Saturday was supposed to be a Senior Night celebration Alex Poythress, the rare recruited player in John Calipari’s program that stuck around for all four years.
But what it turned into was the Skal Labissiere Show.
Going up against Ben Simmons, the other guy that was “a consensus top two pick” back in November, Labissiere had his best games as a Wildcats, finishing with 18 points, nine boards, six blocks and two assists as No. 22 Kentucky rolled over LSU, 94-77.
It was the second straight game that Labissiere has started, and it was the second straight game that he played like a kid with a chance of getting to the NBA one day. He had 11 points and eight boards in 15 minutes at Florida on Tuesday. Saturday’s performance took it to another level. He hit a myriad of jumpers as he and Tyler Ulis flawlessly executed pick-and-pop actions, he was a defensive menace at the rim — including a chase-down block that just about made Rupp Arena implode — and he made the right read and the simple play offensively, even if it was something as simple as turning down a jumper to set up Jamal Murray for a three.
It’s amazing what a little bit of confidence will do for a kid.
Because Labissiere has had this ability the whole season. It’s not like this is a fluke. But between issues with his strength and how aggressive John Calipari can be when you’re not doing what he wants you to do, the 7-foot Haitian never found a rhythm. He was thinking, he wasn’t reacting. He was trying to do what he thought he was supposed to do instead of reading, reacting and making a play.
Who knows how long this Labissiere is going to be around. Will his confidence get destroyed again the next time he makes a stupid play? Or is he going to spend the month of March proving to everyone that we weren’t crazy for saying this kid could be an all-american and a top five pick?
That’s something we’ll have to wait and see on.
But what we can say definitively is that when this Labissiere shows up, Kentucky is dangerous. When he’s on the floor with Derek Willis, Kentucky has four shooters. There’s an absurd amount of space for Ulis to create — LSU’s defense is a tragicomedy, but Ulis did have 14 points and 14 assists — and it forces defenses into a decision with Murray: Hug him on the perimeter or dare Willis and Labissiere to beat you.
With this Labissiere, and with Ulis and Murray playing like they’re the best back court in the world not named Steph and Klay, Kentucky, who is trending towards a No. 4 seed, is not a team you are going to want to see in your bracket.