Kentucky Basketball: The Wildcats Grind Out a Win at Missouri

Feb 21, 2017; Columbia, MO, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Edrice Adebayo (3) scores on a layup during the second half against the Missouri Tigers at Mizzou Arena. Kentucky won 72-62. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2017; Columbia, MO, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Edrice Adebayo (3) scores on a layup during the second half against the Missouri Tigers at Mizzou Arena. Kentucky won 72-62. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

Wildcat fans hoped for a rout against the struggling Tigers on Tuesday night, but the struggle was real.  A large performance by a Kentucky Basketball big man was the difference in the victory.

Kentucky Basketball advanced to 23-5 for the season and 13-2 in SEC play with a sloppy, closer-than-expected victory in Columbia, MO. This one will earn no style points and did nothing to allay doubts Big Blue backers had about the Cats post-season prospects. But as they say, a win is a win and it’s better than getting poked in the eye with a sharp stick. Now that we have our cliches out of the way, here’s a quick look at the keys to the victory, and some lingering concerns.

Bam, Bam, Thank You Bam

Freshman center Eldrice “Bam” Adebayo had his best game of season in leading Kentucky Basketball to the win. He had 22 points and a season high 15 rebounds. He was six of nine from the field and an impressive 10-13 from the foul line. Missouri had no answer for the big man from Little Washington, NC as he fouled out two Tigers trying to defend him.

In the first half Bam struggled a bit, as did his teammates, to hold on to the ball. He got it together in the second half, scoring 17 points after the break. Teams are defending Adebayo by severely overplaying him toward the lane. The baseline is there for him to exploit with a quick drop step or spin move. He was much more effective at that aspect of the game in this one.

Related Story: Kentucky's Top 10 Three Pointers of All Time

Other Highlights

Bam’s fellow freshmen made some solid contributions. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk were the only other Cats in double figures with 13 and 11 points, respectively. After hitting a three to start the Cats scoring, Fox went into a lull. The Houston native didn’t manage to hit a key driving layup in the second half as the Wildcats gradually pulled away from the Tigers. Monk appeared to sacrifice some of his own offense to get the ball in to Adebayo. That is a good sign heading down the home stretch.

Another frosh, Wenyen Gabriel, chipped in with six points and five rebounds in 20 minutes of play.

Some Things That Need To Change

Kentucky “won” a statistical area you don’t want to lead, committing 17 turnovers to only nine for Missouri. There were times in the first half the Cats looked like they needed some Fred Biletnikoff stickum (look it up, young folks) to hang on to the basketball. Their general sloppy play led to Calipari’s team clinging to a one point lead (31-30) at halftime.

Going hand in hand with the turnovers, Kentucky’s effort was sub par for the first 30 minutes or so of play. Missouri beat the Cats to far too many loose balls. The fact that they picked it up late is a credit to them, but it is going to take full game efforts to find more success as the calendar turns to March.

It seems strange to carp about defense on a night when the Cats held their opposition to 62 points on 37% shooting from the field. But there were still too many occasions when Kentucky allowed those maddening ‘straight line’ drives to the basket. The fear is that other opponents, with much more offensive talent than Missouri, will exploit those lapses to a dangerous extent.

The conundrum that is Isaiah Briscoe was in display again Tuesday night. Nine points and five rebounds: good. Six turnovers with only three assists in 23 minutes: bad. Four of six from field: good. One of three from the free throw line: bad. And he fouled out with the game still in doubt for the second straight game. The sophomore guard has played well at times and is undoubtedly tough and a good defender. But will his increasingly inconsistent play force Coach Cal to make a lineup change, or at least change his distribution of minutes?

A Big One On Saturday

Next up for the Cats is the much-anticipated rematch with the Florida Gators in Rupp Arena on February 25th. Kentucky will be seeking retribution for their worst loss of season earlier this month.

Next: Isaiah Briscoe Has to be Better

More importantly, the winner of this match-up will almost certainly wrap up the regular season SEC title and with it the top overall seed in the conference tournament starting March 8th in Nashville. Suffice it to say the Cats will need to play a lot better than they did tonight to beat the Gators in that contest.