Defense and effort give UK new edge as post season approaches


Kentucky Wildcats forward Bam Adebayo celebrates with guard Malik Monk during a game against the Florida Gators on Saturday, February 25, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won the game 76-66. Photo by Carter Gossett | Staff

Anthony Crawford

Few would have thought that playing against No. 13 Florida without point guard De’Aaron Fox would be the game where UK took major strides in defining itself as March approaches. But the Cats did just that, flipping the results of the beat down they received at the hands of the Gators in Gainesville and winning the game 76-66.

It’s easy to point to the 30-point second half outburst from freshman Malik Monk as being the deciding factor in the Cats win, but the effort the team displayed in the first half led by Bam Adebayo was what teed the game for Monk to take it over. 

The start of the game for UK was what must would expect from a team without it’s main playmaker. The Cats went without a made field goal for nearly five minutes and became especially turnover-prone. The undisciplined play set the Gators up perfectly for a repeat of the two teams’ last contest.

“We were just saying, ‘Don’t let this happen again.’ Because it looked like it was about to be a rerun of what they did to us at their place,” senior Dominique Hawkins said. “We just said we’ll be able to get stuff going and be patience and things would fall together.”

The patience in the first half came in the form of a revamped defensive effort.

Hawkins and Adebayo’s energy fueled UK as both seemed to get a hand on every loose ball or rebound. Adebayo himself, came up huge with 11 first half rebounds, which offered a sharp contrast for the rematch as UK was out-rebounded 54-29 in the loss at Florida.

The all-out effort from UK allowed them to go on a 17-3 run to get back in the game and go into the half tied despite shooting only 29 percent from the field and turning the ball over 12 times.

Monk was a player heavily responsible for the team’s struggles in the first half as he chipped in five turnovers and only scored three points, but in the second half he was a completely different player.

After attributing the early struggles to playing too fast, he seemed to have no trouble letting the game just come to him in the second half as he exploded for 30 points.

Monk reached a level of play that paralleled his 47-point outburst against North Carolina and just added to UK taking it up a notch on the Gators.

Realistically what UK showed against Florida Saturday was its most dangerous version of itself as the postseason approaches even without Fox. 

Counting on Monk to go off is not the best trump card once March rolls around, but now if the team can embrace this gritty style of play it’s shown for two games now, UK has a nice option to fallback on.

Adebayo is a player that is key to setting the tone if UK is to continue this play, and he seems to be turning a corner with Saturday’s 18-point and 15-rebound outing being his second straight double-double.

UK also can take pride that it pulled this off without Fox, as the Cats surely would not have been in as big as a hole to start with him running the offense instead.

Whether they can play to this exact level again or not something has changed for UK since that last meeting with Florida. This victory makes it six straight that the Cats have rattled off and puts them in great possession for the postseason as it leaves UK sitting alone atop the SEC standings.