The Wildcats were in search of a much-needed victory against the Florida Gators when they returned to Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon. The Cats were coming off two straight road losses, an instant-classic overtime loss against No. 4 Kansas at Lawrence, and a come-from-way-ahead loss at Knoxville to Tennessee (UK led by 21 points in the first half).
Going into the Florida game and with half of the SEC season gone, UK stands one game behind Texas A&M and LSU. With tough road games remaining at A&M, South Carolina and Vanderbilt in each of the next three Saturdays plus a final weekday road game at Gainesville. Kentucky definitely needs to win out at home, which includes games against Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and LSU in the final home game of the season.
To prevent the dirge-like march to the NIT that personified the 2013 season, the Cats desperately needed some of the “big” men to step up and take some of the load off the trio of guards. With Alex Poythress a pregame scratch due to soreness in his “good” knee, the situation seemed dire.
It turned out to be nothing to worry about. Though Marcus Lee and Skal Labissiere combined for only six points and nine rebounds; the UK guard tandem lit up the Gators. Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis scored 30 of Kentucky’s first 39 points as the Cats led by as much as 24 points in the first half with the score at the break being 50-32. Murray finished five for five from the 3-point line in the first half and eight for 10 for the game.
Ulis finished the game with 18 points, 11 assists and 2 steals. Isaiah Briscoe chipped in six assists. Murray ended the game with 35 points and six rebounds. An extra special day for Murray made even more special since his parents had made the trip down from Ontario to watch him play.
With Poythress out, Isaac Humphries got a chance for some playing time and made the most of it. He gave the Cats a much needed spark in the low post, finishing the game with four points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. Derek Willis continued to be steady (12 points and six rebounds).
Conventional wisdom indicates the Cats won’t get far in the tournaments without a strong, consistent inside presence. Coach Cal continues searching and pleading, but on this day against Florida, it didn’t matter. Final score UK 80 – UF 61.
Random notes and sights from Rupp Arena:
• Wesley Woodyard completed the “Y” in Kentucky on Saturday. He was sporting a UK basketball jersey with the number 22 and the name of former fellow UK linebacker Danny Trevathan on the back. Trevanthan, of course will play for Denver against Carolina in Super Bowl 50.
• The Firecrackers once again performed during halftime of the game. The skill of these young girls with their jump-rope routines is pretty amazing.
• Reggie Warford was introduced to the crowd. He is the first African-American UK basketball player to graduate from UK. Seems like a long time ago (the last year in Memorial Coliseum) that the Drakesboro native was backing up Larry Johnson as the Wildcat point guard. We have all come a long way since then.