Let’s be honest: Kentucky did not play well in the first half. Their shot selection was poor, their defense had serious lapses and their offense just couldn’t quite get shots to fall. UK’s leading scorers at the half were Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley, who both had just seven points apiece.
But something changed in the second half. Sure, the outing was still far from perfect, but the Cats were able to secure some defensive shots, cut down on turnovers and improve their shooting from 41 percent to nearly 47 percent. A lot of players improved their quality of play after halftime, but two stood out above the rest: Quade Green and EJ Montgomery.
Green has been at the victim of some harsh criticisms recently, largely thanks to his poor performance against Duke and a lackluster first half against Southern Illinois. Is he contributing like the BBN thought he would as a returning sophomore? Has he earned playing time on this roster? There are still doubts.
But in the second half, he finally looked like the Quade Green this team needs: a decisive leader in the backcourt, a solid shooter and a mature presence on the floor. There were still mistakes (like the three-point attempt in the second half that barely hit the rim), but his efforts helped the entire team improve their play. During the post-game press conference, Calipari even complimented some of Green’s specific decisions that resulted in points for the Wildcats.
“I’ll tell you what a great play was: the play where Quade went under the basket to help Nick [Richards], so they couldn’t throw it over the top and still stole the skip pass and threw it ahead and we dunked. Basically that was the game… That was a veteran move.”
Green finished with 14 points, three assists, one steal and two turnovers in 25 minutes of action.
Then there’s EJ Montgomery. After sitting out due to back issues during most of the Bahamas trip, the big man has been relatively quiet so far this season. Not last night. After seeing just nine minutes of action in the first half, Montgomery earned his playing time in the second. He finished with ten points, seven rebounds, two blocks and just one turnover.
Again, Calipari referenced Montgomery’s performance, specifically referencing Tuesday’s disastrous loss to Duke. After the Blue Devils made layup after layup, Coach Cal says he knew the team needed players with stronger shot-blocking abilities on the court. Against Southern Illinois, they got that from a combination of Montgomery and Nick Richards.
Quade Green and EJ Montgomery may play two drastically different styles of basketball on the court, but they have at least one thing in common: they both helped carry Kentucky to a win.