There’s no question last night’s victory was a team effort. Sure, Kevin Knox put up a staggering 34 points, but Jarred Vanderbilt had 11 rebounds, Quade Green drained two three-pointers while steering the ship, Wenyen Gabriel had three blocks and nine boards, Nick Richards hit all four of his final free throws to help seal the win… the list goes on and on. Neither PJ Washington nor Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played with the level of consistency we’ve seen in the past several games, but neither really hurt the team, either.
And by piecing together the majority of the bench, it was finally clear: they were playing as a team, not as individuals. For example… Hamidou Diallo attempted just eight shots throughout the entire game. Let me say that again: Hamidou Diallo attempted just eight shots throughout the entire game. But he still played a good game, contributing 13 points, three rebounds, two assists, and a spark when the Cats needed it. He didn’t force off-balanced shots and he didn’t make (as many) “silly mistakes.” To put it simply, he did more by doing less.
Last night’s win showcased the selflessness this team has, at times, struggled with throughout the season. And John Calipari noticed.
“Second half, our guards played for us instead of, ‘I gotta get mine,'” Cal said. “They played for us.”
He then singled out Green and Gilgeous-Alexander specifically, saying they both “played the way you need point guards to play.”
“You’re not playing for you – you’re playing for us,” Calipari said of Green and Gilgeous-Alexander. “You’re running downhill to create for us, and they did it.”
He also mentioned the accountability of this team, and how his freshmen are learning to take responsibility for their actions and their mistakes. We first heard about this struggle after the Mississippi State game, when Coach Cal said “it’s been a struggle for guys to say ‘my fault.'”
But, according to Calipari, there was only one play in last night’s victory where no one immediately took responsibility for the miscue. In past games, there have apparently been upwards of ten.
“These kids are so young, they have to know I’m for them and I’m with them and I love them, but – but – I’m going to hold you accountable. You have to hold yourself accountable. And if you don’t, I will do it for you. You have to take responsibility for how you play. We only had one play today where a guy wouldn’t take responsibility. And eventually I made him, in front of the team, say, ‘My fault,’ he said. ‘OK?’ ‘Thank you.'”
Kentucky finished with 16 assists last night. But remember, it’s not just the box score assists that count in Calipari’s eyes anymore. Following the game, he confirmed he’s still tracking all assists, saying he wants to see “how many hockey assists, how many assists for the foul, how many assists to throw ahead to the next one” in every game. By making his team “willing passers,” Cal demonstrates his belief that the key to success starts with the simplicity of passing the ball.
This combination of selflessness and accountability proved deadly for the Wildcats. Let’s hope they continue to hit this sweet spot throughout the remainder of the season.