At halftime, I had no idea what kind of recap I was going to have to write. There were countless reasons to pull your hair out, and other plays that made your jaw drop.
And frankly, that may just be the way this team will be this year.
Kentucky pulled out the ten-point victory over the Utah Valley Wolverines, and it was in the wildest fashion imaginable. Back and forth, up and down, yet somehow, the Wildcats made the winning plays when they mattered most and are now 1-0 as a result.
Let’s break down the individual performances:
Nick Richards anchored the middle
When no one else wanted to score in the first half, Richards went to work. He laid it in to start the game, and found the bottom of the net following several other pretty moves in the post.
On defense, Richards was blocking/altering shots on a consistent basis, when other frontcourt-mates weren’t making much of an impact.
With eight points, two rebounds, and a block in the first half alone, Richards was the glue guy in the middle for a team that needed SOMEONE to make an impact.
After a hot streak in the second half, the offense slowed down just a bit. The Kentucky center found the ball and scored once again, and another big run started back up. The kid does not get rattled in the slightest.
He ended the game with a solid statline of ten points, three rebounds, and three blocks, but without his stability in the first half, Kentucky is down by a whole lot more than nine.
Hamidou Diallo may be the energizer this team needs
The Wildcats were down by nine at the half, and if you ask just about any Kentucky fan, the wheels looked to be falling off. Kevin Knox hit a three, and followed it up with a big slam to get the crowd back into it, and then Diallo took the roof off the place with a windmill dunk in transition.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) November 11, 2017
Just like that, the Wildcats went on a run, took the lead, and never looked back.
He may miss some ugly shots and force the situation sometimes, but when Diallo uses his athleticism to his advantage, he can completely flip the momentum in a game.
Aside from the ridiculous dunks, Diallo showed a ton of promise from beyond the arc, and really had some excellent touch from various spots on the floor. His confidence was soaring, and he was making just about everything he threw at the basket. He finished the day with 18 points (8-16 from the field and 2-4 from three), five rebounds, three assists, and just one turnover.
When he’s rolling, Diallo is a pretty darn good basketball player.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was solid as the starting point guard
We were a bit shocked to see Gilgeous-Alexander announced as a starter before the game, but he proved to be more than capable as a leader of this team.
SGA finished second on the team with 13 points on 5-9 shooting, but his impact on the game was massive on both ends of the floor. After the game, Utah Valley coach Mark Pope told reporters he wasn’t prepared for the Kentucky zone, and Gilgeous-Alexander’s 7-foot wingspan right up front was the most bothersome for his Wolverine team.
“The zone is definitely going to be a big help for us this year,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “We have a lot of length and us at guard spots, it is going to be tough on the other teams’ offense to score on us.”
In just about every game, both preseason and today, the opposition has called SGA by name when referring to his length and annoyance on defense. That in itself is a sign of good things to come for him.
We’ll get to Quade Green later, but the Canadian freshman had a big night, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the starting lineup going forward.
Kevin Knox and Wenyen Gabriel had cold nights
The Kentucky forward combo combined for 6-24 from the field, and that was with the help of a few buckets in the second half. Yikes.
Knox is arguably Kentucky’s best player, and Gabriel is one of the team’s best shooters. When they aren’t putting the ball in the hoop, the team has to find someone else to take over the scoring load.
Luckily, Richards was there in the first half, and Diallo exploded in the second, but UK needs both Knox and Gabriel to make big impacts on the offensive end.
Knox hit a clutch three and a nasty dunk in transition, and Gabriel made a couple of impressive plays on both ends of the floor to help seal the victory in the second half. The Kentucky sophomore, specifically, finished the day with 13 rebounds and three blocks, obviously making the hustle plays throughout the day when his shot wasn’t falling.
Not horrible overall games from these two, but the offense needs to click against Vermont.
Sacha Killeya-Jones provided solid minutes
As I mentioned last game, if SKJ can come in, score a few baskets, rebound, and play defense, he will be a difference-maker on this team.
Tonight, Killeya-Jones finished with four points on 2-3 shooting, two rebounds, and one turnover in just 15 minutes of action. Nothing special, but he was effective.
He committed a couple silly fouls throughout the game, but for the most part, he was nothing but positive on the interior. He didn’t give up easy layup attempts, didn’t miss any gimmes on offense, and he provided energy.
For a kid that received so much criticism last year, I’m impressed with what we’ve seen in short spurts out of the sophomore big man.
PJ Washington and Quade Green were invisible
If Kentucky wants to have a chance against Kansas on Tuesday, we have to see production out of these two. No discussion.
Washington and Green came in as five-star prospects, and for the most part, they have lived up to that billing. The UK point guard missed a couple open looks, but for the most part, he wasn’t assertive, and he wasn’t being a floor general.
Reporters even asked Calipari after the game if Green was feeling alright because it just wasn’t anything like we’ve seen out of him in the first four or five times we’ve seen him play. Coach Cal said there wasn’t anything to it, he just had a rough night, and even went as far as to say he needed some more minutes to get the efficiency rolling.
Washington only shot the ball once, but went to the line six times, converting just three of his attempts. He finished with five points, three rebounds, two assists, and four (ugly) turnovers on the night. Like Green, Washington just wasn’t himself in the season opener.
Shake it off and get them on the next one.
It was an ugly one, but the Wildcats got it done to open the season.
On Sunday, however, we’re going to see just what this Kentucky basketball team really is.