Hello, Big Blue Nation.
Drew here, reporting to you from the Music City, where Kentucky will play a very important football game at Vanderbilt tomorrow. But before we start pregaming for that one on Broadway, allow me to share with you some of what happened from Friday night’s basketball season opener in Rupp Arena.
It’s safe to say Kentucky didn’t get off to its best start.
Raise your hand if you had Utah Valley leading by nine at halftime. Nobody?
I think we were all quite perplexed by the first half, in which the visiting Wolverines out-rebounded and out-scored Kentucky by nine in each column. The Cats’ young defense made it way too easy on one end; on the other, Kentucky couldn’t make a basket as they went 7-for-32 from the field in the opening 20 minutes. They just couldn’t hit shots — not even the easy ones. It happens. (Hopefully not too often though.)
Calipari went zone in the second half, and it won the game.
After the excruciating first half, the second half gave us some fun-filled domination. Kentucky went to a 2-3 zone to get some stops, and before we knew it, an 18-2 run blew the game wide open in favor of the Cats.
Switching to the zone created severals steals, which created several dunks, which created momentum. That’s the story of the game right there. If you had to point to one game-deciding factor, there’s no doubt it was the second half defense and how it sparked everything else.
Hamidou Diallo played two different games.
Just as the defense was night and day in each half, Hamidou Diallo’s offense was the same. First half Hamidou Diallo went 2-for-8 from the field for only five points; second half Hamidou Diallo went 6-for-8 from the field for 13 points, giving him a game-high 18 in his official debut.
This is only a guess, but I think Diallo will give us a few more of these games in the future. In my uninformed opinion, he seems to be a guy who can be good and bad in a single game. It’s a good thing his good is really good, so we’ll have to live with the times he is frustrating.
Rebounding must improve.
The Cats were out-rebounded once again. Outside of Wenyen Gabriel, who had 13, all of the big guys have to do better. Nick Richards, P.J. Washington and Sacha Killeya-Jones combined for eight in the game. Those guys are capable of getting eight on their own.
Quade Green did not start, nor did he play well when he was in.
What happened to Quade Green? Where was he? Green was the star of the three exhibition games as the steady hand leading the Kentucky offense. In those games, he hit outside shots, found open guys, didn’t turn the ball over, and was a pest defensively. Where did all of those things go against Utah Valley? He had only one assist in the game, and zero points until hitting four free throws in the final seconds. Hopefully it was just a bad night and nothing to worry about moving forward. He looked too good in the preseason.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a player.
The overlooked member of the star-studded recruiting class looks to be one of its best and most versatile players. He, again, had another one of those games where he did a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor, while running second in scoring in the game. No one projected him to be this good this early, yet here we are, and it’s awesome. What a pleasant surprise.
Kentucky can’t open Sunday’s game the way it did Friday night. Vermont is a much better team, and Vermont will be more likely to hold a big lead, should it get one early in the game. Sunday will be another good test for Cal’s young bunch on a quick, two-day turnaround between games. Then we know what’s coming up after that on Tuesday.