If you didn’t watch today’s game, you might think Kentucky played horribly based on the score, but I’d argue a lot of good came out of the Cats’ 79-70 win over Harvard today. Kentucky withstood some strong shooting from the Crimson and, despite some ugly stretches, put together enough big runs in the second half to get the win. Kevin Knox led the way with 20 points, followed by Hamidou Diallo with 19.
Let’s go over it, shall we?
Harvard was on fire in the first half
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a team we think isn’t that good comes into Rupp and shoots the lights out. That was Harvard in the first half. At one point, the Crimson were shooting 50% from the three-point line, a vast improvement over their 27% clip coming in. Harvard’s Seth Towns wins the Elston Turner Award after going six of seven from the three-point line.
All in all, the Crimson finished 12-28 from three, which makes Kentucky’s 2-14 look pretty sad (shoutout to Kevin Knox for keeping the three-point streak alive). Thankfully, the Cats’ interior defense was much better than their perimeter defense; overall, Harvard shot only 37% for the day.
The big run in the second half was great
How good could this team be? Just look at their big run in the second half. Kentucky turned an eight-point lead into a 20-point lead in two and a half minutes thanks to their defense. The Cats had three steals during that stretch, but the way they coasted back into bad habits once up by a comfortable margin drew Calipari’s ire.
“Then we get up and we have two or three guys that back-up and stand up and lose their man. You know, we break off. But, again, it’s what freshmen do. All right, I did it. Now I’m tired and I’m going to take a few plays off. You can’t do that here. You don’t take plays off.”
As has been the case all season, when Kentucky falters, it’s Knox or Diallo that brings them back into it; both were excellent this afternoon, scoring 20 and 19 respectively.
Hamidou Diallo almost had the best dunk of all time
Can you imagine if that had gone in?? Hami had several ridiculous plays today, but that one proved he may not be human. Also, his wrist has to be killing him.
Free throw shooting was good; rebounding not so much
The good: Kentucky shot 83% (25-30) from the free-throw line today. The bad: they only outrebounded Harvard by one (37-36). You better believe Calipari addressed that afterwards.
“Again, look, we hold them to 37%, but we don’t outrebound them the way we should. I’ll have to go look at it and see what it is. But we make our free throws. You know, there was some good stuff, but I’m expecting more.”
Nick Richards and Kevin Knox had a team-high seven rebounds, followed by Hamidou Diallo with six and PJ Washington with five. Seven-foot Sacha Killeya-Jones? Two. Wenyen Gabriel? Two.
Sacha Killeya-Jones and Nick Richards: The new Twin Towers?
This time of year is for experimenting with new lineups, but I didn’t expect to see Sacha Killeya-Jones and Nick Richards on the floor together as much as we did today. The two seven-footers played alongside each other for a considerable amount of time this afternoon, and Calipari liked what he saw.
“Sacha’s been playing a lot of that in practice, as a matter of fact, he’s playing a lot more of that than he’s playing in Nick’s space. But, yeah, we can do it. We can be really big then. Now all of a sudden you’re like, holy cow, are we big.”
Calipari said he would have played them together more, but Sacha was too tired.
“Sacha got exhausted. Sacha almost passed out in the hallway at halftime when he came off the court. I didn’t know who was behind me. I thought someone was going to get an ambulance. Again, like, okay. You’ve got minutes now. You got to be able to — you don’t just stay out there and get exhausted.”
By now you may be picking up on this, but…
Given everything, Calipari was much grumpier than I expected after the game
I realize Kentucky only beat Harvard by nine, but Calipari seemed particularly grumpy afterwards. Maybe I’ve conditioned myself to this team’s “freshmen moments,” but I was encouraged by their play in the second half, particularly the way the defense spurred the 12-0 run; however, Calipari said he’s seen so many good things from the group that he’s not willing to overlook their errors.
“I told them after the game, I’ve done this 30 years, I’m not saying I’m a genius. I’m not saying I’m the best. I’m not saying that I could even do this. But I do know what winning looks like, and it doesn’t look like what we’re doing right now.”
“If you want to argue with me, I can’t get us to where we need to go. And they’re good. Look, I’m maybe sounding frustrated, but when you think about what I’m asking these kids to do, they should not be able to do this. They’re all freshmen. They’re all freshmen. We’re in the top 10 defensive efficiency in the country, and I’m not pleased. What? Because I think we could even be better.”
That’s why stretches like this are great. Calipari is giving the team tomorrow off then it’s back in the gym this week before they head to New York on Friday. Lots of time to learn.