Kentucky Hosts LSU on Wednesday Night
To be able to win in the NCAA Tournament, a team must be not only talented and, maybe, a little bit lucky. Teams must also prove to be extremely flexible.
Teams that make it all the way to the Final Four are likely to face a variety of lineups, as well as multiple styles of play. The truly great teams can either impose their style of play on the opponent or they can adapt and play the style of the opponent without missing a beat.
Recently, Kentucky head coach John Calipari commented on an opponent playing zone and saying it was good for his team to have to deal with that in the regular season because he suspected that the Cats would see some of that in the tournament.
Associate Coach Orlando Antigua thinks that Cats have been impressive, partly because of that versatility, this season.
|Kentucky vs. LSU|
|.299||Opp 3PT FG%||.282|
“I think what’s impressed us is the different ways we’ve had to figure out how to win,” Antigua said. “Whether it’s in a tight game in the 50s and 60s or in a game where we think we’re going to have to play in the 60s and we go, holy moly, we’re going to have to score this ball and win in the 90s. Being able to have that range and ability to score and defend and play multiple ways, because of your versatility, it lends well for being able to have success in the season and in the postseason.”
Junior forward Keion Brooks Jr. saw a prime example of that on Saturday as the Cats, minus starting guards TyTy Washington Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler, took down No. 25. Alabama.
“I think it just shows the depth and the resiliency of our team,” Brooks said. “We have a lot of guys who are prepared to step up when their name is called. I think we did that last game. We fought through some adversity. We just kept playing, kept fighting. Eventually, the momentum swung our way and when it did, we didn’t look back.”
Now, the Cats will have a chance to avenge one of their five losses on the season, as they take on LSU on Wednesday night at Rupp Arena. The Tigers topped the Cats 65-60 in Baton Rouge on Jan. 4. Brooks recalls several things about that game, most of them not happy memories.
“Some of the little things we did to shoot ourselves in the foot and cost us the game,” Brooks said. TyTy cramping up a little bit, Sahvir getting hurt on that screen kind of shook us that game. That’s something we weren’t prepared for at the time. Now, going into it, we’re going to be prepared for anything.”
Now, the Cats have been forced to play multiple times without Washington, Wheeler or, at times, both. If either, or neither, guard can go on Wednesday night, it won’t be anything that this team hasn’t already seen or can’t handle. Calipari and his staff are hoping that these experiences pay off when the NCAA Tournament begins a few weeks.
Kentucky Rallies Past Alabama
Knowing his team would have to do more with less meant Kellan Grady needed to take his offense up a notch, at the very least.
That urgency resulted in a career day for the Kentucky guard, with his perimeter shooting providing a big spark for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Grady made seven 3s for a season-high 25 points, Oscar Tshiebwe added 21 points with 14 rebounds and Kentucky rallied twice to top Alabama 90-81 on Saturday.
Short-handed because of injuries to starting guards TyTy Washington Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler, the Wildcats (22-5, 11-3 Southeastern Conference) trailed 46-34 with 3 1/2 minutes remaining before halftime before closing with 13 straight points for their first lead. Grady’s 3-pointer provided the go-ahead points that drew a thunderous roar before 20,374 in Rupp Arena.
The Crimson Tide (17-10, 7-7) erased a 54-48 deficit early in the second with eight points in a row to go up by two before Kentucky responded with a 20-2 surge over 5:47 to seize control at 74-58.
Grady’s trio of 3s in that surge were critical, not to mention another deep ball later that maintained Kentucky’s edge.
”I tried not to think about my opportunity to get 20,” said Grady, who made 7 of 9 from long range and 9 of 16 overall. ”Naturally, this was a chance to get more opportunities. I know what I am. My goal was to get the ball across the court and get the five of us to play.”
Consecutive 3s by Jaden Shackelford and Keon Ellis, who had a career-high 28 points, sparked a rebound that eventually got the Crimson Tide within 80-73 with 4:53 left. Grady just sank another 3 and Davion Mintz added a jumper for a double-digit cushion. Keion Brooks Jr. leaped high for a huge putback dunk with 57 seconds left to finish with 18 points and seal the outcome as Kentucky regrouped from Tuesday night’s 76-63 loss at No. 16 Tennessee.
And every contribution mattered in a game the Wildcats sorely needed to stay within sight of first-place Auburn, which lost 63-62 to Florida.
Tshiebwe was 9 of 13 from the field as the Wildcats shot 53% to seize a game of runs. Brooks had eight rebounds, while Jacob Toppin added 13 points and six boards. The Wildcats scored 14 points off turnovers, in addition to controlling other phases including rebounding (39-32), paint points (36-24) and second-chance points (22-15).
Kentucky’s key statistic: All five starters played at least 35 minutes, including Grady (39:07). UK reserves totaled just 10 minutes of playing time out of the possible 200 minutes.
”I didn’t know what to expect,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who showed his team a video with famed Alabama football coach Nick Saban discussing the next-man-up philosophy.
”I shut down practice and we had 36 hours to figure out who is going to play, how am I going to use timeouts. … The whole locker room was happy. Sahvir and TyTy thanked the team.”
Shackelford had 18 points and Noah Gurley 12 for the Crimson Tide, who had won their past three. They seemed in control for the first 16 minutes before letting the lead slip away. Alabama recovered for a stretch after halftime to lead again before Kentucky snatched it away for good.
”We kept telling them through the hot start, our defense wasn’t going to be good enough to win the game,” coach Nate Oats said. ”That’s what ended up happening.”
MORE GAME NOTES
• It was the second game this season that Kentucky rallied from 13 points down to win, also January 19 at Texas A&M
• Kentucky made 9 of 14 on 3-pointers, a season-high 64.3 percent and the fifth-highest percentage of the Calipari era
• Grady became the fifth Wildcat to score at least 25 points in a game this season