Brandon Boston leads Kentucky basketball to its biggest scoring output this year.
It has been a long time coming for the Kentucky basketball team to see the scoreboard click over 80 points, but the Wildcats changed that with a fun size win over LSU 82-69 on Saturday.
Kentucky’s 82 points ended a drought of 18 consecutive games against Southeastern Conference opponents where the Wildcats scored 81 points or less, their longest streak since January 12, 2008, through January 10, 2009.
What has been commonplace to riddle off numbers of historical note in so many losses this year it is nice to see flattering ones after the win.
Kentucky (4-9, 3-3) led by as many as 17 points in the closing minute which is something unheard of. They built a 16-point first-half lead that gave them breathing room instead of gasping for air.
This was a good win.
Maybe even a great win given what this team has endured.
Let’s just keep it positive instead of dissecting it.
Boston had been slumping badly as Kentucky limped into the Georgia game on Wednesday, but exploded for his best game of the year even as the Wildcats fell on a last-second stunner.
He piggy-backed off that showing with another solid game against the visiting Tigers (10-3, 5-2), dropping in 18 points to go along with six rebounds, three assists, a block, a steal, and zero turnovers in 34 minutes.
Boston, who spends a lot of time in the morning and at night in the gym and even started the Breakfast Club for players in the morning talked with ESPN after the game about where he is mentally.
“I’m at a good place because I just stay in the gym and stay humble. I’m in the gym early morning and late at night. I am building my own confidence, listening to coach Cal and I’m trusting in my teammates because I feel like we just have to keep it together and fighting in unison.”
The freshman connected on 7 of 17 from the floor (2-7 from three) and when LSU rallied in the second half cutting Kentucky’s lead to five, Boston tallied eight straight points and pushed the lead back to double digits.
The first half was the start this team has desperately been searching for. They ran, they made shots, they lobbed and dunked, they shared the ball and didn’t turn it over.
More importantly, they had smiles on their faces while just ‘ballin.
For a team that averages just 67.1 points per game, the Wildcats rang up 49 in the opening 20 minutes.
Coach John Calipari also substituted freely not out of desperation but balance.
The Wildcats were hot in the opening half connecting on 17 of 32 shots, including 6 of 17 from behind the arc. That chilled to just 10 of 31 in the second half and an even icier 1 of 9 three-pointers.
LSU came out on a 13-5 run to start the second half, but Boston drove the lane and was fouled completing a 3 point play the old fashioned way. That big 16 point cushion in the first half evaporated to 54-49 with 15:49 to play shooting 86 percent.
Kentucky settled back in and while they didn’t shoot as well as in the first half they battled and never had one of its frustrating scoring droughts that have led to losses except for three-point shots failing to drop.
Boston was asked by ESPN after the game about blocking out the noise of upset fans.
“I love this game and I won’t let nobody knock me off my pivot. I have great confidence in my work ethic and I feel like as long as I keep working what I want is going to come. It’s not so hard we put our heads down for a minute and a lot of people wanted to jump off the boat, but I feel like if our team is together that’s all that matters.”
But while the shots weren’t raining down it was the rebounding and defense that keep them going.
Contributions from everyone in a variety of ways
Isaiah Jackson was an absolute beast. The freshman in just 16 minutes on the floor hauled down 15 rebounds, 11 on the defensive end to go with just six points.
But when others around him are contributing in other ways this is where he excels, that and swatting away shots. The SEC’s top shot blocker and No. 6 in the nation rejected one but in this game who is counting.
Contributions came from all across the board no matter how big or small as four players hit double figures.
Keion Brooks nearly had a double-double netting 15 points and nine rebounds. Olivier Sarr, despite playing just 12 minutes due to foul trouble, added 13 points and 5 rebounds. Davion Mintz chipped in with 11 points, three rebounds, and a trio of assists.
Calipari was proud of the play of Sarr and Jackson after the game.
“I mean, how about Isaiah (Jackson) today? Isaiah was rebounding, got every ball. How about Olivier (Sarr) getting a little bit rough, which is OK to be that guy. I told him before the game, he’s got to get anywhere from 12 to 15 points a game for us. You have to, I don’t care how you do it, you get 12 to 15. We now score at a clip that we can hold that other team down.”
Another growing bright spot was Lance Ware, who has often been labeled a liability on offense, added seven points and two rebounds getting 17 minutes of playing time. He only saw four minutes last game.
Devin Askew was the only Wildcat to not score misfiring on all five of his shots that came from long range and one foul shot.
Crashing the boards and stifling defense
Kentucky’s defense locked down the Tigers to 38-percent field-goal shooting in each half and a frigid 4 of 23 three-pointers. That’s the second-lowest since the opener against Morehead State.
They even cut down on the turnovers with just nine while handing out 15 assists.
Calipari addressed the turnovers after the game, half of which could have been avoided.
“Today we had nine turnovers, and probably four of them or three of them were shot clock violations. I’m still all over guys to shoot balls. Guys won’t shoot ’em. They have a shot, they pass up a shot, and they dribble into a harder shot. Why would you do that? Shoot the ball. If you go 0-10, that’s on me for leaving you in, not on you. If anybody asks you, say you should have taken me out because he told me to keep shooting. Couldn’t hit the side of a barn. That’s OK.”
Rebounding has at times been helter-skelter this season with the Wildcats going after balls with a half-hearted effort, standing flat-footed, and the inability to squeeze the ball.
That wasn’t the case with LSU where they dominated the glass 46-31 including 33 at the defensive end. That’s the most total since the double-overtime game against Mississippi State.
Ware was asked about that after the game.
“We watched a lot of film and that’s something we take pride in is trying to grab rebounds. Just like every game, it’s important for us to dominate the backboards for us to be in games and for us to win games. We kind of stepped away from it the past few games and that’s partly my fault, but we are just trying to get back to dominating the glass.”
Kentucky is now 5-0 when it scores more than 65 points in a game, but 0-9 when it fails to do so. To keep any momentum going the rest of the way that needs to be the magic number to keep in mind.
That may not be easy as they have a rematch with Alabama on Tuesday. The Crimson Tide dominated the Wildcats 85-65 on January 12. Tipoff is set for 7 pm.