Kentucky Wildcats

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 21:  Bam Adebayo #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the first half at Rupp Arena on January 21, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

No. 11 Kentucky struggles before putting away Missouri

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Kentucky won. That’s probably all the Wildcats need to take away from their time in Columbia, Mo.

Eleventh-ranked Kentucky defeated Missouri, 72-62, in a game that was an absolute slog for the Wildcats until the final minutes offered them some separation and reprieve from the feisty but undermanned Tigers.

Missouri led throughout much of the first half, but never held an advantage after halftime. Still, the Tigers were there lurking closely for much of the final frame, something their 7-20 record would suggest they were incapable of, even at home against Kentucky on a night where the Wildcats were about as sharp as the shape of basketball itself. Which is to say, not sharp at all.

Bam Adebayo was an absolute force on the interior for Kentucky. The freshman big had 22 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the floor and a 10 of 13 mark from the free-throw line. He also had 15 rebounds and three blocks. Missouri, like plenty of other teams before them, had no answer.

The question, though, for Kentucky this night was what kept De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk from being productive? The pair struggled from start to finish, combining to go 8 of 22 overall and 2 of 7 from deep along with five turnovers. Making matters even worse was Isaiah Briscoe’s night. He shot it fine (4 of 6) but had six turnovers in 23 minutes.

It just wasn’t pretty for the Wildcats.

Overall, Kentucky went 5 of 18 from deep and had 17 turnovers, allowing one of the SEC’s cellar dwellers to make things interesting until the Wildcats were able to put the Tigers at arm’s length in the final few minutes.

It’s certainly not an inspiring performance from Kentucky, but against Missouri on the road, it’s not exactly surprising to seem them come with something less than their best. It can probably be excused to circumstance rather than anything more serious.

For Missouri, it was a missed opportunity to add some sort of silver lining to yet another dismal season under Kim Anderson. The third-year coach probably wouldn’t have improved his job prospects much with a win over Kentucky – things have been too bad for too long for one game to move the needle – but it still would have been nice for Missouri after so much misery, you know? But, alas, the game ended like most of them have for the Tigers in recent years, with a loss.

Now, Kentucky heads into Saturday’s matchup against No. 13 Florida with the regular-season SEC title – and some pride – on the line. The Gators whipped the Wildcats by 22 in Gainesville earlier this month, and both teams will enter Rupp Arena with matching 13-2 SEC records.

Both teams will have two games remaining after Saturday, but it would appear to mere formalities for both. Whoever wins Saturday almost certainly will win the conference outright.

No. 13 Kentucky dismantles Tennessee

LEXINGTON, KY - FEBRUARY 14:  Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball against the Tennessee Volunteers at Rupp Arena on February 14, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Before the ball went through the basket, more often than not, it swung around, quickly, decisively and effectively.

Kentucky moved the ball deftly and decimated Tennessee completely, 83-58, on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.

The Wildcats were dominant from the outset, using their ball movement to completely slice up the Volunteer defense en route to quality look after quality look. Kentucky has owned a dynamic offense all season, but ball movement hasn’t always been a hallmark of what has made it hum. Against Tennessee, it was often a thing of beauty.

Not only was the passing aesthetically, but it was devastatingly effective in covering up the well-known weakness of Kentucky’s offense: Its 3-point shooting.

The Wildcats  went 11 of 25 from distance for a mark of 44 percent, nine points higher than their season average. Thirty-six percent of their shots came from long range, which is a tick higher than typical for them.

Not only did Kentucky’s passing allow the Wildcats to get good looks at the arc, it created those looks for the players that need them most. Their two most proficient 3-point shooters, Malik Monk and Derek Willis, both hoisted seven 3s and made four apiece.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Kentucky’s ability to generate looks off the pass in the halfcourt is that the Wildcats were able to do it in different ways. De’Aron Fox collapsed the defense and kicked it out. Bam Adebayo diagnosed double-teams and found the open man. In both cases, the ball didn’t immediately go up, but instead zipped around around to keep the Tennessee defense scrambling until it broke down completely.

The level of concern in Lexington never reached serious heights, but after losing three of four games – starting with a loss to the Volunteers and finishing with a 22-point loss to Florida – things certainly were a little uneasy. Kentucky, though, has followed it up with three-straight victories, and this one against Tennessee was the most definitive one yet.

Not only did Kentucky dice up the Vols’ defense, they were able to bottle up Tennessee’s offense. The Vols shot 34.6 percent overall and 18.8 percent from 3-point range. They had seven assists on 18 made field goals and had 13 turnovers. The only thing that kept the offense afloat was the 19 of 24 mark from the free-throw line.

With Kentucky finding its footing and Florida still surging, having won seven-straight, it’s all setting up for there to be a battle for the SEC in Lexington on Feb. 25, when the Gators visit Rupp Arena.

The SEC at large may be taking some lumps for its play, but the race at the top of the league is as intriguing as any in the country with that game having the potential to be a blockbuster should both teams be able to get there without another loss.

Fox leads No. 5 Kentucky over Mississippi State 88-81

Mississippi State guard Quinndary Weatherspoon (11) gets into a scuffle with Kentucky'sp Isaiah Briscoe (13) and De'Aaron Fox (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Weatherspoon and Fox were both charged with offsetting technical fouls. Kentucky won 88-81. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
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STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Malik Monk, Kentucky’s leading scorer, was struggling and so was star guard Isaiah Briscoe. So when the Wildcats needed some clutch baskets late, coach John Calipari turned to freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox and gave him some simple instructions.

“We just said, `Here you go De’Aaron, go and do your thing,”‘ Calipari said.

Fox responded with two clutch baskets on drives to the basket in the final minutes to thwart a final Mississippi State rally and lead the fifth-ranked Wildcats over the Bulldogs 88-81 on Tuesday night.

Fox finished with 21 points while Monk had 14. Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis both scored 13 points and Briscoe added 12.

“A lot of teams have a go-to person, but we don’t have that right now,” Fox said. “So whoever has the hot hand that game is the one that does it.”

Kentucky (16-2, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) looked like it would cruise to the win after building a 66-49 lead midway through the second half, but Mississippi State responded with 13 straight points to make things interesting down the stretch.

Calipari said he was frustrated with his team’s inattention to detail. He was especially irritated when Monk got a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a dunk on an alley-oop pass.

“We go into the AAU mode when we’re playing all freshmen and sophomores,” Calipari said. “There’s a point in the game where they just think `OK, watch this.’

“You’re never going to be that team if that’s what your mindset is.”

In the end, the Wildcats were too potent offensively. The 6-foot-3 Fox was especially impressive, shooting 8 of 15 from the field and adding five rebounds and five assists.

Kentucky also got plenty of production from its forwards. Willis scored all 13 of his points in the first half, stepping out to make three 3-pointers. Gabriel was 5 of 5 from the field, including 3 of 3 from 3-point range.

Mississippi State (12-5, 3-2) was led by freshman Lamar Peters, who scored a career-high 25 points. Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 15 points and Mario Kegler added 13 points and eight rebounds.

Mississippi State shot 32 of 59 (54.2 percent) from the field. The Bulldogs were hurt by 19 turnovers.

“You can’t knock Kentucky – they’re one of the best teams in the country,” Peters said. “But when you look at the talent on our team, I feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country, too. We can hang with anybody. And it’s frustrating because we knew we could have won that game.”

It was an emotional game that featured four technical fouls – two on each team.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats continue to put up big numbers on offense, scoring at least 87 points for the sixth straight game. Monk, who leads the team at nearly 22 points per game, wasn’t at his best on Tuesday, but his teammates were more than capable of picking up the slack.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were able to hang with one of the nation’s best teams for most of the game, but an inability to stop Kentucky on the defensive end proved costly.

QUITE AN ATMOSPHERE

Mississippi State announced a crowd of 9,768, which was its largest of the season. The traffic was so bad before the game outside Humphrey Coliseum that the Bulldogs’ pep band barely made it to their seats on time because its bus was stuck on the road.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: The Wildcats return home to face No. 24 South Carolina on Saturday.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs travel to face Tennessee on Saturday.

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More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25 .

No. 6 Kentucky upends Vanderbilt

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 10:  Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats puts his arm around teammate Malik Monk #5 during the final moments of an 87-81 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores second half at Memorial Gym on January 10, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Malik Monk scored six points in the final 32 seconds, and No. 6 Kentucky remained unbeaten in the Southeastern Conference by holding off Vanderbilt 87-81 Tuesday night.

Kentucky (14-2, 4-0) came in having beaten its first three SEC opponents by at least 23 points, something the Wildcats hadn’t done since the 1953-54 season. They looked ready to roll over Vanderbilt, scoring the first nine points of the game, before finding themselves in their tightest game at least in league play this season.

Vanderbilt (8-8, 2-2) closed to 83-81 on Jeff Roberson’s putback with 17.9 seconds left. But the rally fizzled from there.

Monk, who hit Kentucky’s last field goal with 32 seconds left, hit two free throws with 17 seconds left. Vanderbilt’s last shot, a 3 from Matthew Fisher-Davis, was off target with 9 seconds remaining, and Monk finished off the win with two more foul shots.

Isaiah Briscoe led Kentucky with 23 points, De’Aaron Fox had 22, Monk finished with 18 and Edrice “Bam” Adebayo had 14.

Roberson, Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance each scored 19 points for Vanderbilt. Luke Kornet added 16.

The Wildcats got into early foul trouble that kept Monk and Fox on the bench for much of the first half.

Monk, the SEC’s leading scorer, picked up his second foul with 16:54 left in the first half, followed quickly by Fox getting his second 11 seconds later. They both went to the bench, and the Commodores finally started knocking down some shots.

The Wildcats led 45-41 at halftime but couldn’t push their lead past eight in the second half.

Vanderbilt last led 53-51 on a three-point play by LaChance and stayed close despite the SEC’s best shooters outside the arc hitting just 8 of 29 (27.6 percent).

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: Coach John Calipari’s young Wildcats haven’t been in many close games so far this season. They got into foul trouble early and also had their worst night shooting outside the arc, finishing just 1 of 9. But they shot 50.7 percent (34 for 67) overall.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores had been making 13.3 3s per game in SEC play. They struggled on a night when Memorial Gym had enough Kentucky blue inside to feel like a road version of Rupp Arena. They also missed too many layups and close shots. Fisher-Davis was 9 of 11 at the line but only 4 of 15 from the floor.

BIG SHOT

A fan hit a half-court shot at halftime to win a three-year lease on an Acura. He celebrated with a high-five from Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, who sat with Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew’s father, Homer, behind the Vanderbilt bench. Harbaugh is in town for the AFCA convention.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: The Wildcats host Auburn on Saturday afternoon.

Vanderbilt: Host in-state rival Tennessee on Saturday night.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

No. 6 Kentucky beats Texas A&M by 42 points

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07:  John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to  De'Aaron Fox #0 and Malik Monk #5 during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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It happened again.

No. 6 Kentucky put up 100 points on an overmatched opponent again. Malik Monk had 26 of them. De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe combined for 28 of them in addition to their 13 assists. As a team, the Wildcats shot 13-for-25 from three; Briscoe, who has struggled with his shot throughout his time in Lexington, made all three of his attempts.

But the thing that is worrying about that performance – for Kentucky opponents as well as fans of the SEC in general – is that it didn’t come against some mid-major program we won’t hear from again this season.

It came against Texas A&M.

The same Texas A&M that some projected as a top two team in the Big 12 this season. The same Texas A&M that was still thought of as one of the top four teams in the league entering Tuesday night.

That’s not a good sign for the SEC that the fourth-best team in the league can lose to Kentucky 100-58, is it?

Well, no.

It’s not.

But it’s also worth noting here that this is the nightmare matchup for the Aggies.

Texas A&M doesn’t have an eligible point guard on the roster, at least one that’s good enough to deal with what Kentucky is throwing at them. Freshman J.J. Caldwell was expected to be the guy that handled the ball this season, but he was ruled academically ineligible before the year. Kentucky is not only one of the best defensive teams in the country, they have arguably the single-best on-ball defender in the sport in Fox.

And what Kentucky wants to do defensively is utilize the myriad of crazy athletes in their back court to make running offense difficult. Combine that with a team not having a natural point guard and what you get is Texas A&M turning the ball over on 40.5 percent of their possessions in the first half.

In other words, I think this game says more about the matchup itself than it does about either team.

And that’s a good thing for the SEC. This is a Power 5 Conference that sent three teams to the NCAA tournament last season. It’s not a good look that the team we all thought would be fourth-best team in the league can’t keep it as close with the Wildcats as Stephen F. Austin, Canisius, Duquesne, Cleveland State, Tennessee-Martin, Valparaiso and Hofstra could.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Villanova is the new No. 1

Villanova head coach Jay Wright shouts instructions to his team during the first half of N NCAA college basketball game against Miami in the regional semifinals of the men's NCAA Tournament in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
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1. Villanova (14-0, Last Week: No. 2): It feels like what Villanova is doing this season is still flying under the radar despite the fact that they are undefeated and the No. 1 team in the country while staking claim as the reigning national champions.

2. UCLA (14-1, 3): UCLA lost on the road on a game-winner with 0.7 seconds left to a team that I now have in the top ten, a team that was in the preseason top five before we realized that Dillon Brooks, who is now healthy and mowing down opponents, wasn’t at 100 percent to start the year. I’m not concerned in the least.

3. Kansas (12-1, 4): The Jayhawks survived a scrappy TCU team in their Big 12 opener thanks to a punishing performance from center Landen Lucas. He has suddenly turned into the most important player on the Kansas team now that Udoka Azubuike is out for the year with a wrist injury.

4. Kentucky (11-2, 5): Kentucky put together their most complete performance on the season last week when they beat Ole Miss in Oxford. Isaiah Briscoe put up a triple-double, Bam Adebayo played his best game of the season and Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox did the things that Monk and Fox do.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

5. Duke (12-2, 1): So what do we do with the Blue Devils? I’m still in the camp that says that Duke has the highest ceiling of any team in the country, and I also think we’ve underrated just how good Virginia Tech is this season; the Hokies would be undefeated right now if they hadn’t choked away a loss to Texas A&M in the Wooden Legacy semifinals. This isn’t like Duke going to Boston College and taking a beating.

But Duke still took a beating, and the biggest concern was that the Blue Devils seemed to lack the effort and the intensity to make the plays they needed to make defensively. They almost looked selfish offensively, as the lack of a point guard on that roster was glaring. They played without Grayson Allen, who was serving the first game of his suspension, but the issues Duke had on display were much bigger than Allen.

Put another way, Saturday made me think that Duke may not ever get to their ceiling. But hey, at least Harry Giles III finally scored a point.

(UPDATE: And now Coach K will miss up to a month to recover from back surgery.)

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6. Gonzaga (14-0, 8): The Bulldogs were pushed by both Pacific and Pepperdine this week, but came out unscathed with double-digit wins. There is a real chance that Gonzaga could head into Moraga on Feb. 11th as the lone undefeated team in college basketball.

7. Baylor (14-0, 9): The Bears keep rolling along. On Saturday, they opened up Big 12 play by mollywhopping Oklahoma in Norman. It is going to be fun when the Bears get together with Kansas this season, on Feb. 1st and Feb. 18th.

8. Wisconsin (12-2, 11): While Indiana lost twice last week and Purdue dropped a home game to Minnesota, the Badgers continue to roll along. Since Nigel Hayes made the change to being a point forward, the Badgers have looked like a totally different team.

9. Louisville (12-2, 7): Outside of Duke, Louisville is the hardest team in this poll to rank. They beat Kentucky, but they beat Kentucky by three in a game they were favored by two on their home floor, the same home floor where they were smacked around by Virginia just five days ago. But then the Cardinals turned around and gave Indiana a similar whooping in Indiana. Wherever you have them ranked, here’s what you need to admit: the Cards are, right now, as good as, if not better than any team in the ACC.

10. Oregon (13-2, 21): Oregon vaults up to No. 10 in our poll for one, simple reason: they’re back.

11. West Virginia (12-1, 12)
12. North Carolina (12-3, 6)
13. Creighton (13-1, 10)
14. Florida State (14-1, 25)
15. Virginia (11-2, 18)
16. Xavier (12-2, 16)
17. Saint Mary’s (12-1, 17)
18. Arizona (14-2, 22)
19. Cincinnati (13-2, 20)
20. Butler (12-2, 13)
21. Purdue (12-3, 14)
22. Virginia Tech (12-1, UR)
23. Notre Dame (12-2, 23)
24. USC (14-1, 19)
25. Indiana (10-4, 15)

DROPPED OUT: No. 24 Seton Hall
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Virginia Tech