Labissiere, UK playing ‘fun’ basketball

Forward Skal Labissiere of the Kentucky Wildcats after he shot a jumper during the game against the LSU Tigers at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, March 5, 2016. UK defeated LSU 94-77 to finish the season 23-8. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff.

Josh Ellis

With 13:18 left in the first half of Satuday’s game against LSU, Marcus Lee was sent to the free throw line following a foul on an alley-oop that crescendoed Rupp Arena. When the horn sounded to bring in the substitutions, 6-foot-11 Skal Labissiere shot up from his kneeled position and was ready to check in for Lee.

But before he could even plant both feet onto the light-brown hardwood, he received an earful from head coach John Calipari and a chuckle from the Rupp Arena crowd — he had to wait until after Lee shot the free throw to check in. 

“After a while you kind of get used to it. (Calipari) wants the best for us, he wants the best for me. It was kind of funny,” Labissiere said of Calipari’s disapproval of his early entrance attempt.

Lee’ shot bounced off the iron and was corralled by Jamal Murray, who immediately put up a shot that found the bottom of the net, all while being fouled in the process.

Though Labissiere was only forced to wait on the sideline for eight extra seconds (which probably felt like an eternity to him), the next buzzer sounded and the Port-au-Prince native trotted on the court.

Not even 60 seconds later, Labissiere was fouled, buried both free throws and then cashed in a jumper on the next possession to give the Cats a three-point lead. He finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and six blocks in 25 minutes — his best game of the season.

“I just went out there and had fun,” Labissiere said. “The whole week coach Cal put me in a really good position to be successful, even during practice. Tyler (Ulis) did a really good job of getting me the ball, and that was it.”

This was the type of energy and enthusiasm the freshman forward brought all night, the type UK needs from its frontcourt to reach another Final Four.

And if the Cats’ last two games are any indication of what’s to come in the postseason, the blue and white are on track to make another deep tournament run. Labissiere’s surges against Florida and LSU proved that a UK team that has him playing well has the ability to beat any team in the country.

“It is pretty different (when he’s playing well),” Labissiere said. “It’s about all of us doing what we need to do to help the team be successful. That’s been our main focus over the last couple months, and I think we are a better team than we were at the begging of the year.”

Calipari’s advice to his young forward was, “Be excited you’re playing now and you’re an integral part of with what we’re doing. Be excited.”

All 11 Cats who touched the floor on Saturday were excited. Guys were bouncing around, had smiles on their faces — there was even a segment during the game where Murray drained a three, did his bow and arrow celebration, and Calipari had a tantrum when his sharpshooter wasn’t getting back on defense.

It was evident that the team’s blowout win against LSU was the most fun UK has had all season. And there are no signs of that changing.

Whether it be an anxious spring from the scorers table or throwing up the three-goggles, this team is playing “fun” basketball. And for UK, “fun” basketball equals “winning” basketball.