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Top takeaways from Kentucky’s 76-67 victory over Alabama

In the team’s third SEC matchup, Kentucky managed to take down the Alabama Crimson Tide by a final score of 76-67 to move to 12-3 on the year.

There were many positives from the victory, but what were the top takeaways?

Tale of two halves

In the first half, Alabama led for just 20 seconds total, with Kentucky pushing ahead by as many as 13 points with just 30 seconds to go. To open the second half, the Wildcats went on a quick 7-2 run to push the lead to 15 with 17:12 to go.

From there, the Crimson Tide scored three consecutive times to cut the lead to single digits, and outside of a made free throw to push it back to ten with 14:47 to go, Kentucky failed to extend the lead to double digits once again. Alabama would then get it down to four points on five separate occasions and three points twice.

A key reason for the struggles? The Tide thriving on the offensive glass and finding easy baskets inside. Kentucky managed to find success on the first attempt, but with 16 offensive rebounds on the afternoon, Alabama was able to get easy second looks and cut the lead.

Hot shooting to close out the second half allowed the Wildcats to win by nine, but it was a little too close for comfort from the 7:31 mark (five-point lead) to the 2:14 mark (three-point lead).

Immanuel Quickley is clutch from deep (again)

Off the bench once again, Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley came up big from deep, finishing with a team-high 19 points on 6-10 shooting and 5-6 from three to go with five rebounds, three assists, and a steal.

In particular, Quickley is 14 of his last 23 from three, good for 61% overall. Over his last two games, the sophomore guard is 8-9 (89%) from deep.

Up by four with one minute to go, Quickley drilled a three to push the lead to seven, ultimately icing the game. Outside of the final clutch three, he also hit one with 17:12 to go in the second half to give UK its biggest lead of the game at 15 and one with 4:33 to go to give the Cats a six-point lead (up from Alabama’s smallest deficit in the second half).

He’s been shooting lights out from three, but most importantly, he’s hitting the shots in big moments.

Nick Richards is a legitimate first-rounder. Seriously.

No matter how much we continue to rave about Nick Richards and his growth as a player both physically and mentally, he continues to raise the bar every time he steps out on the floor.

Finishing with 13 points on 5-11 shooting to go with 11 rebounds, five blocks, and an assist, Richards was the best player on the floor in the first half. And at this point, his success is not even a common theme, it’s an expectation.

Outside of his jump-hooks and dunks on alley-oops and put-backs, he’s also growing more and more confident as a shooter from 15-17 feet out.

At one point late in the first half, Richards knocked down back-to-back jumpers from the right corner baseline, and he launched them with zero hesitation. With the NBA quickly transitioning to needing five players on the floor with shooting potential, that is the key for Richards to separate himself from the late-first, early-second to late-lottery, mid-first in the draft. He has the rim-running, rebounding, and shot-blocking ability as a 7-footer, and the shooting consistency is quickly starting to follow.

His second half was relatively underwhelming until coming up with several huge rebounds and defensive stops in the game’s final minutes, but I will never complain about a 13-11-5 game from Richards. The team needs it.

Ashton Hagans with the near triple-double

Just one game after playing 36 minutes with an ankle sprain at Georgia, Kentucky sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans followed it up with an impressive 15 points (4-10 shooting, 1-2 from three), nine rebounds, nine assists, and three steals in 36 minutes against Alabama.

Hagans was a bit out of control at times, racking up four turnovers, but his ability to lead this team in the right direction continues to turn heads.

After the game, John Calipari said Hagans’ 15-9-9 performance actually wasn’t his best, adding that it’s only because he expects those numbers every time he steps on the floor.

Whether Calipari likes it or not, I’ll take it all day, every day.

EJ Montgomery’s confidence is growing

While Richards has been impressive all season, EJ Montgomery is the one member of the frontcourt we’ve been waiting all year on. He’s shown spurts of success, but the consistency just hasn’t been there.

Today, Montgomery launched two comfortable jumpers from 15-17 feet out, the first coming with 17:07 in the first half and the second coming with 7:11 to go before break. In the second half, he followed it up with an easy lay-in down low, followed by a beautiful floater coming from the right baseline. In terms of shooting, it was the sophomore forward’s most confident display since the Utah loss in Las Vegas, when he demanded the ball and drilled mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper.

The confidence bled through on the box score outside of counting stats, as well, as Montgomery was also a team-high plus-19 on the day.

With Richards leading the way in the frontcourt, Montgomery’s game this afternoon was the perfect complementary performance on the offensive end of the floor. As mentioned before, they’re still rough around the edges in terms of giving up head-scratching baskets and offensive rebounds, but the unit as a whole continues to make steps

Nate Sestina knows his role

When Kentucky brought on Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina, the expectation was that the 6-foot-9 forward would be the third big man on the roster and a key player off the bench.

With Richards and Montgomery finding success, Sestina was able to be that player this afternoon, finishing with six points (2-3 from three), four rebounds, two blocks, and a steal in 18 minutes.

For Kentucky to win a title, Montgomery has to continue to grow into the second-year star coaches hyped him up to be going into the season, with Richards continuing to put up numbers from the center position. From there, Sestina can be a catch-and-shoot big off the bench and provide much-needed depth.

Calipari can continue to experiment with the three-guard lineup of Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, and Tyrese Maxey to go with Nate Sestina and Nick Richards, but the team has its highest potential on both ends of the court when Montgomery sees the majority of minutes between the two. It’s apparent Calipari sees the team’s long-term success relies on that rotation, and tonight’s minute breakdown and was a solid indicator of that.

Baby steps with Kahlil Whitney

The rollercoaster ride that is Kahlil Whitney’s freshman season in Lexington continues.

But when push comes to shove, today’s ride was an ever-so-slight step in the right direction.

In eight minutes off the bench in the first half, Whitney finished with zero points on 0-3 shooting, one rebound, one assist, and one turnover. From that point on, he would enter the game just twice in the second half, playing for 50 seconds total.

During his limited time on the floor, though, Whitney was active, attacked the rim instead of floating on the perimeter, tried to jump the passing lane, and locked in on defense (most of the time).

At the 14:12 mark in the second, he also swatted a clean shot on John Petty, but was called for a foul on the play.

It wasn’t a pretty performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a slight step forward nonetheless.

“I was so happy for Kahlil [Whitney] today,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “That’s what I want him to do.”

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

17 Comments for Top takeaways from Kentucky’s 76-67 victory over Alabama

  1. CJKAssassin123
    3:33 pm January 11, 2020 Permalink

    The only player not moving in the right direction is Brooks.

  2. ColoradoCatFan88
    4:13 pm January 11, 2020 Permalink

    Say what you want, Whitney is by far the most disappointing player on the team. Dude hasn’t scored in like a month. I have no idea how he was a top 10 recruit

    • WKY Cat
      7:23 pm January 11, 2020 Permalink

      Physical phenom but mentally hasn’t figured out the D1 level.

  3. UKLugo
    4:40 pm January 11, 2020 Permalink

    I think this team is actually further along at this point of the season than most of Cal’s teams, frankly. They are not there yet, by any means, but they’ve made some huge strides.

    • CrystalBall
      4:54 pm January 11, 2020 Permalink

      Good point. Completely agree.

    • 4everUKBlue
      6:47 pm January 11, 2020 Permalink

      They getting better, we need to be patient with them, they’ll be fine. I like my team and my coach. Go Cats! Come see about it!

  4. Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
    8:26 pm January 11, 2020 Permalink

    If Montgomery finally hits his stride we become arguably the best team in the country.

    • CJKAssassin123
      12:08 am January 12, 2020 Permalink

      I think Baylor is a better team right now. I still think Gonzaga will be #1 with Butler #2 and Baylor will be #3 then Auburn and then SDST.

    • Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
      1:06 am January 12, 2020 Permalink

      I don’t mean rankings. I mean capabilities wise. Kentucky is so good at guard that if Montgomery becomes a legitimate second big besides Richards not many teams can stop us from scoring well enough to keep up with our d.

  5. BBNfromOklahoma
    12:01 am January 12, 2020 Permalink

    I am so tired of the same negative comments on every post.

    • Matt10
      6:09 am January 12, 2020 Permalink

      Radical idea here: don’t read them.

    • runningunnin.454
      3:53 pm January 12, 2020 Permalink

      Easier said than done, Matt. Did you know it’s impossible to look at the written word…and not read it. A psychologist at the University of Leicester has postulated that “reading is a form of brainwashing…making us defenseless against an army of 26 letters of the alphabet”.

  6. CJKAssassin123
    12:16 am January 12, 2020 Permalink

    If we beat Auburn 2x, Arkansas,Florida,LSU,Texas Tech and the SEC Tournament I think this team should be a 2 or 3 seed the losses to Evansville and Utah will keep UK off of the one line. I think we finish the regular season 28-3 win the SEC Tournament and enter the NCAA tournament 31-3. Probably would be the 2 seed in the south region.

    • ColoradoCatFan88
      12:59 am January 12, 2020 Permalink

      So you don’t think we’ll lose another game this season? Lol I hope your prediction holds true my friend

    • ibescootch
      1:28 am January 12, 2020 Permalink

      I mostly agree, but we aren’t playing in a vacuum. These other teams have a lot of season left to play as well, and many of the top teams have some bad losses as well. There’s still plenty of basketball to play, and I think our ceiling is a LOT higher than many teams.

    • Tom Bombadil
      10:36 am January 12, 2020 Permalink

      If they do everything you just said and not lose a game the rest of the season, and then win the SEC tournament… entering at 31 – 3. That is most definitely a 1 seed resume. Lol I will take it!
      Go Cats!

  7. makeitstop
    9:38 am January 12, 2020 Permalink

    My takeaway is they can be as good as we thought they’d be but it’s going to take time. Our guards are the best in the country and getting better, and guard play wins – or loses – championships. Maxey and Hagans to a lesser extent still try to take a game over on offense unnecessarily and when they get in trouble make bad shots or worse turnovers. Hagans is so much better this year about that but still had 2 TO that should never have happened and 1:4 assist to TO for Maxey has to get better; there was a stretch there I almost couldn’t want punctuated by great drives, soft floaters and effort plays like his put back. But week to week they get better and it’s not like many years when we all know there’s a weakness some team exposes then we start losing; they know our weakness and we keep closing the gap. More from EJ on the glass, and more minutes for Whitney or Brooks and u will see fresher legs the last 8 minutes, fewer missed FT, and fewer missed assignments. We don’t need them to score 12 points we need them to give us some breathers and add some energy instead of anxiety of playing 4 on 5 when they’re in. These guys have a high ceiling and I agree w an early poster who said they are jelling a little earlier than Cal’s teams do… good to hv veteran guards and a couple veteran big men.