The Cats added another win to the record Friday night in the first of two games in three days. Led by Nick Richards with 19 points, Kentucky handled its business against Mount St. Mary’s (the Maryland one), 82-62.
Shall we discuss further? I say we shall…
Junior Nick Richards is the best Nick Richards.
If you thought I’d lead with anything but Nick Richards, you obviously don’t know me. The big fella had yet another huge game, this time posting 19 points with six rebounds and three blocks. We’ve been teased by Richards with big games in the past, only to see him disappear when it matters. But this year is going to be different. He just looks different out there. He looks comfortable and confident, like a seasoned basketball player and not a big dude who is lost and in over his head. He’s playing in the flow of the game, not overthinking everything, and we’re going to see a much better version of him (and a much better version of Kentucky) because of it. Go Nick.
Ashton Hagans did numbers.
Like Richards, Hagans shined for yet another game with 16 points, seven assists and seven rebounds (close to triple-double territory) in the win. He also hit all six of his freebies, bringing his tally to 18-of-18 shooting from the foul line in UK’s last two games. We all know what Hagans can do defensively and it appears he is embracing his leadership role this year, but that free throw shooting should not be ignored if he can keep it up.
As a team, Kentucky went 16-of-18, which is awesome, and they’re over 80 percent from the stripe on the season.
EJ Montgomery returned and showed his importance to the team.
Kentucky’s All-SEC sophomore played in his first game since the season opener in New York and it was good to see him back out there. “What a difference he makes,” Calipari said after the game, following Montgomery’s 15 minutes of action, a much-needed return to the court.
Montgomery was efficient offensively with seven points, plus six rebounds and a lot of energy and effort that doesn’t show up in the box score. He was extremely valuable in just spelling the other two bigs when they needed a break, whereas Richards and Nate Sestina were forced to play 35+ minutes in the previous games when Montgomery was sidelined.
Immanuel Quickley returned and showed his importance to the team.
With Montgomery and Immanuel Quickley back in the lineup and back on the practice floor, I think we’ll start to see steady improvement in all phases moving forward now that the roster is close to full health again.
Quickley was especially big in our next bolded topic…
Finally, some three-point shooting!
Kentucky entered the game having hit only 13 of 61 three-point tries for an ugly 21.3 percent clip from outside on the year. For a little perspective on just how bad that is, 347 other teams had a better percentage from outside when this one tipped off.
Things improved Friday night as the Cats knocked down a season-best six shots worth three points on 15 attempts behind the line. Quickley carried the load from that range with three made treys (and only one miss) for nine of his 13 points. Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey and Montgomery each made one to join Quickley in easing our concerns about outside shooting.
After the game, Calipari said, “That’s all we gotta make, six or seven.”
Offensive rebounding wasn’t great.
Kentucky won the rebounding battle, but Calipari wanted more, at least on the offensive end. He was quick to point out UK’s six offensive rebounds, then reminded us that his best teams were doing about three times that.
“Come on, it’s not like we made every shot,” he said. “We shot over 50%, but there’s still 25 rebounds and you get six. That’s not acceptable. It’s just not.
“I’m telling them, Whoever in this room wants to play more, offensive rebound. I’m going to leave you in the game.”
Defense needs a lot of work too.
There is no need to panic because this will eventually be one of Calipari’s better defensive teams, but right now they’re still letting anyone and everyone blow right past them for an easy drive to the basket. I have no doubt this will get corrected in time; until then, the guards from Evansville and Utah Valley and Mount St. Mary’s are padding their stats against Kentucky.
Calipari likes playing Brooks, Montgomery and Richards together.
“That’s the front line that got us going in the second half,” Calipari said on his postgame show. I think I was getting a hot dog when this happened but Cal sure seemed to like what he saw from those three playing together.
Rupp Arena has great hot dogs by the way.
Want a shot chart? Here, have a shot chart.
So what’s next?
Lamar is coming up next on Sunday with a good team, a better team than anything Kentucky has seen since Michigan State. But it’s time to hit the gas and start leaving some of these teams behind earlier in the game. Kentucky trailed against Mount St. Mary’s late in the first half and that is unacceptable behavior by the Cats. Let’s get 40 minutes of blowout soon. Sunday perhaps?