It’s not often that you can go on the road and get 32 points from your starting five and still walk a way with a win, but Kentucky managed to do just that Tuesday night in Athens. The Cats were able to win despite their starting five out-scoring their two-man bench by only seven points in part because Georgia sucks and in part because Darius Miller doesn’t. But a win is a win is a win and now we can all move on to finally watching Justified. And that’s what Tuesday night is all about, right?
A few notes…
– Darius went down to Georgia…and he set the nets on fire. The senior from Maysville matched his season-high for points with 19 after returning to his sixth man role and again pushed the Cats ahead by a comfortable margin, but didn’t wait until the end of the game to do it. With the Cats up 30-25, Darius went on a one-man 7-0 run and helped Kentucky enter the break with a twelve point lead. What was even more impressive was that Darius did not simply benefit from his teammates getting him good looks (though that was part of it). He played the role of aggressor and gave the Cats a lethal offensive weapon, commanding the ball and connecting on nearly every shot. He finished 7-8 from the field and 4-4 from downtown. No rebounds and no assists? No big deal. Great game by Darius and hopefully the start of a continued role as a consistent go-to player for UK. Side note: How much is he going to be missed next season?
– When you look at the final score, you wouldn’t think that it was a remarkably efficient evening on the offensive end, but the Cats were clicking in the first half behind impressive ball movement and crisp passing. UK finished with thirteen assists on their 21 baskets and knocked down eight of eighteen threes. But the biggest takeaway again I think is their effectiveness against the zone. The two-three zone has become essentially the only hope for teams to stop Kentucky from scoring the ball and the Cats looked confident against it yet again. They’ve found a way to get penetration to the middle by using a screener at the top of the key, usually Anthony Davis, and it allwed the ball-handler to get into the paint for a runner or a dish for a jump shot. The Cats got a couple of great looks out of that set and were set up several more baskets by flashing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the high post and letting him break down the defense from there. When that is clicking like it was tonight, they are virtually unstoppable.
– Despite what was a relatively easy win, John Calipari seemed to be in rare form on the sideline as he, umm, enthusiastically communicated with his team. Cal shared his passionate discussion with pretty much everyone on his roster and all of the guys in the black and white shirts, most notably giving it to Terrence Jones in the second half, which was caught by ESPN’s cameras. If you ever had concerns that this team could get complacent with a hot start to the season and a relatively weak conference schedule, watch Calipari on the sideline and then erase any concerns. He’s not letting up. Not even a little bit. After the game, he said he’s going to stay after this team until they figure out how to step on a team when they have the chance. Yes, he’s playing for blood.
– The most visible victim of Calipari’s constructive criticisms was Terrence Jones, who played a pretty good game despite only scoring five points. There was a time that Terrence Jones needed to score buckets in order to be involved in the game, but he’s made major strides in the last few games and that was on display again against Georgia. Jones added seven rebounds and thre blocks to his pedestrian point total, but it was the manner in which he did it that was impressive. He doesn’t just grab the rebounds that come to him anymore. He goes and snatches them up. At one point, he went up and grabbed one over Anthony Davis. He’s quietly on pace to enter the top-ten of UK’s career blocked shots list. And against Georgia, with the team up fourteen points with eight minutes left, Jones went fish-out-of-water and dove for a loose ball, giving the Cats another offensive possession. He’s been criticized for sometimes looking disinterested and being unable to impact the game when he’s not getting his points. Those days appear to be far behind him now.
– The Cats had an outstanding night on the defensive end against a team that Calipari said afterward worried him quite a bit. Cal said he was concerned with Georgia’s guards and their ability to hit the three-point shot, so he inserted Doron Lamb into the starting lineup in place of Darius Miller. The Cats again closed down the middle, blocking 10 shots and out-rebounding the Dawgs by 21, while also holding Georgia to 34% from the field. Because of Kentucky’s length, it’s going to be hard for anyone to score on them and no matter who you play, giving up only 44 points is an impressive feat.
– “Michael Jordan isn’t walking through that door, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is.” – Jimmer Dykes
– Darius Miller was the star of the team coming off the bench, but the Cats also got some good minutes from Kyle Wiltjer in the first half. Wiltjer gave his usual offensive spark, scoring six points in only eight minutes, but he looked far more comfortable inside, grabbing rebounds and battling for position with Georgia’s big men. He still has a long way to go in terms of defensive performance, but his eight minutes were quality and, like his teammates, showcased strides he’s made as an individual throughout the course of the season.
– On an unrelated note, we received an email from a KSR reader asking for everyone to keep two Muhlenberg County teenagers, Sadie Smith and Colton Fields, in their prayers. Both kids were in car accidents and are fighting for their lives. Please keep both them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.
– Finally, if you missed it Tuesday, the premiere of cn|2 Sports, hosted by our good friend Chip Cosby, debuted Tuesday night. Chip’s show will be on every night at 6:30 and 10:30 and will talk a little about UK, but focus more on what’s going on at Louisvile, Western, Eastern, Murray, Morehead, Bellarmine and at the high school level. Here is a behind-the-scenes video put together about the show’s debut:
– I’m going to watch Justified now. You can find my thoughts on KSRCollege.com tomorrow.