At some point, the fans of the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball team have to accept this year’s team for what it is. Individually, they’re talented. But as a collective unit… well, the record is what it is. On Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats defeated the LSU Tigers 75-70 in front of an always packed crowd in Rupp Arena. The Wildcats victory upped their record to 13-6 overall, 4-2 in the SEC.
Kentucky was led by Alex Poythress, who scored 20 points, his first such output since November, and grabbed 12 rebounds. Archie Goodwin added 15 points and Nerlens Noel was his usually productive self providing 10 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocks. Ryan Harrow added 11 points to round out the Wildcats in double figures. The Cats out-rebounded the Tigers 34-23 and shot 51.9% from the field while holding LSU to 39.7%.
The positives have to start with Alex Poythress’ performance. A powerful double-double, even against the Tigers, could be and should be a good sign going forward as the conference season continues. Most fans have been wanting Poythress to put up these kinds of numbers consistently, game in and game out. But Poythress has been almost invisible, especially in crunch time, of some of the Cats biggest games this year. One player that has brought it every game has been Nerlens Noel. In a vacuum, Noel would be the talk to the college basketball. He’s versatile and his engine just doesn’t stop as he continues to chase Anthony Davis’ single season block record and Rajon Rondo’s steal mark.
Areas of concern for this team continue to be the inability to put people away. As we all witnessed against Alabama and Vanderbilt, these Wildcats have a tendency to let up on a team after building a lead and today wasn’t any different. The Cats led by as much as 15 points in the first half and settled for a 42-31 lead at the half. The second half saw LSU go on a run to get within 2 points at 70-68. The difference today was that this young Kentucky team made plays to win.
The most frustrating thing about this team has been it’s maddening inconsistency. Hopefully, after finding a way to pull out the victory against LSU, the team can finally find its identity. At some point, we have to see a game where Poythress is a beast, Harrow is running the team, Goodwin is slashing to the basket, Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein are rebounding and blocking shots and Kyle Wiltjer is deadly from deep. That’s a lot of what ifs and the Big Blue would love to see it happen, but even if everyone’s not clicking on all cylinders, the young Wildcats are going to have to find ways to win. Last season’s victory over LSU was a springboard game for the Cats, and everyone hopes this game will be the same way.