Willis’ shot-blocking aides UK’s defensive effort against UGA

Senior forward Derek Willis waits to check in the game 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. — While Malik Monk’s scoring struggles and the team’s overall defensive improvement deserve equal recognition following UK men’s basketball’s 71-60 win over Georgia to advance to the Semifinals of the SEC Tournament, some credit should go to Derek Willis for the recent stretch he’s had as his career at UK unwinds.

“This is my last SEC tournament and I just want to make the most of it,” Willis said. “So I don’t want to go out there and think that I left something, I just want to give it my all.”

Ever since his senior night against Vanderbilt, a night that probably stands out more for him for his engagement with his girlfriend, Willis has emerged as the perfect forward to play alongside Bam Adebayo in the starting lineup. During the three-game stretch, the forward is averaging seven points, 8.3 rebounds and over three blocks per game.

The steps Willis has taken as a shot blocker open up a world of possibilities for UK, as it frees Adebayo from that duty which in turn, helps lock up the defensive glass for UK. 

Early against Georgia, Willis was right in the thick of things for UK as they jumped out to a lead in the opening minutes instead of falling behind double-digits. Willis kept up the effort throughout the game, rejecting four shots overall and one specifically in the second half where he consumed a Georgia player’s shot all together.

Willis’ biggest contribution to the team should still be his shooting, which he has slouched on during this stretch. In his last three games, he is hitting 37.5 percent of his shots which is right on par with his season average of 38.1 percent.

Against the Bulldogs he started out strong hitting two of his first three shots from deep but when the team’s shooting started to go array, so did his as he didn’t hit another and finished going 2-for-6.

Even though the scoring splits weren’t great, UK can still be happy with the win thanks to the great defense, something that Willis helped out some with his newfound shot-blocking.