Well, that was a fun two hours. It wasn’t the prettiest game but UK’s late push closed out UNC Greensboro 78-61.
Here are five takeaways from Kentucky’s win.
1. The Win:
I know some fans will continue to panic and a lot of you all think UK stinks, but today was fun. It was good basketball between two tournament teams. The tempo was fun, the officiating was terrible and the atmosphere was the best we’ve seen at Rupp Arena all season.
Credit the fans at Rupp on Saturday. The opponent wasn’t a sexy name. It was an early start. It wasn’t a sellout crowd and the weather may have kept some folks away. But the 21,000+ fans that were there made a difference. Also, five-star forward Matthew Hurt said he wanted to see a good atmosphere and he saw a great environment tonight. Well done, UK fans.
As for the game itself, it was more of the same with different details. UK played a mix of average, bad and mediocre for about 32 minutes, but the final eight minutes I thought UK was mostly great. That team, the team that finished the game on a 14-2 run, is the group that can make the Final Four and beat just about anyone in the country.
2. Reid Travis:
You gotta be happy for the grad-transfer big. He came to UK to play in front of crowds like today and in his first “true” Rupp Arena experience he had his best game as a Wildcat. He finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
It’s not fun to imagine this team without Travis, so let’s not and instead focus on what he did well today. He’s obviously not going to play above the rim, but I have to imagine his opponents are black-and-blue after trying to guard him for the duration of the game. He outworks defenders and is completely relentless. UNCG had plenty of talent, but they didn’t have the muscle to handle Travis.
Reid Travis is like a sweat-stained t-shirt. He doesn’t go away. It may not always be pretty, but he’s always there and at any moment he’s going to get noticed. Persistent.
3. Keldon Johnson:
Something you all need to remember is that Johnson has a flavor for the extreme. He has a little MKG to him so when he goes down with an injury it doesn’t matter if someone stepped on his toe or it’s something major, it’s going to appear he’s in a great deal of pain. So, I wouldn’t expect any long lasting injuries from Johnson.
He clearly has the highest ceiling on this team and it’s already evident that the Cats are reliant on his energy and ability to create offensively. Things slowed down a bit when he went to the locker room.
13 points was below average, but no concerns offensively from Johnson. However, I was blown away by the 11 rebounds. A lot of those were clutch boards in traffic, too.
I said it last week but he can be the type of guy to lead UK to four, five or six wins in March.
4. Some negatives:
All-in-all it was a nice win for Kentucky, but things are only going to get tougher moving forward and the Cats will have to be cleaner. Here are a few negatives:
- PJ Washington: He just has to be better. Kenny Payne called him out yesterday and it was a bummer he didn’t respond. Nothing wrong with nine points and eight rebounds, but we continue to ask why we only see dominant PJ for short stretches. At this point Travis and Montgomery are better frontcourt options until PJ can become more consistent.
- Turnovers: Still too many and this team is still too careless with the ball. 17 turnovers which led to 12 UNCG points (could have been a lot more). Washington had four and Herro had three. I still think the game is still going a little too fast for the freshmen, but not idea what’s up with PJ turning it over so much.
- Free Throws: 17-24 isn’t atrocious, but UK had been better this season. I don’t think you see Herro miss two in a game again anytime soon, so I’m not overly concerned, but it seemed like for a portion of this game free throws would matter so it can/should be better.
- Defense: More of the same for the majority of the game. UK was lost at times switching and late closing out on the perimeter.
5. Moving forward:
Things get tougher but I think UNCG was a great introduction into this tougher stretch. UK won’t be able to blowout teams playing average basketball for 40 minutes. There has to be great stretches from UK and moving forward there will need to be great stretches longer than 5-8 minutes.
Seton Hall had the lead the majority of the game against UofL before falling late. Utah isn’t great but they will be pumped to play at Rupp Arena. Then it’s UNC in Chicago and that will be a defensive nightmare for the Cats with how things stand right now. Then it’s the Louisville game at the KFC Yum! Center, where I’d guess the Cards would be the favorite as of today.
Things are going to be tough and Kentucky has to be better. But a positive spin is that UK played average/below average for 32 minutes and despite only playing well for eight minutes they beat an NCAA Tournament team by 17 points.
More of that team and the Cats will be in business.