By Drew Franklin on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 11:00pm
Take a deep breath, Big Blue Nation. Kentucky broke out of its funk by snapping its four-game losing streak with a win over a hot Alabama team in Rupp Arena. The Cats led for most of the game and closed it out with a final score of 81-71.
Celebrate with these 10 takeaways from Saturday afternoon…
1. Kentucky owned the glass.
Of all the positive takeaways from Kentucky’s first win in five games, the team’s dominance on the glass stood out the most. The Cats hauled in 44 rebounds to Alabama’s 27, including a season-high 20 offensive rebounds. Kentucky got 20 second-chance points off of those boards, and at one point in the game had rebounded over half of their own misses.
2. Five players in double digits.
PJ Washington, Kevin Knox, Quade Green, Jarred Vanderbilt and Nick Richards all reached double-figure scoring in the game.
3. Jarred Vanderbilt showed up in crunch time.
John Calipari often talks about making the “winning plays” down the stretch, so he must be very pleased with how Jarred Vanderbilt played in crunch time. Vanderbilt had his usual offensive struggles throughout the game, but scored six crucial points on three straight made baskets in the final minutes to maintain his team’s lead. His 11 points in the game put him in double figures for the first time in his career and he was one rebound shy of making that his first career double-double. If he can continue to chip in 10+ points per game, it’ll be impossible to keep him off the floor because he does everything else and is easily the best rebounder.
4. Quade Green outplayed Collin Sexton.
Collin Sexton may be a projected lottery pick and All-SEC selection, but he wasn’t the best point guard on the floor Saturday. That honor goes to Quade Green, who outplayed his counterpart in Kentucky’s win. The two freshmen tied with 12 points apiece, but Green was much more efficient from the field (5-of-6) and had four assists with no turnovers, while playing solid defense on Sexton.
5. The Cats survived Knox’s first half no-show.
Kentucky scored 39 points and took a five-point lead into the half with zero points, zero assists and zero rebounds from Kevin Knox. Knox would eventually get going midway through the second half, but it was nice to see Kentucky hold its own and outplay Alabama when Knox was contributing nothing. The whole team chipped in to cover for him when he was off.
Knox did finish with 13 points and five rebounds though, so he more than made up for the rough start after halftime.
6. How much longer can Diallo play?
We’re often a little tough on Hamidou Diallo, but it’s not without reason. Kentucky is better when he isn’t on the floor and that was the case again Saturday, although he was a little better than he has been. Like Cal said after the Auburn game, it’s tough to watch him struggle because he’s out there trying as much as anyone and it’s just not working. Everyone feels bad for the guy, but how much longer can he take up minutes when there are better options? He can’t keep missing shots and then doing things like this:
Diallo, just too easy to score on for a guy with his tools and quickness pic.twitter.com/CpWGHL136f
— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) February 17, 2018
Sign me up for a Green/Gilgeous-Alexander primary backcourt.
7. Assists are still a problem.
Only 10 assists for the Wildcats today on 28 made baskets. There has only been one game with more than 10 assists in Kentucky’s last six.
That’s not good.
8. 23,220 people sang the national anthem and it was awesome.
— Opera Lex (@OperaLex859) February 17, 2018
9. Derek Willis and Bam Adebayo returned to Rupp Arena.
It was good to see Willis and Adebayo back in Rupp to see the game. Adebayo served as the celebrity Y, and Willis provided one of the highlights of the afternoon during a courtside interview during a timeout. When asked how things are going in Detroit, Willis told the crowd, “The G-League sucks but I’m okay with it.” He’s a man who tells it like it is.
10. It was an all-around great day.
Rupp Arena sang the national anthem as one collective choir, the Firecrackers did their thing at halftime, a woman won a truck, a guy hit a halfcourt shot for $10,000 and Kentucky broke its losing streak with a crucial win over a tournament team.
It was a Saturday we all needed.
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 10:30pm
When the Rupp Arena halftime horn sounded, every butt stayed in its seat to watch The Firecrackers.
The halftime entertainment for today’s game is always crowd favorite, and it only takes a minute to understand why. It’s difficult to comprehend how the jump-roping phenoms do what they do. It’s incredible.
Check out a small snippet of the show, courtesy of our friend from LEX-18, Jonathan Dunn.
— Jonathan Dunn (@jdunnlex18) February 17, 2018
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 9:43pm
Devin Booker made Three-Point Shootout history en route to his first Three-Point Shootout title.
The former Kentucky Wildcat knocked off Klay Thompson and Tobias Harris in the Championship Round of the Three-Point Shootout with a record score of 28 to become the NBA’s top marksman. He knocked down 20 out of 25 attempts in the final round for the record-breaking score that Thompson could not touch.
Here was Devin Booker’s amazing run making 20-25 threes in the 3 Point Contest Championship pic.twitter.com/jid94dd7Zj
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) February 18, 2018
His First Round score of 19 wasn’t too bad either.
— NBA (@NBA) February 18, 2018
It was only a matter of time before Booker ascended to the top of the Three-Point Shooting world. This title will be the first of many for the sharpshooting Wildcat.
By Trey Huntsman on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 9:40pm
Eight months ago, it appeared that newly-drafted Justin Lewis had pitched in his last game for Kentucky. Flash forward to today, where Lewis’ dominance on the mound helped UK win 10-3 over USC Upstate to sweep Saturday’s doubleheader. The redshirt junior pitcher went six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and no walks while striking out nine in a blowout win for the Cats.
As Lewis paced UK’s effort on the mound, the Wildcats’ offense got rolling early. After needing six unanswered runs to overcome a five-run deficit in game one, UK flipped the script in game two. The Cats’ offense blistered USC Upstate early and often on Saturday night.
Ryan Shinn and Trey Dawson collected back-to-back RBI doubles in the second inning to give UK a 2-0 lead on Upstate’s Trey Van Der Wierde. UK would score a third run against Van Der Wierde in the fourth inning when Tristan Pompey drove in a run on a groundout to the shortstop.
UK did not truly break through until Upstate went to their bullpen in the sixth inning. After loading the bases, UK scored four straight runs to blow the game wide open. Kole Cottam picked up two RBIs in the inning as the Cats watched their lead swell to seven.
STATS: Becker(2/3, HR, RBI, BB, R), Aklinski (3/5, R), Collett (1/3, HR, 2 RBI), Cottam (1/4 RBI). Lewis: 6 innings, no runs, two hits, no walks, nine strikeouts.
— Trey Huntsman (@TreyHuntsmanKSR) February 18, 2018
The offense provided Lewis with more than enough run support against USCU. Lewis allowed just two runners to reach scoring position in six dazzling innings on the mound. The Georgia-native was pulled after the sixth inning, but his return to the mound was impactful. Lewis showed good command of all his pitches as he struck out nine and walked none in his 2018 debut.
Both UK and USCU would add three runs to the scoreboard in the final two innings. Luke Becker and T.J Collett smacked home runs in the top of the eighth before Upstate answered back with three runs in the bottom half of the inning. The three runs allowed by the UK bullpen were the first of 2018. Trip Lockhart came on for UK and closed out a 10-3 win.
The bullpen struggled late, but Lewis’ 2018 debut and a late-inning offensive outburst were enough to push the Cats to their first 3-0 start since 2015. Kentucky will finish their trip to Spartanburg with an 11 ET first pitch tomorrow morning against Evansville. 98.5 in Lexington will have the broadcast and @TreyHuntsmanKSR will have live tweets.
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 9:00pm
Former Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow is still making incredible YouTube highlight videos.
The 5’11” dunking phenom has spent the last two years playing for Rosa Rodam in the Polish Energy Basket Liga. Today he used his talents to win the league’s slam dunk contest.
Harrow earned the dunk contest title. He threw assists to himself off the backboard, he caught a couple of shots and turned one into a windmill. You’ll find all four impressive slams below, just skip around to the six, 11 and 14-minute mark.
By Maggie Davis on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 8:30pm
Jarred Vanderbilt, PJ Washington and Quade Green each contributed to the Cats’ win in big ways today. Following the 10-point victory, the players talked with the media. Here’s what they had to say:
PJ Washington discussed Kentucky’s “sense of desperation,” the team’s improved rebounding and the advice former Cats have given this team.
Jarred Vanderbilt talked about how the team changed their mentality, his struggles with close-to-the-rim baskets and the team’s trust issues:
Quade Green talked about his defensive performance, what changed during the four-game losing streak and Jarred Vanderbilt’s improving game.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 8:00pm
If I would have told you before the game that Kevin Knox would finish with zero points, rebounds, or assists by halftime, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would have just six points at the final buzzer, you would have guaranteed a fifth consecutive Kentucky loss.
And then if I told you it would be Kentucky’s best offensive performance since the West Virginia game nearly a month ago, you would put every dime in your bank account I was lying.
Somehow, someway, you’d be wrong both times.
The Cats poured in 81 points, and finally (efficiently) finished a basketball game down the stretch without having to rely on any one player.
Five players finished the day in double figures, and eight finished with five points or more. The Cats outrebounded the Crimson Tide 44-27 and finished with 20 total offensive boards, led by Jarred Vanderbilt with nine total and five on offense.
The spotlight was on freshman phenom Collin Sexton to start the game, but Kentucky point guard Quade Green outplayed him on both ends of the floor. Green finished with 12 points on an efficient 5-6 shooting line, along with four assists and no turnovers. Late in the second half, he had several clutch defensive possessions, making a complete turnaround from what we’ve seen from him in recent memory.
After weeks of trying, Jarred Vanderbilt finally found his groove on offense, finishing with 11 total points and three crucial buckets late in the game to seal the Kentucky victory. He started the game shooting just one for seven from point-blank range, but finally let the game come to him to convert on a putback layup, a dunk, and a smooth layup in transition.
“If there’s a shot you aren’t comfortable with, don’t take it,” said John Calipari in the postgame presser. “If it’s not a layup or a dunk you’re comfortable with, don’t take it. Slow down, play with energy, but don’t be in a hurry.”
He then gave a glowing NBA comparison of the Wildcat forward, saying he has the ability to make an impact similar to a key hustle guy for the Chicago Bulls during their historic run in the 90s.
“He is Dennis Rodman. Be Dennis Rodman, and he did alright. He can guard every position, he can rebound, he’s skilled, and made his free throws,” said Calipari.
Alabama coach Avery Johnson said he put several stars by Vanderbilt’s name before the game because he knew a high-impact game like this was coming.
“We had a couple stars by his name on the scouting report. Everyone talks about Knox and Alexander, but in games like this, you need a utility guy,” said Johnson. “Their utility guy was huge for them. We thought we had stops, but he kept the play alive.”
PJ Washington led all scorers with 16 points on 5-9 shooting and 6-9 from the line, and added five rebounds and an assist to the box score.
Like Vanderbilt, Washington struggled to do much of anything in the first half, including several lost balls around the basket.
“Early on (Washington) fumbled balls. He and Wenyen had nine of our 13 turnovers,” said Calipari.
Again, like Vanderbilt, he managed to convert with the game on the line, and both he and his head coach were proud of that step forward.
“When the game got in the balance, he made the plays down the stretch,” said Coach Cal.
“At the end of the game, I tried to get the guys up in the air, tried to get easy fouls and get to the line,” said Washington. “I did that and I made my free throws. I’m proud of myself and I’m proud of my team for trusting me and putting the ball in my hands.”
Nick Richards had one of his best games of the year, finishing with 10 points on 3-4 shooting and 4-4 from the line. Hamidou Diallo finally got things rolling on offense with several impressive lay-ins and hustle plays when the team needed points on the board. Knox finished strong with 13 points and several key baskets to start the second half.
Kentucky fans have been begging for a go-to scorer, but the team found their winning recipe without that tonight. When no one individual was putting on a scoring clinic, everyone in the rotation chipped in to create a solid final product on both ends of the floor. We didn’t need an iso-heavy Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to score points or a spurt of three-point heaves from Kevin Knox to spark a comeback.
They played with that heart and intensity of a team starting to click, especially with the game on the line down the stretch.
“We have to be better in the last four minutes,” said Alabama coach Avery Johnson.” “We didn’t take care of the ball. When we got two defenders on the ball, we didn’t get the ball to the open man. Give their defense credit, they did speed us up a bit.”
After a four-game losing streak, this team played with (positive) desperation. They fought like their season depended on it.
“They were desperate, said Alabama coach Avery Johnson. “Give them credit, they played like a really hungry basketball team. They had a lot of energy.”
With that level of energy and everyone carrying their own weight, this Kentucky team looked refreshed. They looked brand new.
They looked ready to get started with a new streak of their own, but this time, on the positive side of one.
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 7:45pm
Q. John Avery thought rebounding was a big key here. What do you think of the effort and the impact it had on the game?
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah, you know, I thought, again, Jarrod and Wenyen, just go get balls, and Jarrod is — you know, and I told him after. I said, “You know, you’re a beast and what you did and how you changed the game.” I said, “There’s some shots you tried to shoot. Just don’t shoot them if they are not a dunk layup or something you can easily make. Don’t force it because everything else you’re doing is great.” You know, it’s nice to have another passer on the floor, and he’s a willing passer.
Today I went with a big lineup. I went with a scoring lineup, like the best team that I could put on that could play offense, and then I just hoped that they could guard a little bit, but I just put — I’m trying whatever I can to see if we can crack through this.
And again, I thought Nick started the game really well. Sacha went in and got a great rebound. It was a big play, that rebound he got.
But it’s, you know, Quade and Shai, and those guys, made some shots. Wenyen, poor Wenyen, it doesn’t seem like he can make a three with his feet in the water shooting it in the ocean right now. You know, but he will. I mean, he’s making 60 in five minutes. He gets in the game and he just can’t make them.
Q. It seemed like Jarred came out a little nervous like he has been in every game, but then once he made a few shots, he settled down.
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah.
Q. Is this the player you’ve been looking for?
COACH CALIPARI: And he’s got to slow down some, too. Just slow down. I mean, it doesn’t — it means, play fast but don’t be in a hurry. I want you to fly but don’t be in a hurry, and sometimes he gets anxious. He starts running and his mind is moving as fast as his feet.
But I’ll tell you, he is a — I’ll tell you who I’ll compare him to: Dennis Rodman. That’s who he is. How about this, be Dennis Rodman. He did all right. He can guard every position. He rebounds offensively. Defensively he can pass. He’s skilled. Made his free throws.
So until the very end, we really — it was nice to see us go to the line and not have the other team go 1-2,, and us go, 0-0, and then they go 2-2 and we go 1-2. It starts demoralizing you. Today either the right guys were at the line or more guys just made free throws.
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 7:30pm
One Kentucky fan just got $10,000 richer.
During the under-twelve media timeout, Kentucky fan Alan Turner got one shot from half-court for $10,000. Usually these kinds of promotions end in disaster. This guy absolutely nailed it. Nothing. But. Net.
— 15 Seconds of Fame (@15SOF) February 17, 2018
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 6:15pm
Hamidou Diallo continues to lie in the center of the angry Kentucky fans’ crosshairs.
Today the shooting guard scored eight points (3/9 FG) and had four rebounds in just 15 minutes of action. Still, fans wonder why John Calipari is playing Diallo at all. Coach Cal answered that question by asking fans to put themselves in the shoes of a parent.
“Let’s think about, it’s your son, and he’s struggling. It’s your son though, not somebody else’s son; it’s your son. Would you just want me to bench him? Would you just want me to put him on the bench and worry about it next year? That’s what you want me to do with your son?
“You would say, ‘Coach, he’s responsible for himself, but please keep coaching him, and let him know you love him, and keep being there for him, but hold him accountable. If he’s not going to listen to you, then you shouldn’t be playing him.’ That’s what I think a parent who’s not trying to enable their son would say.”
If you can’t get into the hypothetical situation, just know that Diallo is doing everything Calipari is asking, he just can’t seem to kick bad habits.
“In his case, I’m with Hami,” Calipari said. “He’s trying, he’s working. He’s got some habits that are so bad, they pop out sometimes at the wrong time. My job is to make sure he’s not hurting the team or himself, and to keep working with him. When I go into my office at 10:00 or 11:00 at night, I better see him in there every once in awhile, and you know what, I am.
“Now if he’s willing to do that, put in extra time and extra work, I’m for it. Now if you’re playing awful, I may not play you as much, but I’m gonna play you. And if you’re doing what I’m asking you to do, I’m going to encourage you.”
Calipari refuses to quit on his players.
“It’d probably be easier to say ‘you’re out,’ and I’m going with these seven. I’m just not gonna do that. I’m just not.”
If you disagree with what Coach Cal has to say, he has a message for the haters, especially the “agenda-driven media.”
“I’m old now. I used to be the young coach. I am now the old coach. I’ve been through just about anything you could be through, including absolute bazooka shots from the media my whole career. Bazooka shots, agenda-driven stuff, my whole career, and I’m old now. If you shoot me now, it goes through a bazooka hole that’s in my body. It doesn’t hit bone. It doesn’t hit anything. So at the end of the day, this is about these kids.”
At John Calipari’s Kentucky, the players come first. End of story.
By Maggie Davis on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 5:45pm
Jarred Vanderbilt came up big for Kentucky in the final minutes of the Cats’ 81-71 victory over Alabama. In the last four minutes of the game, Vanderbilt sealed the win with a dunk, a layup, a tip-in and two strong rebounds. He finished the day just shy of a double-double, with a career-high 11 points plus nine rebounds.
But just because he sunk those big buckets late in the second half doesn’t mean he was hot for the entire game. At the end of the first half, he was 0-3 from the field with four rebounds and two fouls. Worst of all, he committed a few of those costly errors that led to missed (should be) gimme-baskets, a common occurrence for Vanderbilt.
“I’ve probably never missed that many lay-ups,” Vanderbilt said. “Probably I’m number one in the country in missed layups within five feet or something like that. But I try to just keep playing hard, rebounding, do everything else my team needs me to do.”
And Vanderbilt isn’t the only player on the team who’s noticed his issue with the close baskets.
“I feel like every put-back, he misses, so we all give him hell about that,” PJ Washington said with a laugh. “He’s a great player, and, I mean, he’s going to miss put-backs, we’re all going to miss them. We’ve just got to keep fighting when he does that.”
Check out a few of Vanderbilt’s final plays below (minus any missed lay-ups).
— KSTV (@KSTV_Sports) February 17, 2018
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 5:18pm
In the middle of a four-game losing streak, Kentucky needed a win like a fish needs water. It took that level of urgency to get John Calipari’s young Kentucky Wildcats to fight for a victory.
Quade Green might have the understatement of the year. “We needed this win very badly,” the point guard said after the game.
Green made 5-of-6 shots for 12 points. Most importantly, he had four assists and took care of the ball down the stretch. Alabama head coach Avery Johnson thought the Crimson Tide could pressure Kentucky into making mistakes, but the Cats simply wanted it too bad to let a win slip away.
“They were desperate and had a lot of energy. I thought maybe we could break them down a little more late in the game,” Johnson said.
Calipari has seen his team break down at the end of games far too often this season. Today his players proved they can fight to win a tough one. Now it’s Kentucky’s turn to make winning plays at the end of games.
“They played desperate. We gave away games this year….We have to start taking games from people, which means desperation.” He added, “We gotta go get some, and this was a good one.”
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 5:04pm
By Nick Roush on ©February 17th, 2018 @ 4:14pm
The Rule of 71 abides.
Kentucky reached 71 points with 3:04 to play to take a four-point lead, a lead they would never surrender. After faltering down the stretch time and time again, the Cats reversed course to take down the Crimson Tide 81-71 in a must-win game at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky snapped the four-game losing streak by attacking the glass and playing aggressive defense. The Cats created 20 second chance points off 20 offensive rebounds and turned 12 Alabama turnovers turned into 18 Kentucky points.
With the season hanging in the balance, Kentucky still has life after a hard-fought win over Alabama.