Last week in Rupp Arena, the Cats were led as usual by their three guards — all of whom had stellar games — as UK thumped the Crimson Tide, 78-53.
Tyler Ulis is playing himself into serious consideration for national player of the year (At 5-9 and 160 pounds that would seem improbable, but his playing is so big people must take notice). He finished with a double-double, 19 points and 10 assists, plus five rebounds and three steals.
Two-guard Jamal Murray had 23 points and four rebounds. He also had two blocked shots. Murray had made at least one 3-point shot in UK’s first 27 games and hit two more against Bama to run his streak to all 28 games this season.
Isaiah Briscoe chipped in with 10 points and four rebounds to go along with his usual tough-nosed defense.
If anything, the three of them are playing better and better while bringing out the best in each other. Against the Tide, UK had 15 assists and only four turnovers (lowest of the season), a crazy assist-turnover ratio.
Perhaps it was partly because Derek Willis was out with a sprained ankle (hopefully, he can return to action Saturday when the Cats travel to Nashville to face Vanderbilt), but the Cats string of five straight games with 10 or more 3-pointers was halted when they connected on only two of 10 from behind the arc.
Luckily for Kentucky, with Willis out, Alex Poythress was able to return and scored 14 points in 17 minutes. After missing five straight games, Alex looked ready to help the Cats down the stretch.
Marcus Lee had a solid game with six points and 12 rebounds. Isaac Humphries and Skal Labissiere had six points and six rebounds between them.
The trio of guards, as good as they are, need at least one of the big men to step up every night to give the Cats a chance to finish the regular season strong and go far into the post season. During the course of the year all of UK’s bigs (Willis, Poythress, Lee, Humphries and Labissiere) have shown flashes of greatness. Will one or two of them step up as March arrives? Or can three really good guards drag a team to a championship?
With two games to go: Florida away and LSU at home in the final game, UK has the fate of the SEC championship in its hands.
Random notes and sights from Rupp Arena:
• Spotted in the end zone seats long before tip-off was a young girl (appeared to be about 8 years old) with a poster that read: #3 Tyler’s #1 Fan – My 1st game. A life-long love affair with Wildcat basketball was in the making.
• Clark Jackson, the reigning Miss Kentucky, UK student and daughter of former Wildcat Johnathan Davis, did a great job singing the national anthem. Presumably, she has a love affair with UK basketball passed down from her father.
• After getting whistled for a technical foul at the end of the Texas A & M game (a game in which he had played really well), Isaac Humphries was the first starter introduced and got a huge ovation from the Rupp Arena faithful. Coach Cal knew Humphries needed the reassurance he would get from the fans and knew the Big Blue Nation would give it to him. Coach Cal is hugely successful for a reason.