The No. 20 Kentucky Wildcats are playing with a cutthroat determination.
The Wildcats played one of their best games of the season during an 88-54 beatdown of Missouri at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night. Kentucky coach John Calipari credited his team’s stellar performance to the way it approached the game.
“We’re playing desperate now,” Calipari said. “We’re playing with an attitude: Refuse to lose. I told (Missouri coach) Kim (Anderson) today ‘That was our best game. Like, you just faced our best team.’ They got the buzzsaw today. We played well.”
Guard Tyler Ulis led the Wildcats with 20 points and forward Derek Willis poured in 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. But it was freshman big man Skal Labissiere who imposed his will on the Tigers. The talented freshman put up one of his most dominant efforts of the season with 12 points and five blocks in 18 minutes off the bench.
“It makes our team different,” Calipari said of Labissiere’s performance. “When he blocks shots now, you can’t drive in there and he blocks one.”
Labissiere’s freshman year has been a difficult one that hasn’t quite met the lofty expectations that followed him to Lexington, Ky. Calipari took the blame for Labissiere’s struggles following Tuesday’s game.
“I probably screwed Skal up,” Calipari said. “I’m trying to make him Karl (Anthony) Towns. He’s not Karl Towns. He can’t play like Karl Towns.”
Kentucky has now won three consecutive games since dropping its fourth game of the season to Auburn two weeks ago. Calipari said that loss to Auburn actually helped his team improve toward the ultimate goal: playing its best basketball when it matters most.
“Look, I knew we were getting better,” Calipari said. “If we hadn’t lost that game I may not have been able to get this team to think more desperate, to play with a refuse to lose attitude. It may not have happened… My whole job is ‘are we playing our best in March?’ That’s what I do.”
Calipari will get a great opportunity to evaluate how far his team has come when the Wildcats travel to Lawrence, Kan., for a battle with the No. 4 Jayhawks on Saturday night. A win at Allen Fieldhouse could propel the Wildcats into February, and perhaps March, with plenty of positive momentum.