Basketball Season Coverage
By Drew Franklin on ©November 12th, 2018 @ 12:58pm
As expected, Kentucky saw a big plunge in the new AP college basketball poll on Monday. The Cats fell from No. 2 overall in the preseason rankings all the way down to No. 10 in the Week 1 update.
Duke took over the top spot from Kansas due to its bludgeoning of Kentucky in the season opener.
7. North Carolina
11. Michigan State
12. Kansas State
14. Florida State
16. Virginia Tech
17. Mississippi State
It could’ve been worse, honestly.
We want to wish a very happy birthday to
Earned Not Given Brad Calipari today as he turns 22 years old. Sure, we might give the coach’s son a lot of crap, but in all seriousness, he could be one of the most important players to play under John Calipari.
The reasoning is simple, Brad coming has pretty much guaranteed that Coach Cal would remain at Kentucky at least a few more years. When the announcement came out last week that he would redshirt this year, it yet against guaranteed another year of the Calipari era at Kentucky.
For Brad, he has been mainly used in mop-up duty in his first two years in Lexington scoring only 11 points and playing in only 27 games. Like I previously mentioned, his impact goes more of keeping his father here and the impact he can have on his teammates than it will on leading the Cats to a Final Four.
This morning, Coach Cal and his sisters, Erin and Megan, posted messages on Twitter wishing Brad a happy birthday:
Happy birthday to @bradcalipari, who is everything I would want in a son. He's driven and competitive, yet has a kind heart. It's been a great experience for me to coach him and watch him grow as both a person and a player. Love you, son! pic.twitter.com/HCoOyApzy1
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) November 11, 2018
Can we take a minute and recognize: One; how tan Cal is in that first picture, and two how young he looks in the second! Wow!
Happy birthday to ?@bradcalipari?. I’m so much older that when I would take him to the movies people would tell me “your son is so cute!”. He’s a bit bigger now but he is still my baby brother and I love this turd more than anything. So proud of him! #myfavoritecalipari pic.twitter.com/6hdW3y1DUN
— Dr.SicilianoCalipari (@TheErinCalipari) November 11, 2018
Happy birthday eve @bradcalipari! You’ve grown up before my eyes. I’ll never forget your first swear word. You were 3 & it was a classic and understated IDGAF. You’ve stayed true to that phrase all these years. I’m so proud of the person you have become ?? pic.twitter.com/fkcaTGjuv5
— Megan Calipari (@MeganteCalipari) November 10, 2018
Now the question we have to ask about this picture is were his shorts longer then or now?
In all seriousness, happy birthday to Brad Calipari, hope you also get Mrs. Cal’s Brownies!
By Jack Pilgrim on ©November 10th, 2018 @ 9:00pm
If you turn back your clocks and calendars to last Saturday around 3:29 p.m., you’d be hard-pressed to find a more exciting time to be a member of the Big Blue Nation.
The Kentucky Wildcats were set to kick off against No. 6 Georgia for a spot in the SEC Championship game with an outside shot at the College Football Playoff. SEC Nation was in attendance, CBS chose the top-ten matchup for their primetime slot, and Kroger Field had been sold out for weeks.
Lexington was absolutely rocking, and even with the odds stacked against us, it felt like Kentucky football had finally earned the respect they deserved as one of the top teams in the SEC. For the first time in who knows how long, the Big Blue Nation had a reason to dream big. Really big.
After competing hard for about a quarter and a half, Kentucky crumbled under pressure and fell to the Bulldogs 34-17. SEC Championship and Playoff dreams were crushed in an instant.
Fast forward to Tuesday night on the hardwood, where the Kentucky Wildcat basketball team was set to tip off their season against No. 4 Duke and their highly-touted recruiting class in the Champions Classic. Fans still had the opportunity to turn their disappointment in the football team to excitement surrounding what was deemed one of the deepest and most talented groups of the John Calipari era. Some even said this team could flirt with 40-0, as the depth drew comparisons to the historic 2014-15 unit.
On the national stage, the Wildcats embarrassed themselves with missed shot after missed shot and little-to-no effort on the defensive end. They fell to the Blue Devils by a final score of 118-84, and even that ugly 34-point deficit doesn’t begin to describe how much of a beatdown it truly was. Keldon Johnson and Reid Travis had impressive scoring performances, but it was a travesty everywhere else.
Two massive chances on the big stage, both blown in ugly fashion.
Still, though, fans knew the Kentucky football team had an opportunity to finish the regular season 10-2. All they had to do was take care of business in Knoxville against Tennessee, and the rest would take care of itself. The big-time dreams were crushed, but there was still major optimism to be had.
On the basketball side of things, we felt a spark would be lit underneath the Wildcats and they’d come out full speed ahead against a potential NCAA Tournament team in Southern Illinois. I even apologized for some of Kentucky’s beatdowns dealt during the 2014-15 season in hopes of flipping some mojo back our way.
Instead, Kentucky came out sluggish on both ends of the floor yet again, going up just 31-28 at halftime. After the intermission, the Cats actually found themselves down by as many as seven points before they found a way to slowly climb back to finalize a 71-59 victory. Like the Duke game, we had impressive performances up top with Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley, and horrendous efforts on the bottom with PJ Washington, Ashton Hagans, and Tyler Herro.
The talented team with incredible chemistry we saw in the Bahamas was nowhere to be found. Attention flipped back to football, at least temporarily.
And then here we are with… whatever that was against the (now) 5-5 Tennessee Volunteers.
The Wildcat offense went out there and (literally) dropped the ball at Neyland Stadium, falling to the Volunteers 24-7. Eddie Gran’s group managed just 262 total yards (77 rushing) and a putrid seven points against a below-average defense. They turned the ball over three times, punted seven times, and missed two field goals. They were allergic to putting themselves in position to score, let alone actually putting points on the board.
After weeks of putting on a show and proving that they are one of the best in college football, the Kentucky defense finally broke. The big plays they had avoided for so long finally came. The miscues piled up. Injuries finally came back to haunt the unit. The offense that was so dominant and efficient to start the year had slowly become one of the worst in the nation, and after making up for some of that lack of production week after week, the defense couldn’t hold on any longer.
Blame it on Mark Stoops’ inability to make adjustments, Eddie Gran’s stubbornness and predictability, Terry Wilson’s indecisiveness, the offensive line not even making the trip to Knoxville, the receivers being unable to do what they were signed here to do, or Benny Snell’s obvious step down over the last few weeks. Whatever. You can blame whoever you want, but the point remains that the overall offensive product is a major reason Kentucky’s potentially historic season will now be seen as a “what could have been” one. Make no mistake about it, an extreme makeover for the unit is necessary going forward.
Instead of potentially heading out west to play in the Fiesta Bowl or earning a spot in the Peach Bowl, the Cats have officially dropped down on the totem pole in the eyes of the bowl selection committees. And it happened because they couldn’t get anything going against mediocre Tennessee team.
Sadness. Disappointment. Frustration. You name the negative emotion, the Big Blue Nation felt it tonight.
Finishing the season 9-3 with a potential spot in the Citrus Bowl would still be a massive accomplishment, especially for a Kentucky football program that hasn’t won nine games in the regular season since 1977. Middle Tennessee is absolutely beatable and Louisville is a dumpster fire. Just show up, meet expectations, and they’re both likely victories.
On the other side, Kentucky basketball team still has the opportunity to put it all together and make a run for yet another Final Four under Coach Cal. It’s obvious the pieces are there for something special, the cohesion just isn’t. If there’s one coach you can trust to get a basketball program right by March, it’s John Calipari.
But goodness, what a nightmare week. And it’s okay to acknowledge that it has freaking sucked.
Football and basketball gods, whatever we did, please forgive us.
Here to relive Kentucky’s victory over Southern Illinois? Perfect. Here’s a look at what some of the players – Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery and Immanuel Quickley – had to say after the game.
By Maggie Davis on ©November 10th, 2018 @ 8:00am
Let’s be honest: Kentucky did not play well in the first half. Their shot selection was poor, their defense had serious lapses and their offense just couldn’t quite get shots to fall. UK’s leading scorers at the half were Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley, who both had just seven points apiece.
But something changed in the second half. Sure, the outing was still far from perfect, but the Cats were able to secure some defensive shots, cut down on turnovers and improve their shooting from 41 percent to nearly 47 percent. A lot of players improved their quality of play after halftime, but two stood out above the rest: Quade Green and EJ Montgomery.
Green has been at the victim of some harsh criticisms recently, largely thanks to his poor performance against Duke and a lackluster first half against Southern Illinois. Is he contributing like the BBN thought he would as a returning sophomore? Has he earned playing time on this roster? There are still doubts.
But in the second half, he finally looked like the Quade Green this team needs: a decisive leader in the backcourt, a solid shooter and a mature presence on the floor. There were still mistakes (like the three-point attempt in the second half that barely hit the rim), but his efforts helped the entire team improve their play. During the post-game press conference, Calipari even complimented some of Green’s specific decisions that resulted in points for the Wildcats.
“I’ll tell you what a great play was: the play where Quade went under the basket to help Nick [Richards], so they couldn’t throw it over the top and still stole the skip pass and threw it ahead and we dunked. Basically that was the game… That was a veteran move.”
Green finished with 14 points, three assists, one steal and two turnovers in 25 minutes of action.
Then there’s EJ Montgomery. After sitting out due to back issues during most of the Bahamas trip, the big man has been relatively quiet so far this season. Not last night. After seeing just nine minutes of action in the first half, Montgomery earned his playing time in the second. He finished with ten points, seven rebounds, two blocks and just one turnover.
Again, Calipari referenced Montgomery’s performance, specifically referencing Tuesday’s disastrous loss to Duke. After the Blue Devils made layup after layup, Coach Cal says he knew the team needed players with stronger shot-blocking abilities on the court. Against Southern Illinois, they got that from a combination of Montgomery and Nick Richards.
Quade Green and EJ Montgomery may play two drastically different styles of basketball on the court, but they have at least one thing in common: they both helped carry Kentucky to a win.
Looking back, Kentucky’s four wins in the Bahamas did more harm than good. John Calipari said so earlier this week. “It may have hurt us more than helped us,” he said of the August trip. “Did we get arrogant, all of us, me included?”
Through two real games in the regular season — not exhibition games against uninterested (and some hungover) players in paradise — it is safe to say, yes, the Bahamas games were a little misleading. Kentucky looked like a team that was ready to dominate college basketball right out of the gate, a team far ahead of where John Calipari’s young teams usually are in the early season. It helped the Cats earn a No. 2 preseason ranking and planted national championship thoughts into fans’ heads, more so than usual. I can’t speak for what it did to the players’ confidence, but I imagine they got a little full of themselves too.
Then came the Duke game earlier this week. You don’t need me to tell you how that went.
And when Kentucky was given the opportunity to bounce back against Southern Illinois, it didn’t look so good through most of the game.
The Cats turned the ball over 12 times in the first 12 minutes and fell behind by as many as eight points in the first half. The Southern Illinois offense was scoring at will while the Kentucky offense was out of sync and passing the ball to people sitting at the scorers table and in the third row of Rupp Arena. If not for a late first half run, the visiting Salukis (tall, slender dogs) would’ve taken a lead into the break. Kentucky was lucky to be up by three, thanks to the play of Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards. They had over half of their team’s points and Richards had 12 rebounds at halftime.
Then came the second half and Southern Illinois regained its lead. The lead got as high as seven points with around 14 minutes left in the game, and the unthinkable thought of an 0-2 start to UK’s season crept into fans’ heads. Is this really happening?
But the group of Immanuel Quickley, Quade Green, Keldon Johnson, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards got things back on track and proved to be the winning lineup Kentucky needed, at least on this given night. It’s not the five anyone expected to change UK’s fate in the game, but they were the five to flip the script and put the Cats on the right side of the scoreboard. Green was great in setting up teammates and hitting some big shots, Richards kept grabbing every rebound in sight, and EJ Montgomery made a strong case for taking some of PJ Washington’s minutes.
In the end, it was Kentucky on top, 71-59, but the victory did little to prove UK is a good team. It will be a good team in time, but it’s not a good team right now and it’s far from the national contender we thought it was only a few weeks ago. Some of the players we thought would be stars aren’t anywhere near stars, and the team as a whole sometimes looks like they’ve never met each other. The cohesiveness and competitiveness will improve with experience, but it’s going to be a long couple of months until Calipari has them rolling — and I have no doubt he will.
Moving forward, defense should be an immediate point of emphasis because Kentucky is giving up straight-line drives and completely falling apart against the pick-and-roll. Protecting the ball should also be near the top of the to-do list after turning the ball over 19 times in this one. Finding the right shot is also a problem.
They’ll be fine, though.
Coach Cal said so after the game. “Let’s get this together. Let’s enjoy the process,” he told fans.
Until then, the ride is going to be a little bumpy.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©November 09th, 2018 @ 10:54pm
For the fourth-consecutive game, exhibition and regular season, the Kentucky Wildcats left a lot to be desired out on the floor. They’ve been inconsistent shooting the ball, horrendous on defense, and for a group Kentucky head coach John Calipari raved about this offseason, it’s just been a massive disappointment.
We thought this group would be hungry coming into their second regular season game against a potential NCAA Tournament team in Southern Illinois. The official Kentucky basketball social media accounts preached throughout the week that they’d come out firing on all cylinders against the Salukis.
But for the first 30 minutes of the game, we found ourselves in yet another head-scratcher, leaving fans questioning just how good this team actually is.
John Calipari said in his postgame press conference that he’s frustrated that he scheduled such difficult games to start the season.
“Hard second game,” he said. “I’m still mad we scheduled it. I’m mad we scheduled the first one when we did. And after we played two exhibitions games I knew where we were.”
Calipari continued by saying he was caught off guard by his team’s performance in Indianapolis against Duke. In his mind, he didn’t prepare his team well enough against such a talented opponent.
“I never saw coming what happened up there,” Calipari said. “You know why? Because I really didn’t have a good read. That’s my job as a coach is to have a good read on where we are. I had no read at all. … Obviously I wasn’t as disciplined myself or asking enough from them.”
Fortunately, the Cats were able to turn roughly 70 minutes of extremely poor basketball to start the regular season into a winning performance down the stretch to pull off the 71-59 victory.
Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley, who finished with a team-high 15 points, acknowledged his team’s sluggish start, but was pleased with their ability to bounce back down the stretch. He believes the Wildcats are just scratching the surface.
“Nobody was rattled, really,” he said. “That just shows the resiliency and toughness of this team. I think we can really be good.”
Quickley said the only way to bounce back from a horrendous loss is to move on and understand there’s still a long way to go in the season.
“You bounce back by moving on,” said Quickley. “I think this team is a great team, we still believe in each other, coach still believes in us. We just have to come to work each and every day.”
Freshman center EJ Montgomery said it was a mindset issue, and he believes they got it back down the stretch.
“We had to get our mindset back together, try to go out there and fight and be together as a team,” he said. “Just go out and get a win.”
For Sophomore center Nick Richards, the difference between the Duke game and their performance against Southern Illinois comes down to that brief stretch in the second half when the Cats found themselves down by seven points. Instead of sulking and chalking up the ugly performance as a loss, they fought back to take control for their first victory of the season.
“You just have to put stuff in the past,” Richards said. “Coach tells us all the time, what happens in the past stays in the past. You just have to look toward the future because that’s what really matters. We just looked on to this game and not last game, and you see what happens. We were down seven at one point, fought back to get the lead, guys stepped up their game.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©November 09th, 2018 @ 10:50pm
JOHN CALIPARI: Southern Illinois, veteran players, well coached, he does a great job with his team. An NCAA tournament level team. Missed some threes today that could easily have beat us, but hard second game. I’m still mad we scheduled it. I’m mad we scheduled the first one when we did. And after we played two exhibitions games I knew where we were. But we made strides today. Nick made strides. Immanuel made strides. P.J. made strides. Quade made strides. And just so you know I’m riding the guys that are playing. If you’re fighting like crazy and making good decisions then I’m going to ride you and we’re going to play. We had some guys not play well. I said just be happy we won and figure it out. I got a pretty good mindset of how I’m going to do this now and I’m glad that we really got smashed, so there’s no question. What if we would have lost by five or six? Oh, we’re okay. No, no, we’re not okay. And so my mindset and how I’ve got to go forward and what I’m going to emphasize and what I’m going to demand. If you demand a lot, you get a lot. If you accept mediocrity, you’re going to get it every time. If you accept them doing what they choose to when they choose to, that’s what you get and you get sloppy play and you can’t win ball games. So I have a pretty good mindset. I was more aggressive today. Could you tell? I was a little more aggressive today. And I was happy with Immanuel and how he dealt with it, because it’s what it is. It’s a man’s world, let’s go.
Q. You are down 44-37 and then you go on the run. What changed over the next couple of minutes for you guys to get everything going?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, first of all, we were down eight because they made that free throw, I believe. Didn’t we go down eight? We never went down eight?
Q. Not that time.
JOHN CALIPARI: Fine. Well, at some point. And I told the guys, I was glad, because I have to figure out who is going to be able to make plays, stops, make good decisions. I tell you what a great play was. The play where Quade went under the basket to help Nick, so they couldn’t throw it over the top and still stole the skip pass and threw it ahead and we dunked. Basically that was the game. Now he could have gone under and if the skip went, let the guy get a three and maybe they win the game? And he says, well, you wanted me to help, which we’re getting some of that right now. Well, yeah, we do, but we also want you to be able to play your man. He, a veteran move. I thought Immanuel played really well, made big shots when we needed. But, again, he took a tough shot going down the middle with about 17, 18 on the shot clock. Why are we doing that? I thought Quade took one standing on the wing and threw a desperation three. We didn’t need it at that point. But how about the play where we threw it ahead to Keldon? Did anybody think he was going to pass that ball? Not one soul who watched it who was in the gym, people were sleeping saying, oh, he’s shooting that one. And he passed it because of the shot clock. And he passed it. P.J. rebounded that last ball instead of trying to get his, he passes it out so he can finish the game. We made strides. Some guys didn’t play well. So, move on. Next game. Let’s figure it out.
Q. Especially in the first half you struggled with turnovers. Not so much in the second half. What changed?
JOHN CALIPARI: Look away passes, make the hardest play, throw bounce passes instead of a lobs, loose with the ball. Keldon and P.J. had three each at half. Like, wait a minute, what, how? So we did have a lot of turnovers, and we got some guys who got to get better with the ball. We got to get better with the ball too. We’re going to show them tomorrow all 19 turnovers and I’ll have one question after each one. Was that necessary? Some of them were pretty good plays, okay, they got a hand on it. But my guess is nine of them like were like, why in the world would you even attempt that? Today I thought some guys played for us. I thought every single guy last game played for themselves. Every single guy on the court. Today they played for each other. But we had to or we wouldn’t have won the game.
By Maggie Davis on ©November 09th, 2018 @ 10:35pm
The Cats led Southern Illinois by just three points at halftime: 31-28.
After basically three halves of incredibly frustrating basketball, Kentucky had to find a way to win against the Salukis tonight. Now, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to write.
And yet, Coach Calipari and his team finally did just that – and just in time to come away with the win. The Cats cut their number of turnovers from 14 in the first half to just five in the second. Kentucky scored just 31 points in the first 20 minutes of action; in the back half of the game, they scored 40. What was the difference? Nick Richards says it was the team’s attitude and aggression.
“That’s not something coaches can teach. That’s just something we as a team have to come together and put our foot down and say that’s not going to ever happen to us again,” referring to their lackadaisical efforts against Duke. “And today, we saw ourselves going back toward that in the beginning and just fought through it. We got some defensive stops…coaches drew up some wonderful plays and we just got a “W” out of it.”
Even Calipari came out with more aggression tonight, according to the head coach himself.
“I was more aggressive today. Could you tell? I was a little more aggressive today,” Cal said. “And I was happy with Immanuel [Quickley] and how he dealt with it, because it is what it is. It’s a man’s world, let’s go.”
Kentucky definitely brought a stronger performance in the second half, but Southern Illinois started to slip up as well. Kentucky’s bench was too deep for the Salukis to handle, and once UK started picking up the pace and drawing fouls, the Cats began to pull away.
“We knew that wasn’t the best we could do in the first half,” Richards said. “Coaches were just telling us to keep pushing for it, keep pushing for it, keep fighting. They said [Southern Illinois] would eventually let go of the rope and you saw what they did – they let go of the rope.”
And thank goodness they did.
The Duke hangover lingered in Kentucky’s 71-59 win over Southern Illinois, and afterwards, John Calipari opened up about the reality check his team has been facing this week.
“We had some guys that got mad last practice. Got mad for holding them accountable. No, do it again. And I had to explain to them, you’re not supposed to be mad. I’m supposed to be mad. You got this backwards.”
Cal once again accepted the blame for Kentucky’s poor effort vs. Duke and said he’s going back to holding his team’s feet to the fire in hopes of making them more disciplined.
“What you’ll see is a much more disciplined basketball team. That’s not on these kids. That’s on me. The way they played up there, each of them looked bad. Not one of them looked good. That’s on me. And I let them go out there and play that way. I got a lot of work. We got a lot of work to do to get this team where it needs to go.”
Cal hinted that the players have been reading criticism from fans on social media, but said they need to block out the noise and toughen up if they hope to make it at Kentucky.
“They talk about the fans. My guys are saying these fans. Our fans are the best. Do you know how many people showed up in Indianapolis? It was crazy, people were blown away. They deserved a better effort than we gave them, but guess what, fans, we’re not ready for that yet. Please stay with us. And if you’re mad at anybody, you should be mad right at me, not these kids.”
“They’re going to do what I’m asking them to do. Obviously I wasn’t as disciplined myself or asking enough from them. But they get here, they find out, wow, this is hard. Tyler’s figuring it out. Keldon’s figuring it out. Ashton’s figuring it out. Stuff’s hard here. And you can’t just do what you want to do.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©November 09th, 2018 @ 9:58pm
One of the few bright spots for Kentucky tonight was Nick Richards’ performance on the boards. The sophomore had 19 rebounds, which ties Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the most in a single game in the Calipari era. He also had eight points and three blocks.
“We need Nick on the court,” John Calipari said afterwards. “I knew after Duke, when they shot layup, layup, layup, you’ve got to have a shot blocker in there. We need him on the floor. I thought EJ played well too, by the way. The three blocks, and EJ got two, that’s five blocks. That’s five blocks. That changes — now you’re not going in there to shoot layups. I thought we collapsed on defense better.
“Nick gives us something we don’t have. Now, he should have had about ten more points. He faded away on shots. There’s still that stuff, fumbled a couple balls, one-handed caught a couple of balls, but if he’ll fight and go after balls and block shots, we can deal with the rest of it. He was good. I was happy for him. I was worried. The exhibition games and even the last game, you worry. You want every kid to play well.”
According to analytics, Richards was the best player on the court tonight, with a team-high efficiency of 22 and +/- of 14. As Calipari said, the Cats were simply better when he was on the floor.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©November 09th, 2018 @ 9:42pm
As expected, Southern Illinois head coach Barry Hinson brought the heat to tonight’s press conference. Hinson, whose rant after losing to Murray State in 2013 is the stuff of legend, started things off by telling the Big Blue Nation they need to back off this young Kentucky team.
“You need to read the Book of Job. You need to have a little patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day. These guys are 18, 19, 20 years old. And you have children, children of your own. You want to microwave the maturation process and you can’t do that. It takes time, so back off and let these guys go through the maturation process and let John Calipari do what he does best and by March, you’re going to have something on the floor you can be really proud of.”
“You can’t microwave maturation,” Hinson added later. “No matter how much you stick Tyler Herro in a microwave, he’s not going to get older faster.
Hinson didn’t stop there, dropping gems about his team’s effort, WKYT’s Brian Milam’s excellent news reports, and the home cooking by the refs.
“I coached hard. I told the managers to get ready. The way the officiating was going, I thought we were going to have to check one of them in at times.”
My favorite line of the night came when Hinson was asked how his team could improve after tonight’s game.
“I’d really like to get a lot taller. We’ve gonna go work on that when we get back on the bus. We’ve got a bunch of these tall pills we’re going to start taking. They’re placebos but we’re gonna see if they work.”
LOL. Can we add this guy to the staff, please?
MBB: IUP Postgame Press Conference
Posted by Kentucky Basketball on Friday, November 9, 2018
By Nick Roush on ©November 09th, 2018 @ 9:41pm
Kentucky’s first win of the season was far from perfect. Despite an inept first half, there were still plenty of memorable moments in the Cats’ 71-59 win over Southern Illinois.
By TJ Walker on ©November 09th, 2018 @ 9:21pm
It was another ugly performance for the Cats. Kentucky trailed once trailed by eight to Southern Illinois, but fought back to pickup its first win of the season 71-59.
Here are five takeaways from UK’s home opener.
1. The Win:
That was frustrating, but at least the Cats finally turned it on and beat a pesky Southern Illinois team. The first half was horrendous and the start of the second half was even worse. Kentucky looked disinterested, lethargic and had no interest in taking care of the ball. That’s pretty concerning coming off the beatdown on Tuesday, but UK did eventually wake up and used 26-13 run to close out the game. A run like that is impressive and runs like that are what we expected from this group. We all wanted to see UK come out fired up, but at least they eventually did pull it together.
Fans are going to panic and give up on this team, and they’re entitled to do whatever they want regardless of how asinine it may be, but UK finished on a high note and even in the ugliness there were some bright spots. This isn’t going to be a buttslapper post. I’m going to touch on plenty of negatives, but for the first time this season the Cats have some momentum and I’m excited to see what they do next week.
2. Point Guards:
I really liked the way Immanuel Quickley and Quade Green worked together in the second half, especially Green. I still have some major issues with the point guard play overall, but at least we finally saw some potential in the final 15 minutes. Someone needs to step up and let’s hope that tonight was the start for Immanuel Quickley and Quade Green. Green is comfortable playing off the ball and Quickley finally took control having the ball in his hands. Green did, too. Let’s build off that. Both hit some big shots but the difference is they didn’t force but maybe one or two shots in the second half. They worked within the offense and their bigs, and when they shot it was the smart shot (again, with a couple exceptions).
However, the turnovers are ridiculous and completely inexcusable. Six turnovers from the three guards. Yes, six turnovers from three players when the team combined for 19 (unreal) isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it can’t happen from your point guards and ball handlers. If bigs and wings are careless, whatever, but you have to be able to rely on your point guards. I really, really like Ashton Hagans’ potential and think he can be a stud, but if he’s not going to score (and that’s OK, he’s not a scorer) he has to bring something to the table defensively and with his passing. That’s what he should do and what we expected from him, but we haven’t seen it yet and I’m not sure he can play serious minutes until he comes alive in games.
UK will go several possessions playing solid defense. SIU putting up 59 points isn’t concerning, but my goodness the discipline defensively is still incredibly worrisome. I had a few things that standout:
- If Reid or PJ are guarding a guy one-on-one on the block the guards and other bigs need to leave them be. This team gets lost all the time so they don’t need to make it tougher on themselves by doubling down on two experienced guys that are strong enough to defend by themselves.
- Close out on shooters. It’s horrendous. UK is completely content allowing a few inches, or feet, of space between them and the shooters. Why? If you’re already working hard to defend on the perimeter take the extra effort and force them another two or three feet off the line. PJ has been really bad at this.
- Pick-and-roll defense. Really it’s any defense while defending screens. UK is lost on how to defend it and it usually leads to at least two players being confused. Cal’s teams (with the exception of 12 and 15) usually struggle with this and look much better come March, so I won’t panic about this area just yet.
4. Sophomore Nick Richards:
Nick Richards’ basketball IQ is what it is. He’s not going to be the most experienced player on the floor and he’s still relatively new to the game, but grow at your own pace, big fella. As long as he keeps playing with that effort he’s going to make a difference for UK. He doesn’t have a great touch offensively and he still bobbles the ball too much, but he is twice the rebounder he was last season and he’s finally using his big ol’ frame to make a difference.
I’m not sure how it all shakes out with Kentucky’s bigs. PJ and Reid were expected to be the guys, but EJ was solid tonight and we know he has a high ceiling. Richards deserves to start next game after his performance tonight. Hell, he should take PJ’s spot after another questionable performance.
The three blocks from Richards was nice, too. He should average three blocks against inferior opponents. 19 rebounds are tied for the most in the Calipari era (MKG) and I nearly shed a tear when his layup in the final two minutes rimmed out keeping him from a double-double.
5. Moving Forward:
Let’s just take things one game at a time moving forward with this Kentucky team. Let’s stop worrying about the Final Four, tournament seeding and how good or how bad this UK team is or can be. Fans are going to struggle enjoying this team because they are already thinking they can’t/won’t make a deep March run. Why punish yourselves like that? This is supposed to be fun.
My focus is going to be on watching this team grow and hoping to see that growth each and every night. Kentucky doesn’t play a somewhat decent team for another month, and really doesn’t play an elite game until UNC on 12/22. When that game gets here let’s hope UK looks drastically better than they did tonight, but don’t expect or anticipate that happens by the time UK plays North Dakota on Wednesday night. It’s going to be a process.
Come Wednesday night let’s expect and hope to see UK look better. Let’s hope the communication is better, defensively there are less errors and the Cats need to clean up the mistakes. It’s a long ways to March but the potential is there from this group. It’s going to be a process but it can still be a fun process if you let it.