If there was a common theme that Kentucky coach John Calipari emphasized time and time again earlier this season, it was that effort beats great talent. “If a team’s effort level is far beyond yours, it will smack a talented team.” He wanted this young team to have greater communication on the court along with greater effort. After winning seven of their past eight, I think it’s safe to say that this team is playing exceptionally well, and they’ve finally received Calipari’s message. Today’s 79-54 win over Georgia came at the right time; the Cats head on the road for four of their next five games. And in the SEC, no win is ever easy if you’re Kentucky.
Today’s win was also another example of change in this young, talented squad. Many fans and media members alike tabbed Julius Randle or Willie Cauley-Stein as the one player who would carry this team through tough games. But as we’ve seen over the past month, those difficult games are the ones in which Randle or Cauley-Stein aren’t involved at all. Rather than depending on those players to hold up, other players have been stepping up in their place. Alex Poythress has played incredible as of late; he is averaging 11 PPG in the past eight games, and finished with the same total in today’s win. Dakari Johnson has also become a reliable player, stepping in for Cauley-Stein. He finished with two blocked shots today.
Andrew and Aaron Harrison have also molded into leaders on the court, and they have been able to demonstrate confidence and take the initiative to make big plays when needed. Rather than complain after a foul or throw up a bad shot, they have become more aggressive on both sides of the ball. It was a balanced scoring attack, with Aaron Harrison scoring 15 points and James Young adding 13 points. Moving the ball in transition is what helped the Cats today. Kentucky forced 20 turnovers, and scored 19 points off of those.
Defensively, there were plenty of hands today. UK was able to cut off passing lanes when Georgia spread out the floor, allowing Kentucky to pickpocket Georgia. UK had nine steals and 11 blocks, six of those coming from Cauley-Stein. Kentucky was able to play at a fast tempo most of the game, something that they lacked against Baylor and North Carolina. And despite another slow start, they did not allow Georgia to dictate the pace of the game, even after they made short runs and slowed the Cats down. If there is anything that can we can take away from today’s win, it’s that this team is still growing. But collectively, they are learning to rely and trust in one another. Team effort is what will make them a dangerous team in the weeks to come.