It wasn’t pretty, but the Wildcats got the job done in Lexington, pulling off a 67-62 victory over Ole Miss to move to 20-5 on the year and 10-2 in conference play.
What are the top takeaways from the victory?
Kentucky shot 2-22 from three
The biggest takeaway from Kentucky’s gritty – is that the right word for it? – victory is that they still managed to come out on top despite shooting a putrid 9% from three.
In the first 19 minutes of the game, the Wildcats were 0-11 from deep before Johnny Juzang knocked down the team’s first three with just 40 seconds to go in the half. They would end the half shooting 1-13 from three before waiting another nine minutes for the team’s second and last made shot from deep.
To open his postgame press conference, John Calipari made sure to tell reporters just how much he “enjoyed” Kentucky’s abysmal shooting display from three.
“All you people who think the game has passed me by?” Calipari asked. “Think we should take more threes? You still think so? Maybe we shoot 30 and go 2-for-30!”
Tough to argue with after a 9.1% performance.
Things finally heated up in the final five minutes
After a painful back-and-forth performance that would make watching paint dry seem like a riveting experience, things finally heated up late in the second half to create one heck of a finish.
Starting at the 5:39 mark, we saw nine consecutive lead changes to bring us all the way down near the one minute mark.
With 1:11 to go, Nick Richards knocked down two free throws to take a one-point lead, with the Wildcats then spreading said lead to five to close out the game.
The preference would’ve been a blowout or even a shootout between both teams, but at least we got five solid minutes of action to close out the game.
Thank you, Nick Richards
After the game, John Calipari told the media, “It wasn’t Nick [Richards’] best day.”
Now mind you, this came after the 7-foot center finished with 16 points (6-10 shooting), seven rebounds, two blocks, and four consecutive clutch free throws in the final two minutes of the game.
Calipari’s expectations of the junior center have gone up exponentially this season – we’ve grown to consistently expect these outings, as well – but it’s only because Richards has given us reason to. Night in and night out, the former five-star recruit has put the team on his back and anchored the middle of the floor with the best of them this season.
In fact, Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis believes Richards has earned the right to be considered among the best in all of college basketball.
“He may be the best center in college basketball,” Davis said.
When the team struggled this afternoon, feeding Richards in the post was the perfect medicine for many of Kentucky’s issues. If he wasn’t scoring – and he did plenty of it – he was getting fouled, getting to the line, grabbing tough rebounds, and blocking shots.
Good things happen when you give the ball to JNR in the post, plain and simple.
Breein Tyree was good, but not a world-beater
After picking up two early first-half fouls – he had just two points on 1-3 shooting at that moment – it looked as though Ole Miss star Breein Tyree was destined for his first rough outing in two weeks.
But after settling down and finding his groove a bit, Tyree picked up where he left off over his last three games, finishing the day with 19 points on 6-16 shooting, 3-6 from three, and 4-6 from the line to go with five rebounds and a steal.
As impressive as it is to put up points in a hurry and lead a team in scoring like Tyree can, he seemed to be the least of Kentucky’s issues on Saturday.
In fact, he actually had two crucial misses from the line in the final minute of the game, missing the front end of a one-and-one with 57 seconds to go and then again with three seconds to go. If he had converted both attempts the first time around, Ole Miss would’ve taken a one-point lead. Makes both on the second, it’s a one-point deficit in the game’s final seconds where a quick steal and score could’ve won it.
Instead, his two misses crushed Ole Miss’ chances to come back and allowed for Kentucky to hang on.
What was Devontae Shuler doing to close out the game?
Speaking of choking, Ole Miss guard Devontae Shuler also managed to cost his team the game in the final seconds.
Down one point with just 30 seconds to go, instead of putting the ball in Tyree’s hands to make a play, Shuler decided to dribble the clock down to 7.5 seconds and jack up a contested three.
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I mean seriously, what the hell was he thinking?
I have no idea, but I thank him for it.
Immanuel Quickley was clutch in the second half
In the first half, Immanuel Quickley was ice cold, finishing with just three points on 1-9 shooting, 0-5 from three, and 1-2 from the line in a team-high 19 minutes.
Kentucky was down 27-25 at the break, and Quickley’s rough start was a big reason for it.
After the break, though, Quickley put the team on his back and made tough basket after tough basket, putting the Wildcats in prime position to capitalize on the comeback.
In the second half, Quickley finished with 14 points on 3-6 shooting and 7-8 from the line, including two makes with six seconds left to spread Kentucky’s lead from one to three. At the very least, the sophomore guard’s clutch makes would have forced overtime even with a miracle heave at the buzzer from the Rebels.
Richards has become Kentucky’s stable force in the frontcourt, while Quickley has earned that role in the backcourt. Even on a poor shooting night, the sophomore guard did just enough to help lead the Cats to victory.
EJ Montgomery with another high-energy performance
Sophomore forward EJ Montgomery didn’t make a single basket, but his effort elsewhere on the floor paid off in a major way.
Whether it was grabbing tough rebounds, diving for loose balls, or forcing jump balls to swing the possession arrow back Kentucky’s direction, Montgomery was a major difference-maker in his 21 minutes on the floor.
The 6-foot-11 forward finished with just two points (2-2 FT), eight rebounds, one steal, and five fouls, but those watching the game could see Montgomery’s impact extended well beyond the box score. Kentucky needs consistent energy from the sophomore big man each time he steps on the floor, and he gave it to them against the Rebels.
Ashton Hagans reverted (again)
After turning the ball over 22 times over his last five games, Ashton Hagans ended his streak of poor play with a near triple-double on the road at Vanderbilt.
Most importantly, he slowed down and let the game come to him, allowing for an eight-assist, one-turnover performance, giving reason to believe he had overcome his recent passing and ball-handling issues.
Instead of building on the successful outing, Hagans finished with just six points (3-11 shooting, 0-5 from three), three rebounds, three assists, four turnovers, and five fouls against Ole Miss.
After the game, Calipari defended Hagans, saying the sophomore point guard was “the least of [Kentucky’s] worries” right now.
“He is the least of our worries,” Calipari said of Hagans. “Ashton is my point guard and I’m with him.”
As confident as Calipari is, with just six games left in the regular season, the clock is ticking for Hagans to clean up his play a bit.