SHANE SHACKLEFORD: Size Matters as Wildcats Seize Midseason Momentum
As I am sure you the reader may know to the point of being nauseous, I am a basketball guy. Have been since around 1979 when my mom signed me up for little league basketball at Verda Elementary.
It was there when I walked out on the floor I figured out a very valuable lesson that served me well for more than four decades in the sport.
I looked around at the other kids playing and I thought to myself that I am a little different than everyone else. I was a head taller than all of the other kids and if I held the ball up over my head they couldn’t get it and if the ball was shot and missed I could get to it faster and easier than the others because of my long arms and height. Valuable information indeed.
During their six-game winning streak and three wins over Top 25 opponents, the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats have also figured out that size definitely matters.
Case in point, consider the most recent victory in the streak, a 71-63 win over No. 9 Kansas Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. PJ Washington has been a monster recently for the Cats, finishing with 20 points and 13 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season and eighth of his career. With 21 points vs. Mississippi State and 20 tonight, he has back-to-back 20-point games for the first time in his career. He has two 20-point, 10-rebound games this season, also vs. Seton Hall. Washington is the first player with 20 points and 10 rebounds in a game since playing Seton Hall (29 points and 12 rebounds) earlier this season.
It gets better for Big Blue. Keldon Johnson, the most consistent Cat performer, came up with 15 points and 10 rebounds, his third double-double of the season. Reid Travis also amassed a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds, his second double-double at Kentucky and 28th of his career. Travis has been his best against the best. In UK’s five games against ranked opponents, he is averaging 16.4 points and nine rebounds per game. Travis has grabbed 12 rebounds in back-to-back games and matched his season high again. His seven offensive rebounds were a season high. Sophomore center Nick Richards is also finding his niche as a rim protector, giving the Cats a career-high five blocked shots in only nine minutes of action.
As a team, the size advantage was apparent as well. The Cats owned the paint against the Jayhawks, using their size and physicality around the basket tonight, winning the rebounding battle 49-36 and outscoring KU in the paint 38-20. The Wildcats also grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, the 13th time the Cats have grabbed double-digits in rebounds and the fourth time in the last five games.
So what is the result of the Cats size advantage? During the current six-game win streak, UK has held their opponents to 61.3 points per game and limited their opponents to 38.1 percent from the field and 31 percent from 3-point range.
The Cats are winning their games in classic fashion, from the inside out. With tough matchups on the road at Vanderbilt and Florida, the Cats will need to continue to use their size and physicality to their advantage and continue to use those two simple words we mentioned earlier as they continue their march toward March and the postseason.
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports columnist from Speedwell, Tenn. You can contact him on Twitter, Facebook, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.