Head coach John Calipari always states he wants his team playing its best basketball in March. Well, if last week was any indication the Kentucky Wildcats are well on their way to meeting their coach’s expectations. Freshmen Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere were named the Southeastern Conference’s Player and Freshman of the Week after leading the Wildcats to their 47th SEC regular-season championship this week.
With their honors, Kentucky concludes the season leading the league with 11 total weekly honors this season. In addition to Murray’s five, sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis has garnered three honors, while Labissiere has hauled in two SEC Freshman of the Week honors, and Isaiah Briscoe was once tabbed the league’s top-performing freshman.
Labissiere returned to the starting lineup and enjoyed a breakout week for Kentucky. Labissiere averaged 14.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in two victories over Florida and LSU. He began the week with an 11-point, eight-rebound effort at Florida. He made his first start since Dec. 19, 2015 and was a force to be reckoned with from the opening tip. His eight rebounds were the most of his career and the 11 points were the most since scoring 12 against Missouri on Jan. 27.
That was just the beginning.
Labissiere followed it up with the best all-around game of his career in must-win game against LSU to claim a share of the SEC title. Labissiere poured in 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting while topping his previous career high from earlier in the week with nine rebounds. He also added a career-high six blocks, which were the most for a Wildcat since Karl-Anthony Towns had six vs. Florida on March 7, 2015. The 18 points were the second most points this season for the freshman. Labissiere’s strong offensive output enabled sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis to total a career-high 14 assists – five of which were points converted by Labissiere. Labissiere also played 25 minutes against the Tigers, which were the most minutes since he played 25 against Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 9, 2015.
Murray has brought consistency and unselfishness to his game as the Wildcats head into March playing their best basketball of the season. Murray led the way offensively for the Wildcats this week at 21.5 points per game while adding 4.0 assists per outing in wins over Florida and LSU.
Murray continued his streak of 20 or more point performances with 21 at Florida and 22 in the regular-season finale against LSU on Saturday. Murray shot 50.0 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from behind the arc as he drained four 3-pointers in both contests. He also got to the foul line for at least six makes in both games. Murray has continued to be a consistent performer on the boards as well. He has hauled in seven or more rebounds in four of his last six games, including both games this week. Murray’s back-to-back games with four assists are the most since dishing out four against EKU (Dec. 9) and five vs. Arizona State (Dec. 12). In addition to his consistent all-around effort, Murray continued to break records:
• It is his 16th game this season with at least 20 points and his 10th game in a row. It’s the longest streak since Kevin Grevey had 12 consecutive 20-point games in 1974-75
• Murray has scored 619 points this season, which already ranks 17th all-time at UK. He needs just 38 more points to break the UK single-season freshman scoring record held by Brandon Knight (657)
• He tied Derrick Miller (1989-90) with 99 made 3-pointers on the season. It is third all-time in a single season in school history. Jodie Meeks (2008-09) owns the record with 117 made 3-pointers. Murray is now just 18 away from tying the program record. He is just three away from breaking Travis Ford’s (1992-93) mark for second place at 101 made 3-pointers
•His 16th 20-point game extends his UK freshman record for 20-point games
•It is his 29th consecutive double-figure scoring game, the most since Jodie Meeks had a 32-game double-figure stretch in 2008-09
• record for most consecutive games with eight-plus points at the start of a career.He has scored at least eight points in all 31 games this season, extending his school
•He has made at least one 3-point shot in every game this season, the first player in program history to make a triple in each of his first 31 collegiate games
•It’s also a school record for most consecutive games with a 3 to begin a season, regardless of year in school
•It is the second-longest streak in school history, trailing only Tony Delk, who had 32 straight games with a triple
•He has 17 games with at least three 3-pointers, most by any player in the Calipari era. Knight had 16 games with at least three 3-pointers
The Wildcats return to the court on Friday at the SEC Tournament. UK takes on the winner of Ole Miss and Alabama at 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.