With an upcoming showdown against Kansas on Saturday night in Lawrence, Kansas (a Big 12-SEC challenge game), the Cats first needed to take care of a bottom-of-the-ladder conference foe, Missouri (8-11 on the year).
It seemed like an obvious trap game; a young Kentucky team against a team with a losing record, with a big time opponent on tap for the coming weekend. And this is following two impressive outings by the Cats. Could they avoid a letdown?
And could Derek Willis continue to provide a spark for this UK team? Willis had scored 77 points in the first 40 games of his UK career; he had 76 in his last 12 games. In the last three games he played 30-plus minutes and lead the team in rebounding in all three. Willis was the first native Kentucky player with 12 points and 12 rebounds in a road game (at Auburn) since Reggie Hanson on Jan 31, 1990.
This would be the first game in which he is expected to give a good performance. How would he handle the pressure of stepping into the role of a counted-on performer at one of the most scrutinized programs in college sports?
Turns out, there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Kentucky played its best game of the year and Willis had his best game, finishing with 18 points and 12 rebounds: another double-double and for the fourth game in a row led the team in rebounding.
Kentucky scored on its first eight possessions, three of which were 3-point shots by Willis. The lead was 20-2. Game over. The final score: 88-54. The game was never in doubt.
So now on to Kansas and Allen Fieldhouse to face the number four Jayhawks. Kentucky is on a definite uptick. Early in the season they were probably overrated, but now the team seems to be playing up to those early expectations. Should be a great game Saturday: Two teams with great traditions in what is sure to be a fantastic atmosphere for a college basketball game.
Random notes and sights from Rupp Arena:
Lots of talk before the game about the upcoming Kansas game. Big 12-SEC challenge, the Big 12 only has 10 teams (don’t try to figure it out), but five of them are ranked within the top 20, including number one Oklahoma. The SEC only has two in the top 25.
In his player bio, Willis lists ping pong as a hobby outside of basketball. Peyton Manning probably has no chance for an epic comeback against Derek Willis in ping pong, and it seems equally unlikely for him to have one in football against Cam Newton.
The Ryan Lemond “This or That” contest at halftime featured some of the worst shooting in the history of Rupp Arena. The contestant, UK student “Boogie” from Woodford County gave, to be polite, a very sad performance. Ryan tried to step up and help him with the half-court shot and was even worse. At least the Wildcats were hot.