MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In the cinematic masterpiece known as Major League II, slugger Pedro Cerrano has his manhood challenged when a teammate tells him he has “no marbles!” He promptly delivers a game-winning home run for the hapless Cleveland Indians and trots around the bases while pantomiming an act of carrying two boulders below his waist.
Like Cerrano, Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox has been challenged all season by coach John Calipari to be “that guy” or “the guy” for the Wildcats. The sweet-shooting, 6-foot-9 McDonald’s All-American is the one player capable of putting this entire baby-faced team on his back and carrying it.
But Knox had often struggled in that role, showing brilliant flashes before fading away for long stretches. Until finally, on Saturday night at seventh-ranked West Virginia, with Kentucky reeling and in need of a hero, he found his marbles.
“He didn’t settle,” Calipari said. “He went at it.”
Knox scored a career-high 34 points and grabbed 7 rebounds as the Cats erased a 17-point deficit over the final 17 minutes to win 83-76. When he made a 3-pointer to put UK ahead for good with 70 seconds left, Knox re-enacted Cerrano’s home run celebration. Think Aaron Harrison in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
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That, and a night full of trash talk, represented a significant change in the mild-mannered freshman forward. It might have also represented a turning point in this entire season for the Wildcats.
“Just stayed aggressive,” said Knox, who had scored single digits four times in the previous 10 games and surpassed 20 points just once in that span. “Kept playing aggressive, kept doing what they asked me to, and it went well for me.”
It went much better than that. Knox scored Kentucky’s first seven points of the game when the rest of his teammates seemed shell-shocked by WVU’s suffocating defense and a thunderous, capacity crowd.
After Kentucky fell behind by 17 points with 17 minutes to go, it sounded like the game was being played inside a jet engine. And yet, in the midst of that chaos, Knox delivered 10 points and 4 rebounds in the next 6 minutes to ignite a 21-2 run.
He punctuated that outburst with a dunk that gave the Cats their first lead since the opening minute of the game. He let the Mountaineers and their stunned fans know about it.
“I love atmospheres like that,” Knox said. “I love playing away games, love going against people on the road. That’s something I loved growing up — the other team yelling, hyped, student section, all of that gets me going. I was hitting some big shots today, so I had to talk a little trash. They were talking trash, so I had to go back at them. This is what I love … something I live for.”
But Knox’s in-game heroics aren’t the only reason Kentucky (16-5) will be back in the AP Top 25 by Monday afternoon. It’s as much about the work he has been doing on the days in between games.
During a brutal three-game cold streak, during which the Wildcats lost to both South Carolina and Florida to fall out of the AP poll for the first time since 2014, Knox hit just 2-of-14 3-pointers. So he committed himself to seeing 500 jump shots go through the hoop every day before he leaves the gym.
In the two games since starting that routine, Knox has hit 16 of 23 shots, 9 of 12 3-pointers, 12 of 14 free throws and scored 53 points in 70 minutes.
“Every day since I said that, I’ve been in the gym before and after practice making sure I’ve got my makes in,” Knox said. “It’s paying off. I’m going to keep doing it, keep working hard, keep working out with the coaches, keep getting shots up, and it’s going to pay off in the games.”
He might’ve lost his marbles for a while, but now they’re found, and Kentucky can once again dream as big as his celebration Saturday night in Morgantown.