UK’s balance and depth the keys to newfound success


Kentucky freshman guard Quade Green passes the ball to freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt during the game against Alabama on Saturday, February 17, 2018 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 71-81. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

For the first time in the month of February, UK men’s basketball has put together two straight wins after an 87-72 road silencing of Arkansas.

RECAP: UK gets big double-digit road win at Arkansas

While it may not look like much, the last two games aren’t something the Cats have been used to this season.

For the first time since November, two consecutive wins have been by double digits. The last teams UK beat consecutively by more than 10 points were Fort Wayne (86-67) and University of Illinois at Chicago (107-73). Both games were in the comfortable confines of Rupp Arena.

That was nearly two months before forward Jarred Vanderbilt was considered for game action and guard Hamidou Diallo was one of the team’s leading scorers. Since then, there have been talks of missing the NCAA Tournament, a four-game losing streak for the first time in Calipari’s tenure at UK and games where the team struggled to score 60 points.

Now, the team seems to have gained a new source of strength: balance.

Over the infamous four-game losing streak by the Cats, 57.5 percent of all assists were contributed by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who averaged 36.5 minutes per game. He took the brunt of the workload on offense for the Cats as they struggled to move the ball without the Canadian guard as a facilitator.

The last two games have been different for UK, as Gilgeous-Alexander’s assist contribution has been reduced to 42.3 percent of the team’s dimes over the last two contests. More Cats are moving the ball around, namely Quade Green, who has eight assists over the last two games.

Because of this offensive ball movement, the Cats are seeing a balanced scoring output from their players as well. In both of the last two games, five UK players have scored in double figures. That hadn’t happened even once since six saw double figures in the team’s win over UIC.

UK is also rebounding better, having outrebounded their opponents by 34 over the brief two-game win streak. They’ve led in bench points and points in the paint by a significant margin.

Is it a full body of work for the Cats? Absolutely not, they still have tough battles yet to come (namely, Missouri and at Florida) and the young UK team may fold still. However, right now there is a level of production and balance that spectators haven’t yet seen from the young Cats.