It’s always a pleasure to visit Rupp Arena, the Cathedral of college basketball. My brother scored tickets to the Florida game, so we ventured into downtown Lexington Saturday for the 4PM contest. Anymore all of Lexington has a blue hue to it, but the epicenter of that blueness is Rupp Arena.
No. 20 Kentucky was on a two-game losing streak and needed to make a statement that the funk was over, and they didn’t waste time toying with Florida, getting off to a fast 15-4 start.
Freshman Jamal Murray put on a clinic scoring a career-high 35 points. I recommend you see this kid while you can. Murray is the epitome of a one-and-doner. He will be a lottery pick in this year’s NBA draft. His shot is so quick and accurate. He creates his own shot where none exists for mortals and needs virtually no space to make that happen.
Teaming with Murray is likely All-American guard, sophomore Tyler Ulis, who went for 18 points and 11 assists. He ran the show brilliantly and kept Florida off balance.
Kentucky continues to have issues with its front court. Their post play was non-existent yesterday, but thankfully when Murray can hit for a career-best eight of Kentucky’s season-high 12 3-pointers, it covers any deficiencies.
Senior forward Alex Poythress tweaked his knee in warm-ups and did not play, leaving the inside work to Derek Willis, Marcus Lee, Isaac Humphries and Skal Labissiere. Willis put in 12, but the rest mainly took up space, with Lee fouling out once again. Since all these guys aside from Willis are free-throw challenged, it’s dicey passing them the ball.
Murray and Ulis combined for 35 points to lead the Cats to a 50-32 half-time lead. The Cats came right back to start the second half on an 8-0 run, that put the game away. Kentucky slowed its point production to 30 in the second half yet cruised to an 80-61 victory that was never in doubt.
UK improved to 17-6 overall, 7-3 in the Southeastern Conference, in ending its two-game losing streak.
Obviously Kentucky will be a tournament team. There is a lot of young talent on this squad, but its character is still missing. Murray and Ulis are superstars, but they are missing another consistent scorer. The inside play is generally absent and the team as a whole does not shoot free throws well. Those are serious problems.
As the final month of the season arrives this group of young Kitty Kats is running out of time to gel. You don’t want to be a jump shooting team with no ability to score the ball down low. That scenario usually doesn’t lead to a long run of wins in March.
Kentucky has several tough games remaining on its schedule, and that combined with the SEC tournament will get this squad battle tested.
My guess is this team will need some help. Favorable match-ups will be key. UK can shoot, run the court, lob and dunk with the best of them, but get them into a half-court game, against a team with steady inside/outside play, and that will be a problem.
On the positive side, this is one of those years where there are no beast teams in college basketball. Most everyone has deficiencies due to all the early exits of quality players to the NBA, and we’ve seen this year that on any given night any team can shoot their way to a win.
I’ll say this, Kentucky does have a shooters chance, and that comes in handy during March Madness.