What was once used as Kentucky’s greatest flaw could turn in their greatest asset.
At the beginning of the season, Kentucky lacked “that” guy – there isn’t just one individual player on the team who could carry the Wildcats through thick and thin; there is no one in the conversation for the No. 1 pick in the draft. In fact, the player who came in with the highest ranking is EJ Montgomery (No. 9 in the 247Sports Composite class of 2018 rankings), and he doesn’t even start.
But, as the Wildcats are finally hitting their stride in league play, it’s starting to become clear this isn’t a weakness. In fact, Jemarl Baker says it’s actually a “huge advantage” for Kentucky.
“That’s why we’re such a good team and we will be a great team in March as well,” Baker said. “We’re just working hard and if somebody has an off day, we’re ready to go. We have other people that can step up.”
In three of Kentucky’s last four games, four Wildcats have hit double-digit scoring. It wasn’t always the same four players, either. Each game featured a different combination of six different players. PJ Washington is the only one who made the list each time.
Vanderbilt: PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro and Nick Richards.
Kansas: PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson, Ashton Hagans, Reid Travis.
Mississippi State: PJ Washington and Tyler Herro.
Auburn: PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro and Reid Travis.
“It’s a big edge,” EJ Montgomery said of the diverse scoring makeups. “You don’t know who to plan for. Anybody can go out and have that big game.”
It’s interesting – both Baker and Montgomery see the advantage this gives the Cats, but neither Baker nor Montgomery have been included in those double-digit scoring lists. That’s just how John Calipari likes it.
“If someone really has it going, be happy for him,” Calipari said during Friday’s media opportunity. “There’s no other feeling. If we win and you didn’t score, be happy.”
He went on to cite Tuesday’s Vanderbilt game, where the Cats built a massive halftime lead without any scoring contributions from two of Kentucky’s most consistent scorers.
“We were up 30, and Keldon [Johnson] and Reid [Travis] didn’t have a point,” Calipari said. “Are you OK? If we’re going to be a good team, you’ve got to be OK. Numbers don’t matter here.“
While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, he does bring up an interesting point. PJ Washington was 0-4 from the 3-point line against Vanderbilt, but “everybody went nuts about how he played.” Tyler Herro went 0-3 from the same spot, but his defense is being praised by Calipari and opposing coaches alike. Nick Richards’ five blocks were massive against Kansas, even though he finished with zero points. And we all know how much Ashton Hagans can do without an incredibly-high shooting percentage. Although the diverse scoring is big for Kentucky, teamwork is even bigger.
“When it comes to March, some people might not have a great game,” Baker said. “We’re going to need each other. We’re going to need everybody to play well. We all believe in each other and we’re all confident in each other, as well.”