Like sweet nectar from above, basketball season has returned. After a summer full of BS and our hopes of freeing Enes put on life support just a day ago, tonight’s beginning of meaningful basketball was welcome and, thankfully, pretty impressive. It was a game that many were a little worried about, but the notion of an upset was put to bed early as a hungry Kentucky team pulled away and, save for a little flurry at the start of the second half, were comfortable the whole way through in an 88-65 win over East Tennessee State. On to some notes…
—Terrence Jones was in beast mode, going 25 and 12 and seemingly made an impact on every play. Sometimes people say that great effort doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Well, Jones made sure it did. He recorded multiple steals, blocks and assists, five of his rebounds were offensive, and he personally went on a 12-2 run to ice the game early in the second half, all while shooting over 50% from the field and 2-of-3 from deep. The part that doesn’t show up in the box score is effort, which he brought throughout and which sparked Kentucky to pull away from the Bucs. In fact, the only stat where he didn’t make an impact was turnovers, which he had none of. Yes, his free-throw shooting was awful, but overall Jones was a monster in his debut and showed us every bit of the versatility that leads people to label him a possible first-round pick. He tied for the second best scoring debut for a freshman in UK history and I am now ridiculously excited to watch him destroy people this year.
—Not to be outdone, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb looked just about as good as they could have on the offensive end. They hit a combined 7-of-12 threes and worked well in transition. Knight put up five assists with two turnovers with Lamb, who took over point guard duties when Knight went to the bench, chipping in three with only one giveaway and shooting 7-of-10 from the field. The two also combined for nine rebounds and looked very comfortable in the offense. And comfortable hitting threes from 25 feet away, which is also good.
—Speaking of three-point shooting, it was off the charts in the first half. Seemingly everyone shot it well and, more importantly, looked confident doing it. Kentucky won’t always shoot it like that, but when they do they’ll be extremely tough to beat. Five guys knocked down threes in the game and the fact that that kind of balance exists in the shooting department will make it a lot less of a headache this year, and even will lead to us crushing people on occasion.
—With one of the major questions surrounding this team having to do with its toughness, the rebounding department would be a stat worth noting. The Cats outrebounded ETSU 51-33 and 19-7 on the offensive glass, a margin one certainly can’t complain about. When one realizes that Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas only combined for 11 of those, the performance is all the more impressive. Darius Miller pulled down 11 to go with Jones’ 12, and the guards combined for nine in a balanced effort. Still, the team needs more from Jorts, who grabbed seven boards in 16 minutes but was in foul trouble throughout. Outside of the fouls, he played well, but he has to stay on the floor to help the Cats avoid potential matchup problems in the paint.
—The offensive execution was smooth to an almost surprising degree for the first game of the year. The dribble-drive was in full effect and pretty much everyone looked comfortable running it. The aggression was good, there were very few bad turnovers and when the team shoots like they did tonight the dribble-drive is almost unstoppable. Last year’s team overwhelmed teams with athleticism. This year’s team, at least tonight, overwhelmed ETSU with getting in the right spots, knocking down shots and ceaselessly attacking the basket. This group can flat out put it in the basket when it’s clicking, and tonight it was clicking.
—If there are areas to nitpick, free-throw shooting and defense certainly come to mind. When a team hits more three pointers and shoots a better percentage from outside than they do from the line, it’s not a good thing. In fact, it’s downright terrible. They get a pass for first-game jitters, but obviously it’ll have to improve to get where the team wants to go. The defense also left quite a bit to be desired. The Cats gave up way too many layups and open threes, but given how awful the team was on defense at the beginning of last year it’s probably not too much of a stretch to say that the defense will come with a little time.
All in all, this was a great way to open the season and end a stressful week in Big Blue land. The Cats looked good all the way and the only thing that could have made it better was a freshly freed Enes. Still, the season is officially underway and in impressive fashion. One never wants to project too much based on the first game, but if tonight told us anything, it’s that this team has the potential to be extremely exciting.
Chew on the sweet taste of victory for tonight, Cat fans. The season couldn’t have started much better and there’s plenty more to come. Don’t forget to check in as the football Cats try and go bowling yet again tomorrow against Vandy, and have a great Friday night/Saturday morning. Go Big Blue.