After yesterday’s football debacle, an easy basketball win was exactly what the doctor ordered. Kentucky cruised over University of Illinois-Chicago by a score of 107-73 tonight to give John Calipari his 700th win. Four Cats had career highs: Kevin Knox with 25 points, Hamidou Diallo 19, PJ Washington 17, and Shai Alexander 14.
That was really fun, so let’s talk about it.
The offense was GOOD
Yes, the opponent was UIC, but Kentucky’s offense looked the best it has all season tonight. The Cats shot 66.7% from the floor, well above their 48% average coming in. It was a balanced affair, with six Cats finishing in double figures.
“Everything they did was very sharp, very crisp offensively,” UIC head coach Steve McClain said afterwards, noting that UK looked much better than they did in the tape he watched. “It created problems for us all over the place.”
After seeing this team go through scoring droughts, tonight’s shooting was one of many welcome sights, along with some really impressive ball movement.
Kevin Knox led the way
Knox was easily the best player on the floor tonight, putting up 25 points off 9-13 shooting and 7-10 from the charity stripe. Knox scores with incredible ease, and is doing more of what Calipari wants: driving instead of settling for threes.
“You can see I’m starting to figure out Kevin,” Cal said. “Putting him in spots where he can make baskets.”
The more I watch Kevin Knox play, the more thankful I am he chose Kentucky instead of Duke. His versatility is what could make Kentucky a contender come March.
Hamidou Diallo had two SportsCenter Top 10 worthy dunks
Diallo’s career-high 19 points included two monster dunks that could end up on SportsCenter tonight:
Good luck stopping Diallo in the lane. When he plays like that, he’s unstoppable.
PJ Washington was a bully again
After a rough start to the season, we got a glimpse of the PJ Washington we’ve all been waiting for. Washington had a career-high 17 points off 6-7 from the floor and 5-7 from the line to go along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Most importantly, he bulled his way to the basket with a confidence that hopefully snowballs after tonight’s performance. I was really happy to see that PJ tonight.
UIC’s coach looks a lot like Pat Riley
If you did a double take when you looked at UIC’s bench, you’re not alone. The Flames’ head coach Steve McClain looks like a mid-major Pat Riley, or maybe Michael Douglas’ cousin. The resemblance really is striking.
The one thing you can nitpick tonight? Quade Green had four turnovers, three in the first half. After the game, Calipari admitted he’s being very hard on Green right now in order to force him out of his comfort zone.
“I’m all over Quade,” Cal said, comparing it to the process he went through with Marquis Teague early on in the 2011-12 season. “I told him after the game, who am I on the most? Quade. I’m trying to get him to play a way he’s not playing yet.”
Quade still had 12 points (including two threes), six rebounds, four assists, and one heck of a SEC Network stare down:
— David Scott (@Finna_Go_HAM) November 27, 2017
The schedule slows down considerably
Let’s be blunt: this month has sucked. With seven games in 16 days, this team was thrown into the fire with very little time to absorb any of the lessons they were given; now, with only five games in the month of December and a week between each one, they can finally learn. Calipari said he’s giving the team the next two days off, then it’s back in the gym.
“We basically have seven days of practice, finally, to where we can try to get better and I can try to focus on some areas that I know we got to get better at and I can try to focus on some areas that I know we got to get better at.”
I think Calipari spoke for us all when he said he’s happy things are slowing down a bit.
“We all need a break, I need a break. So going into a little break, I’ll probably do a little recruiting here in the next couple days, but they don’t need to see me and I’m kind of happy I’m not seeing them, how about that?”
Preach. What a bizarre and brutal month.
You can see progress
A blowout of a 2-2 team shouldn’t have you booking your room in San Antonio for the Final Four, but tonight’s win was a nice reminder that this group is making progress. They may not be where Calipari’s other teams were at this point in the season, but they have made definite strides in the right direction.
“This was the closest we’ve played to a 40-minute basketball game this year,” Cal said. “That’s the best we’ve played. That’s by far the best we’ve played. We were efficient, we passed the ball, we made shots. We took one bad shot — Kevin Knox took one in the first half, a step back — short of that, I don’t think we took a bad shot.”
After a rough 24 hours, what a nice way to end the weekend.