Cats give best effort of season, hit century mark and give Calipari 700th win in rout of UIC

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Kevin Knox scored 25 points to lead the Wildcats to a 107-73 win over the University of Illinois-Chicago Sunday night. (UK Athletics Photo)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

A month into the season, John Calipari is starting to feel better about his team. Much better.

Eighth-ranked Kentucky reached the century mark for the first time this year and gave Calipari his 700th career victory with a 107-73 rout of the University of Illinois-Chicago in the finale of the four-game Adolph Rupp Classic Sunday night.

The outing left Calipari feeling better about the Wildcats (6-1) who struggled in early-season victories over Utah Valley and Vermont. More than a week ago, it took a second-half comeback for Kentucky to fend off East Tennessee State in the first of five straight home games.

“I feel we are getting better,” Calipari said. “We’re trending the right way and now we have to sustain it. .. This was the closest to a 40-minute basketball game (we have played) this year. This is the closest.”

Kevin Knox, the team’s top scorer and most efficient players through the first six games, took his game to another level against the Flames and finished with a career-high 25 points, an indication the freshman forward is reaching another plateau less than six weeks into his freshman campaign. Knox missed just four field goals — all three-point attempts — and did most of his scoring in the post.

A point of emphasis behind the scenes has been giving Knox more opportunities to post up defenders, allowing him to take advantage of his size down low.

“That’s something we worked in practice prior to this game,” he said. “They really couldn’t guard us in the post and that’s something we took advantage of.”

Knox added that he’s starting to feel more comfortable, despite his status as the team’s top scorer before torching the Flames to establish a career high in the scoring department.

“I’m starting to feel more comfortable with my teammates and we’re all kind of clicking,” he said. “This was one of our best games of the season and we all just clicked. We were all making shots and played together as a team and we’re starting to figure everyone out.”

Even though Knox was the top scorer and center of attention, the Wildcats placed seven players in double figures. Like Knox, Hamidou Diallo had a breakthrough offensively with a career-high 19 points to go along with a pair of thunderous dunks. PJ Washington added 17 points, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tallied 14, Quade Green had 12 and Nice Richards chipped in with 11.

“We played as good (as we’ve played this year,” Calipari said. “That’s the best we’ve played. That’s by far we’ve played. We were efficient, we passed the ball, we made shots. We took one bad shot, Kevin Knox took one in the first half. Short of that, I don’t think we took a bad shot.”

For the first time this season, Calipari and his staff get some down time and won’t play against until Saturday when the Wildcats host Harvard. The Kentucky coach is looking forward to giving his team a break.

“I thought we made great strides today,” he said. “I really did. And it’s a good, going into a little break, we all need a break, I need a break. So going into a little break, I’ll probably do a little recruiting here in the next couple days, but they don’t need to see me and I’m kind of happy I’m not seeing them, how about that?”

After a long grind to open the season, a short break will be beneficial for both parties.

Gametracker: Harvard at Kentucky, 3:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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