Harsh lessons that should have already been learned were unfortunately being taught again to this young team. They should have already known that teams are going to view them as their biggest game of the year game in and game out. They should have already known that they can’t just show up and cause opponents to wilt by their mere presence.
All of the sluggish starts and early deficits should have driven this point home.
The trip to Missouri was a daunting one, both weather wise and level of competition wise. The Tigers had come to Lexington last season and lost a close game in overtime. Now Kentucky was heading to Mizzou Arena where Frank Haith had only lost twice.
Kentucky responded the way everyone hoped they would.
Dakari Johnson learned that if you continue to give effort it will be rewarded. He was one of the few to show up against LSU. He started against Mizzou, now he will have to learn how to avoid early foul trouble the next time he’s out there in larger amounts of time.
Kentucky learned how to get off to a good start and play with a lead. This was huge. After trailing the entire game in Baton Rouge they led virtually the entire game in Columbia. If they aren’t up 10 at the half their chances of withstanding Mizzou’s second half runs are dramatically reduced.
The next step will be to continue to start fast, build and keep leads and then extend them and finish teams off in the final 20 minutes.
Is it a lot to ask? Yes, but that’s what they have to accomplish on the fly if they want to get where they and Big Blue Nation think they can go.
Up next, Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss (15-6, 6-2 SEC) roll into Rupp Arena tonight. Henderson is fearless, among many other things. He will love the big stage tonight regardless of the type of game he ends up playing. Kentucky’s wing players will need to make sure they stay in his hip pocket.
If not it could be another lesson learned the hard way.