The Kentucky Wildcats suffered a tough loss to the Kansas Jayhawks by a final score of 65-61, where the team’s inexperience was magnified on the national stage. Rebounding woes, defensive breakdowns, and shot selection issues were just a few frustrations that led to UK’s third loss to KU in three years.
That being said, there were some big performances from several different Wildcats that should make Kentucky fans thrilled for what’s to come as the season progresses.
One of those big performances? Sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones.
Star freshman Kevin Knox says Killeya-Jones’ hard work in practice has translated into in-game impact for the Wildcats, and increased playing time is almost certain for the big man.
“In practices, he’s been working his butt off, hitting that mid-range shot that he hit tonight,” Knox said. “He’s been hitting that consistently now in practice, rebounding his butt off, playing hard, playing with energy on defense and blocking shots. Like Cal said, if you do it in practice it’s going to translate to the games. Sacha has been playing really well the last two games, and if he keeps it up, I could see him getting a lot more minutes.”
John Calipari told reporters he’s impressed with Killeya-Jones, saying the Kentucky big man is only going to get better as he gets older.
“He’s getting better and better. You have to understand, he was one of the youngest freshman in the country a year ago. He was 17. So he’s 18 years old, basically a freshman.”
Killeya-Jones finished the day with eight points (4-6 from the field) and nine rebounds, including some massive mid-range jumpers to cut the Kansas lead at various points. Coach Cal told reporters he encouraged him to keep taking those shots.
“The shot he made at the foul line because they weren’t playing Nick, I just told him “If you get it there, shoot it.” He said “You want me to shoot that?” Yes I do,” he said.
Kansas coach Bill Self told the media the SKJ jumpers really threw him a curveball.
“I certainly didn’t anticipate him stepping out and making a couple 18-footers,” he said.
Self also gave fans a gentle reminder about just how talented Killeya-Jones, along with the rest of this Wildcat team, truly is.
“I could be wrong, but I think they played eight McDonald’s All-Americans tonight. Everybody can play,” said Self. “It didn’t surprise me at all with Sacha.”
And he’s right.
Coming out of high school, Killeya-Jones was a consensus five-star recruit with tremendous upside. He was expected to be a massive difference-maker with his smooth moves on offense and shot-blocking ability in the post. When he got to Kentucky, however, we saw a major adjustment period.
As a freshman, he bobbled the ball around in the post, found himself in foul trouble, and honestly, he was unplayable for the most part.
He told KSR this summer things were starting to click for him, saying his hard work in the offseason has really started to pay off.
Now, his comfort on the court has been impossible to miss, and Killeya-Jones will almost certainly become a focal point of this team going forward.