Skal Labissiere saves his best for last regular season game, leads UK to win

All season, the biggest question mark about Kentucky was what was wrong with Skal Labissiere.

The 7-foot center, who was rated as a potential No. 1 overall pick coming into the 2015-16 season, has had his difficulties this season. It hasn’t just been one thing to point to as far as what’s been his biggest problem. Foul trouble, lower body strength, confidence, and Kentucky’s style of play have all contributed to his struggles, and made some wonder how he was so highly regarded to begin with.

Over the last week, Labissiere has reminded those people what makes him so skilled. On Tuesday, Labissiere scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the win. But he saved his best performance for the final game of the regular season, scoring 18 points, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking six shots in the Wildcats’ 94-77 win over LSU.

He showed off his skills in a variety of ways. He was most effective in pick-and-pop situations with Tyler Ulis or Jamal Murray, scoring most of his points on jumpers like this one.

The last two games of Kentucky’s season have felt like the first two where they’ve truly played to Labissiere’s strengths in the pick-and-roll. He’s better there than he is as a low-post scorer, and he has looked much more comfortable and assertive when put into pick-and-pops. Having said that, he did knock down a nice little right-handed hook shot on his first possession in the game from the post.

You got to see his relative lack of strength on display there, as he couldn’t establish deep position or move his defender once he received the ball. But he did get to show off some of the shiftiness he has in his game as well as the touch from midrange.

Labissiere also had his best defensive game of the season. He was effective on the glass, leading the Wildcats with seven defensive rebounds (his season high). His aggressiveness and confidence also showed in his contesting shots around the rim. Instead of flailing wildly and fouling, he went straight up and down and caused issues for the Tigers who tried to attack him.

He was effective helping as both a weak and strong side defender, showing off the rim protection skills that many expected of him immediately upon entering college.

Labissiere wasn’t the only player in this blowout that was effective for Kentucky. Tyler Ulis dominated the action again, scoring 14 points, dishing out 14 assists and grabbing five rebounds. Jamal Murray had 22 points on 12 shots. Alex Poythress had 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including a variety of big dunks late.

However, the 7-foot Haitian is the most important player going forward for the Wildcats. Their ceiling changes if he can continue to perform as he has this week. His play inside could make Kentucky a legitimate national title contender going forward in a way that was questionable just two weeks ago. Because of that, it’s going to be extremely interesting to see how he continues to develop in the SEC Tournament.

It might have taken a while, but it looks like we’re finally seeing the Skal Labissiere that was expected this season.

Skal Labissiere and Ben Simmons entered, with Labissiere emerging the victor. (USATSI)
Skal Labissiere and Ben Simmons entered, with Labissiere emerging the victor. (USATSI)

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