge for the Cats.

The start of the game wasn’t ideal as UK fell behind quickly, 18-6.  But tenacious defense and a commitment to winning the battle of the boards steadied the ship, and the teams went to the locker room at halftime tied at 28 points apiece.  The 2nd half started slowly for the Cats again, and by the first media timeout, Florida had opened up an 8-point lead, 45-37.  This was now gut check time.  Could Kentucky return to the team they were in December and pick up this win and take sole possession of 1st place in the SEC?

Derek Willis contributed 9 rebounds against the Gators
Photo: UK Athletics/Chet White

The answer was a resounding “Yes” as super frosh Malik Monk exploded for 30 2nd half points (33 for the game), leading the Cats to a 76-66 win.  But Monk’s performance doesn’t tell the whole story.  What we saw was progress.  This wasn’t just a one-man show.  This was a team victory, one that required the Cats to fight, and fight they did.   I left the game feeling more encouraged about this team and their chances in March than I had felt in many weeks.   Give Monk his due, but let’s not forget these key points:

  • Rebounds.  48 of them to be exact, with Florida only pulling in 30.  After the shellacking, the Gators put on UK 3 weeks ago, it was refreshing to see the Cats crash the boards like they did.
  • Free throws.  How about 81.5% for the game (22 of 27)?  Enough said.
  • Seniority.  For a team that the nation views as “just a bunch of one-and-dones”, seniors Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis continue to be steadying forces.  While they only scored 8 points between them, Hawkins and Willis combined to pick up 15 rebounds and 3 steals.
  • Monk and Bam.  Malik’s 30 second-half points garnered the most attention, but Bam Adebayo had yet another double-double (18 points, 15 rebounds).  Fun fact:  Monk and Adebayo’s combined 51 points was more than the entire Duke Basketball team scored (50) in their loss to Miami Saturday.  (It is ok if you laugh out loud now.)
  • The Rupp Arena crowd.  I’ve never been shy about criticizing the fans when they sit on their hands, apparently waiting to be entertained, providing only polite applause.  But on Saturday, the Big Blue Nation was on point.  They stood, they cheered, and they helped will their team to a win.  Several times during the game, the roars were deafening.  Here’s hoping the BBN brings this same level of excitement and noise to Tuesday night’s home finale.
  • No Fox, no problem.  This doesn’t mean Kentucky can afford to be without De’Aaron as they head into the NCAA Tournament.  It does, however, mean this team has learned they can win even if Fox is injured.  They can win even if Fox is injured and Brisoce is in foul trouble.  They can win as long as they remain focused and bring high energy for a full 40 minutes.

This game was not perfect by any means.  Shooting 28% in the first half certainly isn’t ideal, nor is having 16 turnovers.  There were still a few lapses into bad habits, prompting Coach Cal to say in his post-game remarks that he still needed to “tweak” a few things on the team’s “reboot.”  But perfection is not the goal, at least not on this weekend.  Progress was the goal, and that was achieved.

So is the team peaking at the right time?  It would appear they are on track to do so, but we’ll all know the answer very soon.  In case you hadn’t looked at your calendar, March will be here on Tuesday and we know what that means:  everything matters.

Follow me on Twitter @ForeverBigBlue

Follow @CameronRadio for live game updates & more

Michele Brown
Michele Brown
Writer at CameronMillsRadio.com since Feb. 2015 Co-host of Big Blue Views podcast. Mom, Christian, sports junkie, golf addict and speed typist. I can cook your mama's food better than she can.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *