Kentucky’s trip to Las Vegas got off to a poor start, falling to the Utah Utes by a final score of 69-66 to move to 8-2 on the year.
But how did it come to fruition? Were there any positives to focus on? Will the Cats respond?
Here are the key takeaways:
Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey led the Cats
Kentucky didn’t have a whole lot of bright spots, but two of them came in the Kentucky backcourt.
Coming off an 0-9 game against Georgia Tech, Tyrese Maxey managed a team-high 18 points to reach double figures for the first time since the Lamar Game on Nov. 25. He went 1 for 17 in his previous two games, but Maxey finished the game against Utah shooting 7 of 13 overall.
The freshman guard missed a crucial three to tie the game in the final seconds, but his total body of work was impressive.
As for Ashton Hagans, he scored in double figures a team-leading eighth time this season with 16 points to go with a game-high eight assists and a season-high four steals. He has led the Wildcats in assists in every game this season.
John Calipari has said on multiple occasions that he thinks Hagans is the best point guard in college basketball, but the team needs Maxey to get going if they want to reach any kind of serious success this season.
They got that on Wednesday evening, but unfortunately, there wasn’t much help elsewhere.
Nate Sestina made his return
After missing three games with a fractured left wrist, Nate Sestina returned to the lineup.
In nine minutes, the Bucknell graduate transfer failed to make a dent in the scoring column (0-1 shooting), but added one rebound and one block in the loss.
Calipari said after the game that Sestina likely played too many minutes and would’ve preferred to let him sit against Utah, but when the Cats fell behind early, the UK coach needed bench help.
He wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but getting him back is massive for the team’s depth moving forward both in practice and in games.
Nick Richards had his first poor performance of the year
After telling reporters last week that Nick Richards got a bit arrogant and was beginning to revert back to what we saw out of him in his first two seasons at Kentucky, the junior center had his first legitimately poor outing of the season against Utah.
Finishing with just five points on 1-3 shooting to go with four rebounds, one assist, and two blocks, Richards failed to get much of anything going on the offensive end of the floor. He simply never looked comfortable, struggling to create space or overpower the Utah frontcourt.
Defensively, he got lost at times and gave up several easy buckets around the rim. He did finish with two blocks, but it wasn’t a great interior defensive effort from the junior center.
go stay cold from deep
Going into the year, Coach Cal stressed that this team would be one of his best since he arrived in Lexington, adding that he had players that were shot makers and not just shot takers.
But after a 2-17 performance from three for the Wildcats, Kentucky is down to 27.5% from beyond the line on the season. Going into the day, the Cats were 29% from three, which was good for 8th in the SEC and 295th in all of college basketball.
During the Calipari Era in Lexington, the Kentucky head coach has never had a team shoot less than 30% from three in a single year. As of right now, they’re on pace to be the first.
Questionable calls were aplenty
Before we get started, let me just say this is a ref-friendly website that loves the folks in stripes. It’s not an easy job to do, and errors are inevitable just about every time a team takes the floor/field/court, regardless of sport.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have questions.
Can you overturn a blocking foul and change it to a charge? Would it have been so much of a pain to review Immanuel Quickley’s two in the corner late in the second half that Calipari and his assistants were begging to get looked at? What about the head-scratching inconsistencies on both ends of the floor? Travel violations still get called, right?
T-Mobile Arena was filled with the past, present and future
Watching Kentucky signee Devin Askew at the Tarkanian Classic on Wednesday afternoon, I noticed former Wildcat Keldon Johnson sitting next to Askew’s father.
And then walking in to T-Mobile Arena to watch the Wildcats play, Askew and Johnson entered the game together, with Isaac Humphries, Marcus Lee, Jared Vanderbilt, and Mychal Mulder coming not long after.
All of the past Wildcats sat in the same Kentucky friends and family section as Askew and his father, with the only exception being Johnson. He moved up a few rows and was closer to center court with a friend.
Even without Johnson included, the photo is pretty neat.
Jarred Vanderbilt has since joined the group of former/future Wildcats.
Askew, Mulder, Humphries, Vanderbilt, and Lee all sitting in the Kentucky friends/family section. https://t.co/85zpvNm7Jf pic.twitter.com/oz9xL0N3uq
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) December 19, 2019
The road only gets more difficult moving forward, as the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes are set to head to Sin City on Saturday afternoon.
Will they respond?