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Gillie the killer: Freshman lifts Cats to tough road win

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 17 points and 12 rebounds in UK's comeback win at Tennessee. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 17 points and 12 rebounds in UK's comeback win at Tennessee. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had that look in his eye.

It's the same look he had against North Carolina and Louisville, games in which he posted his first career double-doubles and helped lead Kentucky to victory.

Once he flashed that look against Tennessee - the one that says "We're not losing this game" - you just had a feeling the Volunteers' eight-point lead wasn't going to stand.

"That's just how he plays," Anthony Davis said. "He's got a will to win and he brings a lot of energy, rebounding, offense, free throws. He's a great kid and I'm glad we have him on our team."

Davis first caught a glimpse of the look at halftime of a game that saw No. 2 UK (17-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) rally past Tennessee (8-9, 1-2 SEC) 65-62. The Wildcats were trailing 34-28 having been "out-physicaled," to borrow a phrase from John Calipari. It wasn't a speech from his head coach that stuck with Davis at the break; it was the intensity of his roommate.

"(Kidd-Gilchrist) was a man who came into the locker room mad and feisty because we weren't playing the way we're supposed to," Davis said.

The sold-out crowd of 21,678 in Thompson-Boling Arena didn't see the fire in Kidd-Gilchrist's eyes until the Volunteers had extended their halftime advantage to 47-39 with 13:05 to play. Then, it was unmistakable.

Over the next 11:54, Kidd-Gilchrist was the driving force behind a stretch in which the Cats scored 23 of 30 points, holding Tennessee to just three baskets and a free throw in the process.

Name any kind of play, and Kidd-Gilchrist likely made it. His impact isn't even fully captured by his stat line (eight points, four rebounds, a block and a steal) from the run, but it's impressive nonetheless.

"What they're saying about him is he's a winning player and every coach wants to coach a winning player," Calipari said. "Guys are on our team may shoot it better, there may other guys that dribble it better, they may be other guys that bounce it better, but winning basketball games happens because of guys like this."

By the time he was finished doing a little bit of everything, Kidd-Gilchrist had 17 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and a block, giving him his third double-double in four UK games decided by single digits this season. The only thing that seemed like it might stop him on this Saturday was a gruesome-looking fall late in the second half.

He slipped, fell driving to the basket on a fast break and was called for a travel, but the numerous (and vocal) blue-clad fans in attendance were much more concerned about the health of the star freshman. He lay on the ground momentarily, but eventually walked to the sideline on his own power for what turned out to be a very brief 30-second breather. Thankfully, Kidd-Gilchrist and Calipari were able to joke about it after the game.

"I was just getting my rest," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I'm sorry. I was going to get back up."

There are a pair of plays that stand out even above the rest the youngest player on UK's team made. The "and-one" dunk he threw down may have drawn the biggest reaction from his bench, but an outside shot and an offensive rebound best exemplify what Kidd-Gilchrist is all about.

With 4:55 left, Kidd-Gilchrist's production had almost exclusively come from penetration or at the foul line. The Wildcats' lead was a tenuous one point and they needed some breathing room, so Kidd-Gilchrist confidently rose and fired from deep, hitting a crucial 3-pointer.

"I've been in that gym putting in that work," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "(Calipari) trusts me, so that's one thing. I just have a lot of heart, too. That's another reason I shot the ball."

It wasn't a called play and Kidd-Gilchrist is shooting just 10 for 31 (34.4 percent) from 3 on the season, but Calipari said he "would have been mad if he didn't shoot it."

"Some guys that want the ball, you don't want to want the ball," Calipari said. "There are some guys that don't want the ball and you want them to have the ball. And then there are guys you want it and they want it. Those are the guys that go make plays. It's pretty simple. This kid was the whole game, 'Get me the ball.' "

Kidd-Gilchrist used that same attitude to make the second of his game-breaking plays.

He rebounded a missed dunk by Kenny Hall to give UK the ball with a six-point lead with under two minutes to go. Recognizing the importance of the possession, Calipari called for a timeout with seven seconds on the shot clock as UK had nothing going.

Out of the 30-second break, Doron Lamb drove to the hoop and missed a bank shot, but Kidd-Gilchrist flew in from the wing to grab the rebound and extend the possession.

"His mindset is, I'm going to get the ball," Calipari said. "You could have this mindset: Well if I go in there I may get hit so let me run back. Or you could have the mindset, that ball hits the rim, I'm going to go get it. It's hard to teach that. Either a guy has it (or he doesn't)."

His play set up a 10-foot hook shot by Davis in the post that gave UK a seemingly secure eight-point lead with under a minute remaining. Tennessee would hit a pair of quick 3s and benefit from a missed front end of a one-and-one to cut the lead to two, but UK would buckle down on defense and hit three free throws to salt away the victory, one of which was made by Kidd-Gilchrist.

Afterwards, Calipari praised his team's "will to win," particularly on the part of Kidd-Gilchrist and fellow freshmen Davis (18 points and eight rebounds) and Marquis Teague (seven points and a steal). Behind those three newcomers, UK has now matched its road win total in SEC play from a season ago with a 2-0 start, but Calipari wants the entire team to take on Kidd-Gilchrist's killer instinct, and not only in crunch time.

"When it gets rough and the other team plays that way, we're not negating it right now," Calipari said. " ... Before this ends, if we want to be special, we've got to be able when a team comes out and does it, you all will watch and say that has no effect on that team anymore."

The Wildcats are thankful to have a pair of wins on the road under their belts, but they also know Calipari is right about needing to play more complete games.

"We come out great and always have a lead of like 10 and then they come back," Davis said. "We just start breaking off (plays). That's something we have to get better at. We have to keeping fighting, not parts of the game, not stretches. We have to keep fighting for the whole 40 minutes."

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This Wildcat team seems to know on an individual basis what it will take to win on the road. Key put backs and execution cannot wait until the last few minutes of the game, especially on the road. It is way beyond what any team will give you at that point. Go to the basket early.

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  • Ed Bowling: This Wildcat team seems to know on an individual basis what it will take to win on the road. Key read more