They were exactly what we thought they were.
The Wofford Terriers were feisty, incredibly skilled on the perimeter, and had several opportunities to come up with a victory.
But when push came to shove, Kentucky was able to capitalize on their talent, length, strength, and pure athleticism, ultimately forcing just enough separation at the end to pull out the 62-56 victory.
Let’s look at the key takeaways from UK’s gritty Round of 32 performance.
Credit where credit is due
Before we get into the specifics on Kentucky’s end, we have to give credit to what.
To start the game, Wofford made Kentucky incredible uncomfortable, especially on offense. The Wildcats were unable to get anything going with the ball in their hands for the majority of the first half, settling for contested jump shots and making questionable decisions over and over again.
With 4:23 remaining in the first half, the Terriers found themselves up by six points, which felt like 20 considering how hard points were to come by at that point. The Wildcats fought back and retook the lead before halftime, but the Cats still only managed 28 points before intermission. Again, the Terriers forced the Wildcats to play their way, not the other way around.
In the second half, Wofford clawed back to take a three-point lead with 17:02 remaining, but Kentucky’s sheer talent and strength was too much to handle. The Cats took back the lead one final lead and never lost it the rest of the way.
If it weren’t for Wofford star guard Fletcher Magee missing everything he threw at the rim, though, the Terriers absolutely could have pulled off the upset.
Now that we got that out of the way…
Jemarl Baker was the game MVP
When Kentucky needed a spark, it wasn’t one of the usual suspects saving the day. This afternoon, that person proved to be redshirt freshman Jemarl Baker Jr.
In the first half, Baker was one of the main reasons the Cats were able to come back, finishing with five points (1-2 shooting, 3-3 from the free throw line) and a +/- of +10. He followed it up with an even better all-around performance in the second, finishing with eight points, two rebounds, one steal, and a +/- total of +19.
On defense, the Wildcat shooting guard had a pretty impressive day, specifically off the ball. He absolutely made his impact known on both ends of the floor.
Baker finished with a career-high seven points against Abilene Christian on Thursday, and he followed it up with another career outing in the victory today.
Reid Travis was unstoppable… when he wanted to be
To start the game, the senior forward was incredibly frustrating. Despite being the strongest and most dominant player on the floor, Travis never demanded the ball. And when he finally got it, he relied on unnecessary jumpers and gave the ball up to some of the other Wildcats struggling with their shots (Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans).
Even when Wofford’s best frontcourt player, Cameron Jackson, got in foul trouble early, Kentucky wouldn’t force the issue and capitalize with Travis in the paint. They needed points, yet still didn’t utilize their most consistent option to make that happen. After starting the game with just two points in the first 17 minutes, he finally managed four points in the final three minutes of the half to help
In the second half, however, the Travis we expected to see coming into the game finally arrived.
Almost immediately, the senior forward demanded the ball in the post, and the abuse followed. He would work to create space down low, hit the Wofford defenders with a variety of post moves, and score with ease. He proved to be unstoppable.
Travis finished the day with a team-high 14 points, 11 rebounds, and one steal in 37 minutes of action. With star forward PJ Washington out, they needed the senior big man to come up big in crunch time, and he managed to do just that.
Ashton Hagans was a force on both ends
Like Travis, Hagans settled for several frustrating jumpers and failed to find his groove on offense to start the game.
Once he realized he was more athletic than the opposition and could get to the rim at will, it was like a switch flipped with the freshman point guard. He attacked on the perimeter and worked his way to the paint time and time again. If he wasn’t scoring, he was getting fouled and going to the line. Sometimes he did both.
He also did this, which was pretty freaking ridiculous.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 23, 2019
On defense, Hagans wreaked havoc in the second half, contesting Wofford jumpers and making the Terrier backcourt uncomfortable. He slipped up several times in the first half in leaving shooters open on the perimeter, but he cleaned things up and really found his footing after intermission.
He finished the day with 12 points (4-11 shooting), five rebounds, four assists, and one steal in 33 minutes.
We saw a new side of Tyler Herro
For star shooting guard Tyler Herro, while his shot was cold (nine points on 2-11 shooting, 1-6 from three), his impact on the defensive end was second-to-none and one of the key reasons Kentucky was able to pull off the victory.
Matched up with Wofford star guard Fletcher Magee, Herro allowed almost zero easy shots on the perimeter. In fact, the only real mishap the Wildcat guard had was on a backdoor cut in the second half. He looked exhausted at various points, but it was justified, as he chased the Terrier sharpshooter all across the floor from start to finish.
The major storyline of this game was Magee’s horrendous performance from three, and Herro is a major reason for that.
The scoring is fun and we certainly appreciate it, but him stepping up on defense was much more important today.
Kentucky needs PJ Washington back on the floor
They didn’t need him against Abilene Christian, and they were able to win without him this afternoon against Wofford, but the Wildcats can’t afford another NCAA Tournament game without star forward PJ Washington.
When Kentucky needs a basket, Washington has been the player to do that throughout the season. When they need a big stop or a momentum shift, he has been that guy time and time again. As the overall level of competition improves each round, the significance of those moments increases.
They got by today, but there are certainly no promises that remains the case moving forward.
Kentucky needs PJ Washington back out on the floor.