Cats worked hard against Georgia to make things easy


Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe (13) huddles his team together during the quarterfinal game of the SEC Tournament against the Georgia Bulldogs on Friday, March 10, 2017 in Nashville, Ky. Kentucky won the game 71-60.

Anthony Crawford

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Even though the effort exerted on the defensive end might say otherwise, UK men’s basketball made things easier on itself in the team’s win over Georgia on Friday in the SEC Tournament Quarterfinals.

This team showed that it’s not the same one that needed to squeeze every point possible out of transition opportunities and that it didn’t even need an average performance from its scoring extraordinaire and SEC freshman of the year Malik Monk. Instead, all the Cats needed was to embrace the grind on the defensive end.

“Post-season is about being able to make it hard for the other team,” UK head coach John Calipari said following the 71-60 win over Georgia.

UK succeeded in making things hard for Georgia and, in turn, got to settle into a comfortable win over the Bulldogs, something the Cats hadn’t done in the two regular season meetings against Georgia.

UK’s defense was focused and energized in the team’s first game in Nashville. It was so engaged that UK didn’t get caught facing a double-digit deficit and have to work the entire first half or however long it took to dig themselves out of it.

The Cats were so engaged that instead of counting on Monk to stand opposite Georgia’s J.J. Frazier in a shootout, UK could look elsewhere for points while their star offensive player turned in a season-low two points.

UK was so engaged that it also didn’t have to count on leak outs for easy points in transition. Instead UK could count on it’s own defense to give the team all the possessions needed thanks to key plays on defense, like Derek Willis’ four blocks or the six total steals from the Cats.

UK’s defense did everything it needed to do in holding Frazier to 15 points on 4-for-17 shooting and the Bulldogs’ co-star Yante Maten to 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting. The Bulldogs as a team shot 19-for-57 from the field (33 percent) and were forced into 13 turnovers. 

All this was while UK also shot poorly from the field (39 percent), scored only four fast break points and received little bench scoring in relief (only nine points scored by non-starters).

The performance was only the young team’s first so far this postseason but it might be its most telling. Defense was the difference in the win and allowed for the Cats to make things easier for themselves by making things harder on their opponent. And that’s something that will ring true for UK throughout March if this play keeps up.