Men's Basketball

Mintz, Cats Get Momentum-Boosting Win on Saturday

by Tim Letcher

LEXINGTON, Ky. — During his Friday press conference, Kentucky head coach John Calipari laid out a pretty simple formula for his team to win.

“Sixteen to 18 assists, 10 to 12 turnovers and we fight,” Calipari said. “If we do those things, we’ll be right there with our chances to win.”

On Saturday, the Cats followed that formula to a tee, with 17 assists and 17 turnovers, although five of the turnovers came late in the game when both teams had gone deep into their respective benches and the outcome was no longer in doubt.

The Cats also showed much more fight than they displayed in Tuesday’s loss at Ole Miss. It all added up to a 92-64 Kentucky win over South Carolina in the regular season finale at Rupp Arena on Saturday.

Saturday’s formula led to UK’s second-largest margin of victory of the season. Only an 81-45 win over Morehead State in the season opener had a larger spread.

“We had 17 assists and some of the (turnovers) we had, you know, we’re in the last five, six minutes of the game,” Calipari said. “So the (South Carolina) press didn’t hurt us.”

In addition to the assist and turnover numbers, Calipari added one other note on Friday that would help his team be successful.

“Got to shoot the ball a little bit better than we have the last couple of games,” he said.

Mission accomplished. Kentucky shot 49.3 percent from the floor in the game, the best percentage since UK’s Jan. 9 win at Florida, when the Cats made 55.8 percent of their field goals.

“We got better and you know, we made some shots,” Calipari said. “It’s a good send-off for us.”

What also worked for the Cats on Saturday was having Davion Mintz play point guard. The move not only seemed to spark the team – it also seemed to spark Mintz.

The graduate student from Charlotte hit 7 of 13 from the floor, including 6 of 11 from behind the arc, on his way to 20 points for the second time this season (Mintz had 21 against Florida last week). But it wasn’t just his scoring – it was how Mintz ran the team. He had a game-high seven assists with just two turnovers and he added five rebounds.

Mintz is willing to do what the team needs from him, no matter what position he is playing.

“Coach Cal has been very successful at his job. I’ve had the ultimate trust in him before I came here. I mean, he’s the reason I came to here, to this place,” Mintz said. “So, whatever decision he made, I knew that it was best for me and for the team. Before he makes a decision, I know he thinks about my best interests as a player and the team. So, whatever he needs from me, that’s what I’m going to do. And whatever this team needs from me, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Mintz had a stretch in the second half where he hit five consecutive three-pointers, taking UK fans back to the time Tayshaun Prince made five in a row to start a game against North Carolina. For Mintz, it was the hottest he has felt from the floor in a long time.

“In high school, I got hot one night, crazy like that,” Mintz said. “It can happen. That was big for me because I didn’t practice all week. To get that feeling, get going crazy like that, that was huge for me.”

Mintz’s streak helped make a semi-tight game a runaway in the second half as the Cats were able to empty the bench and cruise to victory.

This was exactly the kind of game that Kentucky needed, with the SEC Tournament coming up next week. The Cats needed momentum and confidence as they head to Nashville, where they will need to win four games in four days to see their season continue.
 

 

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