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Key takeaways from Kentucky’s 69-58 victory over UAB

It wasn’t always pretty – especially in the second half – but the Kentucky Wildcats did just enough to pull off the 69-58 victory over the UAB Blazers on Saturday evening to move to 6-1 on the season.

Here were some of the key takeaways from the victory:

Nick Richards is playing his way into the first round

After yet another impressive effort on both ends of the floor, it’s time to start taking Nick Richards seriously as a potential first round draft selection.

Finishing with 16 points (7-7 shooting), nine rebounds, and a block, the 6-foot-11 center out of Kingston, Jamaica was a force once again on both ends of the floor. Between finishing lobs, knocking down open baseline jumpers, and contesting shots at the rim, Richards not only played up to his status as a former five-star, top-ranked center, but he’s now doing it on a regular basis.

After his 25-point, 15-rebound performance just six games into his Kentucky career back in 2017, the Kentucky center broke the double-digit point barrier in just seven games out of a possible 68 through the 2018-19 season.

This year, Richards has finished with at least ten points and six rebounds in five of Kentucky’s seven game, at least 16 points and six rebounds in four games, and double-doubles in three games.

He’s playing with aggressiveness and confidence, two characteristics he didn’t have in either of his first two seasons in Lexington. And with that aggressiveness and confidence, he’s playing like a first-rounder.

EJ Montgomery has a career night

As consistent as Richards has been throughout the year, we’ve still been waiting for a breakout performance from his frontcourt counterpart, EJ Montgomery.

And tonight, we finally saw what the former five-star, top-ten recruit is capable of on a nightly basis.

Finishing with 16 points (7-13 shooting), eight rebounds, and two blocks, Montgomery put forth the best outing of his young Kentucky career. In fact, it was just the third time he finished in double figures and the third time he managed eight or more rebounds in a single game. He also surpassed his previous career high in minutes (28) with 31 in the victory.

He showed off a smooth jumper during the NBA Draft process last offseason, and for the first time during his time in Lexington, he proved he could do it consistently in a college game. Outside of that, he was active around the rim on both ends of the floor and showed aggressiveness in clean-up opportunities.

Kentucky needs production from Montgomery in a major way if they want to make a serious run this season, so tonight was a step in the right direction.

Ashton Hagans flirted with John Wall’s assist record

John Wall holds the Kentucky record for most assists in a single game, and for a brief period, it looked as if Hagans was making a run for it.

At halftime, the sophomore point guard had eight assists, but “only” managed four in the second half to bring his total to 12 on the evening. The only other time he broke the ten assist mark in his career was against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament last year when he also finished with 12.

Going into tonight, Hagans had shown off a knack for driving to the basket and finishing at the rim or getting to the line. But then tonight, he took his play a step forward by driving to the rim and taking on defenders before tossing it off to both Richards and Montgomery for easy baskets at the rim. In short, Hagans made life quite difficult for the UAB defenders from start to finish.

Keion Brooks Jr., not Kahlil Whitney, replaced Nate Sestina’s production

When Kentucky announced earlier in the week that graduate transfer Nate Sestina had suffered a fractured wrist and would miss the next several weeks, John Calipari said during the following press conference that he expected freshman wing Kahlil Whitney to slid down to the four and shine in Sestina’s absence.

Whitney, though, finished with just two points (0-5 shooting), two rebounds, and two assists in the victory, struggling to find his shot and looking uncomfortable in the process.

Instead, it was Keion Brooks Jr. who impressed at the position, finishing with five points (2-5 shooting, 1-1 from three), four rebounds, and an assist. While the numbers weren’t drastically different, Brooks was in position to score on several transition plays, fought for loose balls, and grabbed several tough rebounds.

Here was the official minute distribution from the victory with Sestina out:

  • Hagans – 34
  • Maxey – 33
  • Montgomery – 31
  • Richards – 27
  • Brooks – 21
  • Quickley – 21
  • Whitney – 19
  • Juzang – 12

Calipari continued to praise Whitney after the game and said his time would be coming soon, but tonight, it was Brooks who shined when the opportunities presented themselves.

Another opponent gets hot at Rupp Arena

Another day, another game that an opponent comes into Rupp Arena and torches the nets.

As a team, the Blazers shot just 41.4% overall, but somehow managed to shoot 50% (8-16 from three), including 7-9 from just two players (Jalen Benjamin and Tyreek Scott-Grayson).

Kentucky defended well as a whole and made stops when they mattered most to force runs, but UAB continued to be a thorn in UK’s backside from deep.

On that note…

Blazers hang around (and Wildcats fail to cover)

With 10:24 to go in the game, Kentucky had pushed its lead to 18 points (56-38), well on pace to beat the spread (UK -20). And then after the Blazers cut the lead down to 13, the Wildcats pushed it back up to 20 with 4:29 remaining (67-47).

Three 3-pointers and a layup later, and the Blazers had cut the lead to just 11 with 1:10 to go.

The game was never in jeopardy, but with several opportunities to put UAB away for good, the Blazers continued to fight back in a “why won’t they just die” situation.

Luckily, the Wildcats performed well enough to pull off the victory and move to 6-1 on the year, with their next matchup coming against the Farleigh Dickinson Knights (1-5) next Saturday.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

17 Comments for Key takeaways from Kentucky’s 69-58 victory over UAB

  1. KYCat4EVER
    6:59 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

    Thanks for the perspective Jack! Nice read!

    Unfortunately, I think a little more importance to your last point needs to be added: Our CATS do not have, and have NEVER HAD, “a KILLER MENTALITY”.

    When the TV announcers blatantly “call it out” and “question our own heart and mentality”,
    You must take a more solid look at this: especially when it’s been a trademark of all Calipari teams who play up to, or down to, their own coaches SOFT UNDERBELLY!

    Jack…It’s pretty simple to see the causes of our own weakness. Really it is!

    The truly great KILLER teams have:

    a) a never let up ATTITUDE where you always PLAY TO WIN… and never play not-to-lose.
    -not Calipari

    b). A severely intense FULL COURT PRESS that must cause turnovers IMMEDIATELY!
    -not Calipari

    c). The ability to effectively control tempo at the “drop of a hat”.
    -not Calipari

    d). An offense and defense that is NOT predictable by the opponent and eventually gets ineffective by games start or during the game!
    -Not Calipari

    e). Mature leadership on the floor!
    -Calipari? Rarely w the one and done.

    This is why we will NEVER win another NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP at UK under Coach PROCESS!


    • makeitstop
      8:09 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      Yea 4ever, ur a real student of the game, the problem is our Hall of Fame coach w/ more FF than anyone in the country the last 10 years. This team, like all young teams lacks the ability to put a team away bc they aren’t yet in the physical condition to play 30+ minutes at a high level. Cal actually called them out on the perimeter defense. Let’s make this super easy for u: math. It’s just math… if they hit 5/16 3’s instead of 8/16 take 9 points off their point total. Ashton hits a FT late when he’s tired, or Nick makes one of two on his empty trip, and we win by 21, the line. But instead we were gassed. We didn’t have hands up on 3’s and got screened and stopped and watched late in the clock. The game plan was good., make them drive the lane w their 5’10” guard but we got tired and let him shoot open 3’s instead. Take away a couple second chance points by not one handed rebounding and it’s a 25 point walkover. They’re getting better. EJ was good. Nick was good. Ashton was great. IQ played solid. Progress. In ur world do teams peak in November? Bc they don’t outside mom’s basement.

    • Bluehender
      8:20 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      Makeitstop, you are right on every point, except he’s not 4ever. He’s KYCAPLOCKS. He doesn’t get that we can’t full court press with the lack of depth we have, especially with one of our guys down. He doesn’t get that guys are gassed at the end of the game and pressing would only make that even worse. They are getting better. And it’s only November.

    • 4everUKBlue
      8:46 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      Ah KYCAPSLOCK4EVER….LMAO! I finally figured out the basketball team’s problem….YOU’RE NOT THE COACH! Rupp is rolling in his grave at the mere thought of it.

    • IrishCat
      9:19 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      If KYCAPS were the coach, we’d run the picket fence at ‘em!

    • makeitstop
      9:23 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      I’ve wondered about the shaking hands w Rupp many times nonsense, so u think he was the doorman at the Lafayette Hotel, waiter at the Saratoga? And btw just for fun I looked up AD and KAT’s minutes/game and they sit an average of 15 minutes/game. It’s one reason the platoon team was (almost) unbeatable, fresh legs.

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:37 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      makeitstop, it gets better, he claims his son played for Rupp, more likely he was the equipment boy and I think you nailed it on how he came to shake Rupp’s hand. Good point on playing time and don’t forget we were without Poythress, who did disappear at times but was the perfect defensive answer for Dekker. And don’t forget the shot clock violation that was not called, not saying it was the reason we lost but it contributed.

  2. makeitstop
    8:42 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

    BlueHender, good point. U know what u don’t see much of in the NBA? Full court presses. U hv to be able to do it but u can’t make a living on it. And Bledsoe is the 3rd leading scorer and 3rd in minutes on the Eastern Div’s best team. He SITS 20 minutes a game. The big greek sits 15. They’re grown men in peak condition. (They do play 2x as many games). Point is, it takes awhile to get 5 guys to play together as a unit for 4-5 minute stretches without taking possessions off but we are getting there. I see the trolls are out though so it’ll be that kind of day.

    • Bluehender
      8:58 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      Good points makeitstop…

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:06 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      Yes good points but can you imagine what followers like CAPSLOCK would be saying if Cal only recruited 3 and 4 year players during the 3 or 4 years it would take to be good enough to make it out of the sweet 16? Take a look at NOVA’s tournament record before and after those two years they won, oh and also Vagina. How long did it take Vagina to win one with the help of the refs?

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:09 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      How long Vagina has been playing Div I basketball? That’s how long it took them to win their first.

    • Bluehender
      9:13 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      Did you mean Virginia 4ever? Lol…

    • 4everUKBlue
      9:17 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      Oops Bluehender, I guess it was a Freudian slip. Lol.

  3. 4everUKBlue
    8:52 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

    All good points Bluehender and makeitstop, you can always count on KYCAPSLOCK4EVER aka the man who shook the hand of Rupp (many times) to spew some good old Cal hate. He loves to compare basketball from the Rupp era to today’s basketball, he hasn’t figured out that there is no comparison. He still watches old Lawrence Welk reruns and probably drives an Edsel.

    • Bluehender
      8:55 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      And loves a good polka 4ever..

    • 4everUKBlue
      8:56 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

      Yeah that too Bluehender.

  4. Racerr11
    10:21 am November 30, 2019 Permalink

    Make it Stop you are dead on. KY cat I really believe is a loserville fan or he needs to take up ballet because he has no clue about basketball . In his 10 years as coach at the Gold Standard of college basketball UK Wildcats Calipari has the most wins, most final 4s, most final 8s, championship, 5 SEC regular season titles, 5 SEC tournament titles out of all coaches . KY cat 4ever lmao u r ridiculous. Remember ballet……?