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We heard all week how much of a test Vermont would provide for this Kentucky team. The Catamounts are a veteran group with NCAA tournament experience. Despite a first half that saw UK take a 12-point lead, Vermont climbed their way back behind 10 threes, including seven in the second half. UK ended up surviving 73-69 in their final game before the Champions Classic match up with Kansas.
There is plenty for this young UK team to learn (defending the three?) but of course it’s always better to learn in a win than a loss. Before we turn our full attention to the Jayhawks, let’s check out some terrific game photos courtesy of our photographer, Dr. Michael Huang.
P.J. Washington might have saved the day for Kentucky. His work horse mentality proved to be a difficult match up for Vermont. We had yet to see a complete performance from Washington, but he came to work on Sunday afternoon. After the game Coach Cal gave his 6’7 forward some praise. “I thought PJ was a beast, finally,” Cal said. “First time this year. I just called him in and said, that’s what you need to be every practice and every game.” Washington finished the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Kentucky will definitely need more of his toughness on Tuesday against Kansas.
Kevin Knox might be struggling to shoot the ball right now but he didn’t hesitate to take a big shot for his team late in the game. Knox hit a big three under three minutes to play that pushed Kentucky’s lead to six. The shot thrilled Coach Cal because he needs to know who he can turn to in big late game moments.
Since the first exhibition game, we could all tell Sacha Killeya-Jones was a different player. He is now playing with a level confidence that simply was not there as a freshman. You can in particular see it when he takes shots with zero hesitation. Against Vermont, we saw that continue where he hit a nice mid-range jumper, grabbed four tough rebounds, plus hit all four of his free throws. His energy on the court and toughness on defense allowed Coach Cal to keep him on the court late in the close game. Calipari raved about his performance in the postgame talking about how the hard work he has been putting in is now showing on the court in games.
Kentucky has started the season 2-0 but in both games they have had to find a way to claw back or hold off an opponent that refused to quit. Having young players learn in these type of situations will only help them in the long run. Now are they ready to face a top-5 Kansas team? We’ll find out Tuesday night in Chicago.
You can check out our complete photo gallery on KSR’s Facebook page: