This season, Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards have been the two consistent pieces on the Kentucky basketball roster, followed by Tyrese Maxey and Ashton Hagans as the next-likeliest candidates to break out on any given night.
Between those four pieces, UK head coach John Calipari feels pretty darn confident in this team.
“They’ve got a will to win, and that means you’ve got a chance,” Calipari said of his confidence in the Kentucky roster. “I like that we’ve got a big guy, a center. I like that we’re playing three points guards.”
From there, though, production is a crapshoot. Some games, you may see any combination of EJ Montgomery, Nate Sestina, Johnny Juzang, or Keion Brooks Jr. put up forth impressive performances. Other nights, you may not see much of anything from any of the four.
Following Kentucky’s crucial road victory over LSU, Calipari told the media that the latter scenario simply won’t cut it with the team boasting a shortened rotation.
“When you’re playing with a shortened rotation, EJ, Nate, Keion, and Johnny, they’ve got to add to the game,” Calipari said. “You’ve got to come in and add, you can’t ever take away. All you’re doing is stepping in and adding to the game.”
In fact, if Kentucky wishes to find serious success this postseason, the role players need to add something. Anything to contribute to the overall team success.
“EJ had some foul trouble today, but he did some good stuff. He, Nate, Keion, and Johnny, they are probably the key in where this thing goes,” Calipari said. “They don’t have to be crazy, out of their minds, but they’ve got to add to what’s going on.”
And it doesn’t even necessarily have to be a major impact on the box score. In fact, Calipari specifically pointed out Johnny Juzang and his added value to the team on Tuesday evening, specifically to close out the game.
With Kentucky briefly struggling to inbound the ball and beat the press, the Kentucky head coach felt Juzang staying calm and knowing “where to go with the ball” was vital in the Wildcats closing out the victory.
“Johnny Juzang at the end of the game is why we were able to win the game,” Calipari said. “And you ask, “Well, what did he do? He didn’t score a basket [to close out the game]?” He had a calmness about him where he could take it out of bounds and he knew where to go with the ball.”
As for Brooks Jr., his time on the floor was cut short after being placed in a similar situation to Juzang. While Juzang was able to make the right reads and plays as a whole, Brooks struggled and ultimately found himself pulled from the game.
“It’s not Keion’s fault. I have never played Keion in that position,” Calipari said. “Then you say, “Well why did you have him take it out?” Because I wanted a bigger lineup in and he was the only one to take it out. But that’s when I said, “Sorry, you can’t” and put Johnny back in there.”‘
As a collective unit, Montgomery, Sestina, Juzang, and Brooks Jr. combined for 20 total points on 8-18 shooting, 13 total rebounds, and three blocks on the evening.
Will they be able to continue that level of success and overall production moving forward?