The narrative coming into the day was simple: Kentucky had the experience and depth, while Duke had the elite talent up top.
The Blue Devils had the three highest-rated recruits in the nation to go with five-star point guard Tre Jones. Beyond that, Duke was deemed thin and inexperienced. Would those four players be able to top a Kentucky team deep enough to run a legitimate platoon system? They didn’t have the superstar recruits, but going into the game, most thought it didn’t matter.
Just six minutes into the game, Duke’s first six buckets came from their star freshmen, garnering a ten-point lead in the process.
A made shot for a Kentucky sophomore (or higher) didn’t come until the 9:59 mark in the first half when forward PJ Washington hit a three-pointer to cut Duke’s 21-point deficit to 18.
We saw immediately just how little leadership or experience mattered in this game, and it remained consistent through the final buzzer. Duke’s three superstar freshmen totaled 83 points, while Kentucky’s trio of sophomore returnees combined for just nine points.
And Washington had eight of them.
Quade Green and Nick Richards provided little to nothing at any point in their time on the floor, combining for just one total point. Richards struggled with foul trouble and turnovers, and he certainly wasn’t a force on the glass, finishing with just two rebounds against a suspect Blue Devil frontcourt. The “Sophomore Nick Richards” we saw in the Bahamas and at times in exhibition play reverted back to the inconsistent play we saw in year one. Meanwhile, Green’s erratic shot selection and hero ball on offense, combined with an atrocious defensive effort, proved to do more harm than good. He came in with a mindset more focused on hitting tough shots to prove why he deserved to be in the starting lineup more than actually doing what it took to win the game. For a player who prides himself on being a bulldog from Philadelphia he had more bark than bite against the Duke backcourt.
As for PJ Washington, his stat line of eight points and two rebounds just won’t cut it this season. He hit a big three midway through the first half, but he provided zero help on the inside when the Cats absolutely needed some production from the frontcourt. He allowed Zion Williamson to get wherever he wanted in the post, and to make it more disappointing, some of the other weaker members of the Blue Devil frontcourt were able to put in work. Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden racked up fouls in a hurry, but instead of capitalizing by bruising inside like we all know he’s more than capable of, the focus remained (from the entire team, really) on jacking up unnecessary jumpshots. Tyler Herro somehow managed to out-rebound him 9-2 and he fouled out with a whopping eight minutes remaining. We saw ups and downs last season from both Green and Richards, but Washington ended up being one of the most consistent players on the team come March. To see that disappear on the big stage was extremely disappointing.
Arguably the only bright spot for the veteran Wildcats was just how relentless Reid Travis was from start to finish. No matter what the lead was, Travis was finding ways to help his teammates out on both ends of the floor. He capitalized on the inexperience of the opposing Duke players by baiting them into pump fakes and fouls to head to the line, something he should be able to do with ease as the season rolls forward. He finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, one assist, and one steal in his Kentucky debut.
Above all else, you expect your leaders to set the tone of the game for the freshmen from the jump. They were on this same stage at the Champions Classic a year ago, they knew the massive spotlight that would be on this game. But aside from Travis, all of Kentucky’s experienced players looked shell-shocked at one point or another while Duke’s star trio looked hungry and prepared from the opening tip. They embraced their role as the media darlings and thrived when gametime came around, while the Cats missed a massive opportunity to shut that down from day one of the college basketball season.
Kentucky’s 34-point loss is the second-worst blowout an AP top-two team has ever managed, and a big part of it had to do with the no-shows from the Wildcat sophomores.