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Earlier this week, University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari said his team’s defense was pretty good, but the Wildcats had plenty of work to do on offense.
That’s how the game played out Thursday in UK’s 81-59 win over St. John’s.
The Wildcats rode a strong defensive effort — led by a school-record 18 blocks — but shot 28-69 (40.6 percent) from the field and turned the ball over 12 times.
“We were just inept offensively,” Calipari said. “We started the game, and we had 16 points. I was like, ‘are we going to get to 20 this half?’ We’ve got a ways to go.”
For much of the game, UK freshman forward Anthony Davis appeared to be on his way to the second triple-double in program history. Davis’s bid for the feat came up just short as Calipari pulled him with 15 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks with 4:44 left in the game.
“Without him, we probably lose the game,” Calipari said. “He changed everything about the game. (He) blocked shots, he scored baskets, he rebounded tough rebounds, he came up with balls.”
Calipari and Davis said they were not aware how close he was to the triple-double when he left the game.
“I didn’t know coming out of the game that I had eight blocks and was close to a triple-double,” Davis said. “My teammates kept coming in there and saying ‘you could have had a triple-double.
“I wasn’t focused on it, but they kept saying it, kept saying it and kind of made me feel bad that I didn’t do it.”
The eight blocks were tied for third most by a UK player in a single game. Davis appeared to tie the school record with his ninth block with just more than five minutes left in the game, but he was whistled for his third foul.
“Coach Cal even said that wasn’t a foul,” Davis said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way, but I wasn’t really mad. I was just trying to play good defense.”
Even with Davis out of the game, UK managed to tie and eventually set the new team block record. Senior forward Eloy Vargas had the record-setting swat with 2:42 left in the game. UK’s previous record of 17 blocks in a game came on Nov. 20, 1997, versus Morehead State.
“We’re a pretty good defensive team,” Calipari said. “We’ve been this way all year. We haven’t had 18 blocks, but we’ve had 10, 11.”
Davis wasn’t alone in the UK attack. Sophomore forward Terrence Jones scored 26 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked four shots. Jones padded his scoring total with 11 points at the foul line, including five in a stretch of eight consecutive free throw attempts on one UK possession.
Sophomore guard Doron Lamb scored 16 points and dished out three assists. Senior guard Darius Miller scored nine points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out six assists.
The Wildcats also added several plays to their ever-growing dunk highlight reel for the season.
Jones appeared to have the dunk of the night when he slammed home an errant Lamb free-throw, but Miller quickly took the best dunk title with a one-handed lob dunk off a Lamb pass.
“That was the dunk of the game,” Jones said of Miller’s slam. “He ran the court hard, Doron threw him a good pass. We practice throwing lobs so it just worked out good.”
Miller said he hadn’t seen the replay of his dunk yet, but he confessed to “being in the moment” with his stoic celebration afterward.
While UK scored 50 points in the second half — compared to St. John’s 59 points in the game — the majority of the Wildcat highlights came on defense.
UK held St. John’s to 31.7 percent shooting (19-60) and recorded just one fewer block than St. John’s field goals. The Wildcats forced four shot-clock violations in the first half and forced 19 turnovers in the game.
“I’m not the most patient guy anyway — and I want us to be better now — but it’s Dec. 1,” Calipari said. “We are what we are. We’re a good defensive team. We can’t sustain the energy we need. Because it’s so early in the season, we stop playing a lot. Offensively, we just aren’t in sync yet. We’ve got to get there.”
As for Davis, he’s not letting his near-miss in the triple-double department keep him down.
“That would be a big accomplishment: being one of the two guys that had a triple-double,” he said. “I’m going to keep going out there and playing, and hopefully I’ll get it done one day.”
Photos by Mark Boxley.