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Labissiere makes return to lineup, provides spark for Kentucky in 88-79 win over Florida


By Keith Taylor
KyForward sports writer

Skal Labissiere provided the spark Kentucky needed in its final road game of the season.

Labissiere scored 11 points and grabbed a career-high eight rebounds to help lead the Wildcats to an 88-79 win over Florida Tuesday night. It was Labissiere’s first start in the Southeastern Conference and his first since Kentucky’s 74-67 loss to Ohio State on Dec. 19.

Skal Labissiere scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Kentucky's win over Florida Tuesday night

Skal Labissiere scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Kentucky’s win over Florida Tuesday night (UK Athletics Photo)

“Skal was terrific today,” Calipari said. “And again, he only played 15 minutes, but if he can give us 15, 20 minutes like that, we’re pretty good.”

Labissiere, whose effort in practice Monday was enough to convince Calipari to insert him into the starting lineup, said the performance was a “confidence booster.”

“I just have to build on it,” Labissiere said. “We don’t have a long season left, it’s almost tournament time, so hopefully I can do that in tournament time.”

Like Calipari, Alex Poythress was pleased with the production Labissiere provided and wasn’t surprised by his final tally.

“If he can do that every game we would love that, but from here on out (he’s) just got to build on it,” Poythress said. “I mean, I think he can. He played well today.”

BOXSCORE: Kentucky 88, Florida 79

The performance by Labissiere gave Kentucky the post presence it needed coming off a 74-62 loss at Vanderbilt. Kentucky’s inside players — Labissiere, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Isaac Humphries — combined for 32 points and 29 rebounds.

“Coming off a loss, you always want to step up and play big,” Poythress said. “You always want to get that bad taste out of your mouth.”

Calipari didn’t say whether Labissiere’s return to the starting lineup was part of a late-season “tweak” designed to give the Wildcats a boost he hopes results in a productive postseason run.

“We did to tweak things to get these guys to focus on some different stuff is,” he said. “I need a confident basketball team. And it’s not going to come from me building guys up who are playing like crap. That’s not confidence. That’s fake. That’s not how we operate. It is telling them the truth. Work on it.”

For the first time this year, all of Kentucky’s starters reached double figures. Jamal Murray paved the way with 21 points and eight rebounds. Murray did most of his scoring in the second half with 18 points as the Wildcats (22-8, 12-5 SEC) pulled away down the stretch to hand the Gators their fourth-straight setback with one game remaining in the regular season.

Tyler Ulis had a double-double with 19 points and 11 assists. Poythress also posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Isaiah Briscoe added 13 points and made five of six free throws.

Overall, eight players scored for Kentucky, providing the balance Calipari has been yearning for all season.

“It’s what we’ve been trying to do,” Calipari said. “We’re still building confidence. We’re still doing that. We have this week and next week to get ourselves (together) and have a confident basketball team. We had a lot of help from a lot of guys today, which was good.”

Kentucky, which didn’t attempt a free throw in the first half, was 23-for-32 from the charity stripe in the second half. The Wildcats also made seven shots from long range, with Murray sinking four of those treys, followed by Ulis with two.

Calipari said the win over the Gators was a good start to what he hopes is a productive month.

“What I’m on these guys now is, is you gotta focus on scouting reports, you gotta focus on every shootaround, all that stuff,” he said. “My teams at this time of the year, it’s all up a notch, there’s laser (focus). This team’s not there yet and I talked to them about it at the shootaround today.”

Game tracker: LSU at Kentucky, Saturday, 2 p.m. TV/Radio: CBS Sports, 98.1 FM WBUL

Keith Taylor is a columnist and senior sports writer who covers University of Kentucky athletics for KyForward.com


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