When asked about Transylvania yesterday, Immanuel Quickley vowed Kentucky would “go at their necks 110 percent.” The Cats beat the Pioneers 94-66 tonight, but that’s not exactly what happened.
Let me be clear: it’s not worth getting worked up about an exhibition game, especially one your team wins by 28 points. However, there’s no denying the Cats looked a step slow, a bit sloppy, and a far cry from the team we came to expect after the Bahamas trip and two months of Swaggy Calipari quotes. Let me be clear again: it’s fine. In fact, it’s probably a good thing. If there’s one thing this game gave John Calipari, it was an arsenal of teachable moments.
“It’s a great lesson,” Cal said. “It will be a great teaching tape.”
So, what was Kentucky’s problem tonight? Seven players finished in double figures and the Cats shot 56.9 percent from the floor, but were only 1-13 from three-point land. They turned the ball over 14 times but had 13 assists. Tyler Herro, the team’s leading scorer in the Bahamas, had only four points off 1-8 from the floor, 0-4 from three. Starting point guard Immanuel Quickley only had three points. Quade Green hit the only three of the night, but a team that made 26-68 threes in the Bahamas looked as cold as the ice cream in Rupp.
“We’ve got to make some threes,” Cal said. “One for thirteen? And this might be my best shooting team in a while. One of the things I told them is, we don’t rely on three-point shooting. There are teams that do; we don’t. We can go 1-13 and still score a lot of points because that’s how we play. But that is the one thing that gives us a gap. If you make ten or eleven threes here, then we’re winning pretty big.”
On the defensive side, the Cats gave up way more than their fair share of straight line drives and let Transy hit nine threes, which Calipari chalked up to the Pioneers simply wanting it more.
“What they ended up doing and showing these guys is if the other team plays harder than you, you’re not going to look good. And it doesn’t matter what level it is. You’ve gotta figure out, how hard is this guy playing? I’ve gotta play harder than he plays. You’ve gotta come in the game with an idea of, I’m going to make him chase me, I’m not chasing him.”
All of those problems and Kentucky still won by 28 points, so let’s focus on the positive stats. Sixty-two of Kentucky’s 94 points came in the paint, a testament to an impressive performance by the frontcourt. Kentucky won the rebounding battle 52-18. Reid Travis had his first double double as a Wildcat with 12 points and 10 boards. EJ Montgomery was close behind with 14 points — a team high — and nine rebounds, looking like a cut above most players on the court. Quade Green scored seven straight points in the second half to increase Kentucky’s lead to 28, at the time its largest of the night.
“I liked what Quade did away from the ball,” Cal said of his sophomore guard. “Exactly what I want him to do: Gets baskets, get a couple assists, you know, shoot a three.”
All of Kentucky’s errors are fixable and there’s no doubt that Calipari will fixate on them over the next week. Rare will be the game that Tyler Herro only scores four points. As Calipari continues to install his defense, there will be fewer mistakes. But the effort?
“I thought there were times that Transy played harder than we did individually,” Cal said on postgame radio. “We have a long way to go.”
With time to do it.