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Top takeaways from Kentucky’s 77-64 victory over Tennessee

© Randy Sartin | USATSI

© Randy Sartin | USATSI

The Wildcats got the job done in Knoxville, pulling off a 77-64 victory over Tennessee to move to 18-5 on the year and 8-2 in conference play.

What are the top takeaways from the impressive road victory?

The streak is over

After four consecutive losses at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Kentucky basketball program found a way to pull off its first victory at Tennessee since the 2014-15 season, coming out on top with a 77-64 win.

It wasn’t easy, with Kentucky pulling ahead by ten points on separate occasions and Tennessee cutting that lead to single digits nine of those times.

On that tenth attempt, though, Kentucky finally found away to extend that lead past the double-digit mark and bring it home in the form of a 13-point victory.

Through the madness of a tough road environment, the Cats held strong, and they were rewarded with a streak-ending victory.

Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards continue their consistent – and impressive – play

It has been rather easy (albeit unfortunate) to avoid writing about Quickley and Richards in these takeaway posts and postgame features because the veteran duo has simply raised our expectations this season. They have been so consistently productive that stat lines like 18 points (5-9 shooting, 6-7 FT) for Quickley and 15 points (5-5 shooting, 5-6 FT) and seven rebounds for Richards are simply what we expect to see out of each of them every time they suit up.

The fact of the matter is, as impressive as Tyrese Maxey and Ashton Hagans have been at various points this season at the guard spot, along with EJ Montgomery picking up his play in recent weeks, Quickley and Richards are quite possibly the two most consistent and valuable players on the roster.

In clutch situations late in the game, they came through, When Kentucky needed to end a scoring drought, they came through. At the free throw line, they came through.

Credit is due to the sophomore and junior pairing this afternoon, as it has been all season. Well done.

Johnny Juzang has found his shooting touch

“Johnny Juzang has been a serious difference-maker here for Kentucky,” CBS commentator Bill Raftery said with just under 17 minutes to go in the second half.

He wasn’t wrong.

Finishing with 13 points on 4-4 shooting, 3-3 from three, and 2-2 from the line, to go with one rebound, one assist, and one steal in a season-high 24 minutes, the freshman guard managed his best game as a Kentucky Wildcat.

Going into today’s matchup, Juzang had yet to make more than one three in a single game this season. He hadn’t even taken more than two.

Breaking the 20-minute mark just twice this year, opportunities for the 6-foot-6 guard have been limited. To make matters worst, his stints on the floor have been short-lived, as his leash with UK head coach John Calipari has been extremely short. After a single defensive breakdown, missed shot, turnover, or foul, Juzang had been pulled in favor of one of the team’s key starters. The trust simply hasn’t been there.

Today, though, we saw a breakthrough for both parties. Calipari trusted Juzang enough to deliver and work through the kinks, and given the opportunity, the freshman guard didn’t let him down.

Kentucky has been looking for bench production, and they got it out of Juzang today.

Keion Brooks Jr. was phenomenal off the bench

While Juzang stole the show on the score board, Keion Brooks Jr. also proved to be incredibly valuable in his specific role off the bench.

Finishing with four points on 2-5 shooting to go with a career-high nine rebounds in 26 minutes, Brooks was extremely active on both ends of the floor, specifically in fighting for balls on the glass.

Offensively, Brooks converted on two put-back attempts, and almost got another impressive shot from the post to fall (Richards followed the miss with a put-back slam). He gets carried away at times with long twos, but when it comes to floating around inside, he has a knack for getting the job done in some form or fashion. Whether it be in cleanup opportunities or when he is asked to make a move in the post at the four, Brooks’ growing confidence is turning into converted baskets.

Juzang and Brooks remained patient, trusted the process, and are now reaping the rewards.

Crazy how that works at Kentucky.

It’s time to talk about Ashton Hagans and Nate Sestina

Earlier this season, Calipari told the media that he felt Hagans was the best point guard in college basketball.

Over the past several weeks, though, to say the sophomore guard has been struggling would be an understatement.

Running the Kentucky offense, Hagans has been a turnover machine, coughing up the ball 22 times compared to just 25 assists in UK’s last five games.

Against Tennessee, he finished with 10 points on 2-8 shooting to go with four rebounds, three assists, and a steal to go with five turnovers. On the surface, it’s not a horrible stat line, but those watching the game would know that UK seemed to struggle putting points on the board and got incredibly sloppy with Hagans leading the way. In fact, if it weren’t for Maxey missing on two crucial passes during his time as the lead guard with Hagans on the bench, I wouldn’t have been shocked at all to see Calipari move forward with the freshman star to close out the game as the primary ball-handler.

It’s tough to pinpoint where Hagans’ struggles are coming from outside of playing too fast and forcing the issue far too option. At his best, Hagans is patient, methodical, and makes the correct decision more often than not, solidifying his status as one of the best point guards in college basketball. At his worst, he’s borderline unplayable at times.

As for Sestina, the graduate transfer put up his second zero-point performance in three games, playing just eight minutes in the win. He hasn’t finished in double figures in 12 games and has failed to break the five rebound mark in nine consecutive outings.

Going scoreless on zero shot attempts to go with one rebound, one turnover, and four fouls in a team-low eight minutes, Sestina simply didn’t contribute enough in his time on the floor. They don’t need him to be a major producer, but the Wildcats need at least a couple key buckets and rebounds out of the Bucknell graduate each outing to close out the season.

Rebounding was (mostly) back

Finishing with 33 rebounds compared to Tennessee’s 29, Kentucky won the glass in a difficult road environment, something they couldn’t do last weekend at Auburn.

They still fell short on the offensive glass – the Volunteers won in that regard with a 12-7 lead – but it was an effort across the board that should still please the coaching staff after reviewing film.

We’re on to Vanderbilt.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

21 Comments for Top takeaways from Kentucky’s 77-64 victory over Tennessee

  1. Righteous1
    5:06 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

    Well Cal Lovers Wolfpack your hero coach has 1 quality win against Louisville at home in the eyes of the Selection Committee. By the way, Evansville is 0-11 in the Missouri Valley Conference.

    • Skooms
      5:21 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

      Well “not true UK fans”, your supposedly favorite school won again today, so there’s really nothing else that needs to be said. It’s extremely funny though when you try, as thanks to said victory, your argument is moot and pointless.

    • RealCatsFan
      5:40 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

      Wrongous1, I am a UK Basketball lover, but I am smart enough to know that at this point in time John Calipari is the right man for the job in Lexington. Does he do stuff that I don’t like? Hell yes! Does his team lose games they should have won? Hell yes. But look around the college basketball landscape – teams everywhere are losing. And look at how many of the teams that made that 16-line that are under investigation by the NCAA. Hell, two of the top teams in the SEC are looking pretty shady. Yeah, Cal had some brushes in the past, but while at UK, he has been pretty clean. As has been asked before, give us a list of coaches who would come to UK and do a better job. If you can’t do that, then ranting on these forum after a good road win like some jilted lover only makes you look like a moron.

    • StillBP
      5:45 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

      Haha wrongous1 is so mad that we won today. I knew he would be!

    • nocode96
      6:45 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

      Cal gonna have to take a restraining order out on you boy! You don’t even try and hide your infatuation with him now. He’s never gonna be your cuddle bug bro, you just gotta face that. He’s living rent free in your head, that’s as good as it’s gonna get for you. Let him go homie, it’s time you move onto a coach that’s more in your league, I hear bob knight has a lot of free time and he must definitely will let you be the little spoon. You remind me a lot of that stalker Jodie Foster has back in the day, but I think you’re a little more obsessed with Cal than he was with her.

    • wyatts1
      8:32 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

      What a idiot, name one coach that will be as consistent as this coach has been while being here at UK? Granted I wish he was more about championships the sending players to the NBA, but helping kids fulfill their dreams that bad a thing?? Not at all, as long as we get some championships at the same time lol

    • KYCat4EVER
      9:14 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

      SPOT ON Righteous1…

      When you cut away all the Calipari SCHTICK…

      It’s our FIRST WIN in Knoxville since 2015!


      What UK coach EVER allowed U.K. Basketball to suffer this embarrassment and humiliation?

      Just another check mark to place inside another “COACH PROCESS box of firsts”…

      GO BIG BLUE!

    • CrystalBall
      10:45 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

      KYCat. FYI. Tubby once lost 5 consecutive games to Vandy, and 7 consecutive to Florida.

    • 4everUKBlue
      10:25 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink


    • ed.mueller
      11:07 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

      Ok. We’re fine. We have talent, we have a little depth. We know we can win without all our best players playing their best. We know we can win on the road, and that we can lose at home if we don’t come to play. We’re fine. We’ll be good. Why jump in with this? Did we beat your team?

    • dave1964
      8:33 am February 9, 2020 Permalink

      It’s just ignorant to think we don’t have the right coach for UK that is just dumb… Would I like to get rid of one and done YES, is reloading every year getting old YES is coach Cal the best XO’s coach in the country maybe not, Cal is where he belongs and will retire as our coach. Hagans has been horrible Cal has to pump these guys up what is he going to say oh he horrible like we do :)…

    • JT55
      11:29 am February 9, 2020 Permalink

      If people quit replying to this dumb troll, he’ll go away. Don’t feed the trolls

  2. trumpetguy
    5:22 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

    IQ is a down right baller! Best jump shooter on the team, and learning how to seek out contact ala NBA type players, PLUS 92% FT shooter…IMO will be most consistent offensive threat going forward.

  3. Big Sexy
    6:33 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

    Ashton seems to make a lot of mental errors at times. Bad passes, gets to the basket but now where to go, etc. There’s time for him to get back on track.

  4. ed.mueller
    10:58 pm February 8, 2020 Permalink

    Tennessee guarded Sestina really well, and the one time he got loose for a bunny, Ashton walked.

    I watched the whole game. A lot of guys got their shots blocked both driving and in the post. It wasn’t all poor decision making or poor play.

    Tennessee played us really hard and really well, but we ground them down.

    They made some huge shots, I got really frustrated on the possession when they cut it to 5 on back to back 3’s by the kid from Uruguay (who is going to be UNBELIEVABLY good), but we made the plays we needed to make to win.

    Juzang got lost on defense, sestina was a liability on defense… these are known quantities.

    Brooks quietly had a really good game, and Ashton, quick, and Nick led the team.

    Was I sweating when Tennessee cut it to 5? Sure!

    When quick hit the shot to put it back to 7 then we got basket foul foul and one and and one? Not so much.

    Sure, the game had tense moments, but the 2014 team was a Trey Lyles blocked shot from a loss.

  5. RexRox
    12:08 am February 9, 2020 Permalink

    Cats are 2-1 against the committee’s top 16. And the one they lost (Auburn) involved some serious home cooking. And Auburn doesn’t win that game anywhere in the world except Auburn, Alabama.

    • spincr4hire
      9:39 am February 9, 2020 Permalink

      Ranked teams lost to unranked yesterday. KY should go up in polls tomorrow

  6. JohnnyCat
    11:12 am February 9, 2020 Permalink

    I admit, I’ve been critical of this team’s effort throughout the year…particularly with EJ. But I have to say they are coming around as is typical of a Cal coached team. And even though they will likely lose at the end due to the extremely short bench, the 8 man rotation is huge for building cohesiveness and confidence in the younger guys. Whitney was an idiot for leaving, but it is sort of addition by subtraction.

    • JohnnyCat
      11:15 am February 9, 2020 Permalink

      The biggest problem is they are one key injury away from being really screwed. Or a really tight whistle in the tournament could especially spell doom for such a thin bench.

    • RealCatsFan
      11:50 am February 9, 2020 Permalink

      You are absolutely correct. And the Cal-haters like to jump on that. But in Cal’s defense, he didn’t want it that way. Whitney made an idiotic decision to leave. Cal wanted Blackshear bad, and he was hot on Edwards. Hurt was another one that he recruited hard. So maybe he should cheat like some of these other programs to pull these guys in. Calipari has recruited some guys that I he thought would be multi year players – SGA, Herro, Adabayo, Green, etc. – who either got impatient and transferred or who improved so much that they went pro. Not sure how you can blame all that on Cal.

    • JohnnyCat
      2:18 pm February 9, 2020 Permalink

      Yes, losing Baker and Green from last year and Killea-Jones and Wynyard from 2 years ago. Keep 2 of those guys that could easily still be here and they’d have plenty of depth to make a run. As is now…it will be close.