LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Kevin Knox tuned out the noise and just played basketball.
One day after the Kentucky freshman forward and former Wildcat players Bam Adebayo and Nerlens Noel were linked to report that specified they received impermissible payments, violating NCAA rules, Knox scored 21 points to lead Kentucky to an 87-66 win over Missouri Saturday night.
Knox, Kentucky’s leading scorer, played just seven minutes and scored five points in the opening half, but overlooked his foul woes, not to mention the off-the-court distractions, and pieced together a solid performance in the second half.
For Knox, ignoring outside influences was easy and avenging an earlier-season loss to the Tigers, the program’s first-ever loss to Missouri, was a top priority and personal. Knox tallied just five points in a 69-60 setback at Missouri on Feb. 3. Since then, Knox has scored double figures in the past six games, including 23 in a win at Arkansas earlier this week in Fayetteville.
“It’s been a good week, I’ve been blocking everything out,” Knox said. “I had two good days of practice before this game. Last time they gave us a good whipping at their place, so we just made sure we were just focused on everything going on and make sure we had a good win tonight.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari said Knox “was great all week” and added he “wasn’t involved “in any way” with off-the-court developments, which were handled internally by the university. The Kentucky coach credited Knox for staying the course even after sitting out most of the first half.
“He just keeps playing better,” Calipari said. “He was patient in the second half when he didn’t play much in the first half. He came out and it’s amazing in the last three weeks how much he’s learned to read screens, to where he can get shots (and) he can get in the middle, where he can find PJ (Washington), which he did on the baseline.”
Knox credited his family and Calipari for the ability to ignore the circus surrounding the latest college basketball scandal that dominated local, regional and national headlines Friday.
“That’s what Cal trained me for and my dad trained me for is to block everything out, all the negative stuff, and just be able to play the game,” Knox said. “I wasn’t really focused on anything that was going on (off the court). I got in the gym, got some shots up before and after practice and came out aggressive tonight and had a good win.”
Knox first heard about the report from his dad Friday morning and encouraged Knox to concentrate on basketball. Knox had lunch with his dad, Kevin Knox Sr., Friday and the subject matter was strictly basketball and “didn’t talk about nothing that was going on.”
“We just talked about the game (and) he wanted to make sure I was focused and focused on the game and (my) game and that’s what I did,” he said. “I didn’t focus on nothing that was going on. I just stuck to working out and make sure I got ready for the game tonight.”
Knox also received support from his teammates.
“They were all with me and told me to stay focused,” Knox said. “They were with me the whole way through this. We had really good practices and everyone was locked in. We just really wanted this game. We all came out focused, played aggressively and got the win. I’m happy we got this win.”
Largely because of his contributions and the team’s pinpoint accuracy from long range that included 10 3-pointers, the second highest of the season, the Wildcats remained in a three-way tie for third place in the Southeastern Conference standings going into the final week of the regular season. Kentucky hosts Mississippi Wednesday, followed by the regular-season finale at Florida Saturday.
“They (Missouri) gave us a good one at their place and we wanted to sure we came out playing aggressive, played with energy,” Knox said. “The crowd was great tonight and we gave (Missouri) payback for what happened last time (in Columbia).”
It came at a time when the Wildcats needed it the most.
Gametracker: Ole Miss at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Wednesday. TV/Radio: ESPN2, 98.1 FM, WBUL.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.