What went right in Kentucky’s wins


Kentucky Wildcats guard Devin Askew (2) loses the ball during the University of Kentucky vs. University of Kansas men’s basketball game at the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kansas won 65-62. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Barkley Truax

Now sitting at 8 – 9 following Kentucky’s victory over South Carolina, this season’s record has been the reverse of men’s basketball’s usual performances. Instead of expecting (and getting) wins, fans came to expect losses. So many things went wrong for the Cats that in previewing their chances at the SEC tournament, it’s easier to look at what went right.

Morehead State, Nov. 25

The then No. 10 ranked Wildcats trampled Morehead State 81-45 in their season opener the night before Thanksgiving. Brandon Boston Jr. led the way for Kentucky with 15 points and seven rebounds along with three of his teammates scoring in double figures. 

Kentucky could do no wrong – or so it seemed. In hindsight, this is by far the Wildcats best performance of the season. They would go on to drop their next six games, as well as any hope for that final four run that seemed almost inevitable for this squad in the preseason. 

Mississippi State, Jan. 2

After a long, dark December for BBN, Kentucky opened up conference play on the road against Mississippi State on Jan. 2. Kentucky won 78-73 in double overtime, marking their first victory in nearly five weeks.

This game – referred to as the Dontaie Allen game – had a little bit of everything. Head coach John Calipari got ejected and fans finally got to see Allen do exactly what they knew he could do. Not only did putting Allen in appease fans (for the moment), but his performance led to a thriller victory in double overtime. Allen’s 23-point performance, anchored by seven three’s, set the tone for Kentucky’s three-game winning streak to begin SEC play. What went right for the Cats was giving a highly-touted player a chance to (finally) prove himself.

Vanderbilt, Jan. 5

Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 77-74 at home behind Olivier Sarr’s 24 points and Davion Mintz’s game-winning corner three-pointer. Sarr took over, going to the free throw line 17 times and cashing in on 14 of those attempts. Allen cooled down this time around, providing 14 points for Kentucky following his previous career game.

Myles Stute dropped 16 points while Scotty Pippen Jr., Dylan Disu and Jordan Wright all scored 18 points for the Commodores. Down seven points at halftime, the Wildcats outscored the Commodores 44-34 in the second half to edge Vanderbilt by three. That victory came on the back of a confident night from Sarr, who had been stuck in a rut of simple errors.

Florida, Jan. 9

Kentucky absolutely dominated Florida on their home court 76-58, capping off a three-game winning streak to start conference play. Keion Brooks Jr. returned to Kentucky’s lineup after missing the start of the season with an injury. He went 6-8 from the field, scoring 12 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists. Boston (13), Mintz (13) and Sarr (10) would also score in double figures for the Wildcats. 

Kentucky went into the locker room with a six-point lead. After halftime, Kentucky would outscore the Gators 41-29, not stepping their foot off the gas until the final buzzer. Brooks was the difference maker here – his veteran leadership provided not only the playing experience Kentucky needed, but the stability as well. His presence was extra important in a year with young players who have not had the same opportunities as other teams to bond, due to COVID-19.

LSU, Jan. 23

Kentucky blew out LSU 82-69 inside Rupp Arena on Jan. 23. Brooks Jr. would score 13 of his 15 points in the first half – points that proved a deal-breaker as the Wildcats went into the locker room with a 13-point lead and never looked back.

Boston Jr.’s 18 points was a turning point in the season for the former McDonald’s All-American as his 18 points proved he can be worth the hype after a disappointing start of the season. Isaiah Jackson played valuable minutes off the bench as well, snagging 15 boards in 16 minutes. This game was a reversal of Kentucky’s other performances, where they fell out of touch with each other in the second half and leads slip through their fingers. Staying consistent and locked in late in the game is one thing the Cats need to get right again and again and again.

Auburn, Feb. 13

Kentucky split the season series with Auburn 1-1 after defeating the Tigers 82-80 in Lexington. It looked like Kentucky was going to run away with the game – they lead by as much as 14 points in the second half.

Between JT Thor (24 points) playing the best game of his young Auburn career and Allen Flanigan scoring 23, the Tigers mounted a comeback. Luckily for Kentucky, they held superstar freshman Sharife Cooper to 6-23 shooting. Jackson and Boston Jr. led Kentucky in scoring with 18 and 17 points, respectively. 

Vanderbilt, Feb. 17

The only team Kentucky swept this season, Kentucky took down Vanderbilt on the road 82-78. Kentucky went into halftime up a dozen on the Commodores, holding their star Pippen Jr. scoreless in the first half. He would ramp up his offense in the second, though, finishing with 21 points on 5-19 shooting.

Kentucky had no answer for Disu again, who scored 29 points and 16 rebounds in 38 of 40 minutes in regulation play. The Wildcats were once again bailed out by Mintz’s four three-pointers and Kentucky held out for the victory in Nashville. 

Tennessee, Feb. 20

The sweetest victory of the season for the Cats, Kentucky traveled to Knoxville to pummel Tennessee 70-55 on their home court. This marked the second of two three-game win streaks for Kentucky this season.

Mintz’s five three-pointers led Kentucky over the Volunteers. Isaiah Jackson scored 16 points, capitalizing on his 8-9 free throw attempts – something that would be huge for Kentucky down the stretch to maintain their lead. Most importantly, the Cats didn’t let Tennessee and John Fulkerson get in their head, instead maintaining their presence of mind enough to execute the fundamentals. And Calipari finally got some of those ‘daggers’ he spoke about as Kentucky upped its ante on three-pointers. The baskets themselves were crucial, but so is the mindset behind those shots – a mindset the Cats struggled to have consistently.

South Carolina, March 6

Boston Jr and Mintz combined for 12 of Kentucky’s 13 made three-pointers in Kentucky’s regular season finale, demolishing the Gamecocks 92-64. Five three-pointers in a row from Mintz took Kentucky’s lead from eight to 19 to begin the second half and never looked back. Boston finished with 21 points, while Mintz had 20 for lead the Wildcats. Isaiah Jackson scored 13 points and 10 rebounds in the victory as well. Kentucky took advantage of South Carolina’s turnovers, but the biggest thing they did right was not letting things go wrong. They held on until the finish and didn’t let up on defense to give the Gamecocks a chance to dent the lead.