Basketball Season Coverage
By Jack Pilgrim on ©January 23rd, 2019 @ 11:00pm
After a slow start to the season with numerous lackluster performances, the Kentucky Wildcats have turned things around in a major way. They’ve rattled off victories against four teams ranked in the top 25, and following a 21-point beatdown at home against No. 22 Mississippi State, they’re finding their groove at the perfect time.
So what’s working for the 15-3 (5-1 in the SEC) Wildcats?
From the top of the roster to the bottom, we’re starting to see consistency and balance shine through. Five different players have led the team in scoring throughout the season, with each of them accomplishing that feat at least twice. Six different players have led the team in rebounds, while four have led the team in assists. They’re attacking opponentson both ends of the floor in different ways with various weapons, and teams just don’t know how to stop it.
Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said the pressure got to his team and they just weren’t able to handle it. The Wildcats overwhelmed them.
“I thought they really pressured us and we didn’t handle that pressure very well,” he said after the game. “We should be able to handle that better than we did. I thought in the first half we were penetrating, which was what we needed to do. They were so spaced out. We have to attack the basket. We were getting in there and not jump stopping. We were getting sped up. You have to stop and slow down.”
As far as specific players go, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro have obviously been major scoring threats throughout the year, Ashton Hagans is a terror on defense, PJ Washington and Reid Travis have each been forces on the inside, and Immanuel Quickley’s shot is coming on. Heck, even Jemarl Baker has his 3-and-D role carved out for him in limited minutes. The roles are there.
With Kentucky centers Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery, however, it’s been more of a struggle in terms of consistency and finding their respective grooves. They’ve each had flashes of brilliance, but never enough to truly dominate on either end of the floor.
Against the Bulldogs last night, though, they both had small breakthroughs that the team believes could absolutely change the entire landscape of the season moving forward. They just need to be able to replicate that on a game-to-game basis.
Richards finished with eight points, six rebounds, and a block off the bench, while Montgomery added five points, two rebounds, one steal, and one block. Neither had earth-shattering numbers, but their big moments came in crucial times of the game.
After a few missed gimmes and an ugly turnover early, Montgomery had a momentum-shifting block on one end, which led to a massive dunk on the other for Richards with 12:51 remaining. Kentucky’s three point lead turned to five, which then turned to 14 at the 7:32 mark. It was the turning point of the game.
“I mean, did you see him block that shot?” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after the victory. “It changed the game. If we had another big guy in, and he just acted like, well, it’s not my man and didn’t block that shot and that ball goes in, we could have lost the game.
“That changed the game. Those kind of plays, one, they make it so guards won’t drive in there, but two, they changed the game because you get breakouts down the other end. And he and Nick are able to do that for us.”
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 23, 2019
And then for good measure, Montgomery sank a three-pointer from the left elbow with just 2:50 remaining in the second half, his first make from deep of the season. He has fallen in love with taking long twos, and though they look solid coming off his hands, the 6-foot-11 freshman is never able to make them fall. With his first made three in the books, Calipari wonders if this is what he needed to finally break through.
“I told him, “It’s the first one he made all year. It’s good that you made one finally.” I keep telling him, he’s going to break through and everybody is going to say, oh, my gosh, who is this guy,” Calipari said.
Kentucky guard Tyler Herro said Montgomery’s improved play isn’t a surprise, as the entire team has seen it in practice. But when it finally happened out on the floor on Tuesday evening, it was a game-changer.
“EJ has been making great shots throughout the season, he works hard every day at practice,” Herro said. “EJ’s play today changed the game today, he sparked us a little bit. (Once he finds his rhythm) he’s going to be another great contribution for us, but he’s already playing really well. For him to come in and make plays like that, it’s big.”
When asked if Montgomery was the difference-maker in taking this team to the next level, Kentucky point guard Hagans said it isn’t just him with that potential impact. He said they’re going to need Richards’ continued development, as well.
Once that happens, Hagans believes things are going to get scary.
“Not just EJ, we’re going to need Nick too,” he said. “When Nick get in, it’s great, he’s just great on the court. EJ also. EJ is going to get it going when the season goes along, and once he gets it going, we’re going to be one hell of a team.”
By Maggie Davis on ©January 23rd, 2019 @ 10:15pm
Tonight on Hey Kentucky, Matt Jones is joined by Perrin Johnson. March is quickly approaching, which means it’s time for BRACKETOLOGY! If the tournament started today, what would the matchups look like? How would Kentucky do? And if the Cats had to play Duke for a chance at the Final Four, who would come out on top?
Check it out!
For more videos from Hey Kentucky!, head to HeyKentucky.com
Calipari still waiting for EJ Montgomery’s breakout game, but knows he “changed the game” against against Mississippi State
By Maggie Davis on ©January 23rd, 2019 @ 9:30pm
EJ Montgomery made some mistakes against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, but he also made some clutch plays to help the Cats finally pull away in the second half. One, of course, was his block that set up Nick Richards’ fast-break dunk.
“I keep telling [Mongtomery], he’s going to break through and everybody is going to say, ‘Oh, my gosh, who is this guy?’” Calipari said after the win. “I mean, did you see him block that shot? It changed the game. If we had another big guy in, and he just acted like, ‘well, it’s not my man,’ and didn’t block that shot and that ball goes in, we could have lost the game. That changed the game.”
In addition to his “game-changing” block, Montgomery also sank his first three-point ball of the season.
“I told him, ‘It’s the first one you made all year. It’s good that you made one finally,'” Calipari laughed.
On the season, Montgomery is shooting just under 46 percent from the floor and, thanks to his single trey, 20 percent from the three-point line. He’s recorded double-digit minutes in four of the Cats’ last five games, but he’s taken the second-fewest shots out of all of the players in the main rotation (Richards has taken the fewest (41); Montgomery has taken 74). And although Montgomery’s game may not be progressing as quickly as some of his teammates’ (see: Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro), the other Wildcats have his back.
“EJ [Montgomery] had a great game. The stats sheet won’t show that, but it felt like he had 20 [points] and 10 [rebounds] for us,” PJ Washington said. We’re happy for him. He blocks shots and rebounds really well, so once he gets his time on the court, he’s going to do great with it.”
Part of his issue is still confidence. As one of four Kentucky big men in the rotation, Montgomery doesn’t always have the opportunity – or, perhaps, directive – to step back and take shots.
“We know he can make shots – he does it in practice a lot,” Washington said. “We’re willing to let him take those in a game. He just has to be confident and let those go. One went in today, and I think his confidence went up as well.”
If he can hone in on his shooting ability while still grabbing rebounds and blocking shots, the ball will really be in his court.
“We had a stretch where our two bigs [Washington and Travis] were going through the motions and couldn’t fight. Okay, bang: you’re out. We’ll play these two, [Montgomery and Nick Richards],” Calipari said after Tuesday’s game. “And I told those two, play as many minutes as you can play. You need a break, let me know. We’ll sub a guy off the bench and when you want to go back in, you go back in.”
Not a bad deal. But if he’s going to be the game changer Calipari believes him to be, he still has some work to do.
By Maggie Davis on ©January 23rd, 2019 @ 8:00pm
Jamal Murray had quite the hot hand during his time as a Wildcat, and now he’s emerging as one of the NBA’s young stars. The 21-year-old point guard for the Denver Nuggets is averaging 18.8 points and 4.9 assists per game, but it’s his constant dedication to perfecting his shot that makes him stand out among dozens of talented players.
In a profile by ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Murray’s intense diligence and consistently-competitive nature are on full display. While his appearances (sometimes up to three in one day) inside Denver’s practice facility are impressive, it’s nothing compared to how he grew up playing the game in Canada:
“Try shooting 3-pointers outside, in the snow, with a bitter Ontario wind ripping through you, after you’ve just held a deep-knee squat for 12 minutes, a cup of piping hot tea carefully balanced on your thigh to make sure you do not waver — all this executed under the watchful eye of your father, a martial arts enthusiast and basketball junkie who has been honing your skills since you were an infant.”
In addition to his physical fitness, Murray also devotes time to improving his mental state. Meditation has become part of his routine over the last several years, and he’s not to be interrupted during this time, “not even during a recruiting visit in 2015 from Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne, who approached Murray one day as he finished his workout, only to be instructed by [Murray’s father] to wait while Jamal sat cross-legged, eyes blissfully shut, in a corner of the gym,” according to the profile.
The article also talks about Murray’s upbringing in Canada, his relationship with Coach Calipari and his highest (and lowest) stretches throughout his time in the league. It’s a great read that gives readers a fascinating look into the player – and man – Jamal Murray is becoming.
By Maggie Davis on ©January 23rd, 2019 @ 7:00pm
Throughout this season, Kentucky has seen two sides of PJ Washington. Sometimes, he’s on fire, as he was throughout most of the UK vs. Mississippi State game – against the Bulldogs, he finished with 21 points, six rebounds and four blocks. But there are also plenty of other times, sometimes in critical moments, when Washington seemingly disappears.
And that’s what’s frustrating John Calipari.
“He’ll dunk on you; he’ll go get a rebound in traffic; he’ll go block, and when he doesn’t, he posts up and the guy runs around him and tips it away,” Calipari said of Washington’s skill set and potential. “He has that game, but he also has that other game and we’ve just got to tell him, it’s not acceptable.”
That “other” game, of course, happens when Washington does that disappearing thing. And although he finished with an impressive stat sheet against Mississippi State, Calipari says it wasn’t good enough.
“I still think he played without that motor parts of the game, and that’s what was making me angry,” Calipari said. “Come on, man – battle. But that’s how good I think he is.”
So, what does happen to turn Washington’s motor off during a game?
“I have no idea,” Washington said. “If I knew that, it wouldn’t slow down. I’m just trying to watch a lot of film with [assistant coach Kenny Payne].”
While he may not be able to pinpoint exactly how or why it turns off, he does know how it gets flipped back on: getting benched.
“Sometimes I’ll get lackadaisical and won’t get a rebound or something, and that’s when [Calipari] will take me out,” Washington said. “Then, when I come back in, I just try to get the flow going and try to get aggressive.”
That’s exactly what happened against the Bulldogs.
“I told P.J. today, ‘I let you out six minutes and, you know what, you came in and played as good as you played all year,'” Calipari said. “Maybe I should leave you out six minutes – maybe that gets you going; maybe you need to rest.”
But, of course, Washington doesn’t think so.
“I kinda get mad a little bit,” Washington laughed when asked about his reaction to being pulled from the action. “I always want to be in the game, so I’ve just got to make sure I’m always doing the right thing.”
If he’s trying to always do the right thing, recording 21 points and four blocks is certainly a step in the right direction. But it has to become more consistent – he just can’t let that motor turn off again, especially against Kansas.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©January 23rd, 2019 @ 6:00pm
Following yet another victory against a top-25 opponent in Mississippi State on Tuesday evening, the Kentucky Wildcats are easily considered one of the top teams in all of college basketball. Sitting at 15-3 on the year (5-1 in SEC play) with five consecutive victories, the Wildcats are ranked No. 8 in the latest AP Poll and KenPom rankings.
As of today, Kentucky has four victories over teams currently ranked in the top 25 in North Carolina (11), Auburn (16), MSU (22) and Louisville (23), with three of those wins coming away from home. They also have matchups with Kansas (9), at Mississippi State (22), LSU (25), Tennessee (1), Auburn (16), at Tennessee (1), and at Ole Miss (20) left on the schedule before we even get to the SEC Tournament.
If the Cats can keep trekking forward and rack up victories against the conference’s best, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better resume in the nation than Kentucky’s when Selection Sunday rolls around.
Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said it best last night: the Wildcats have the depth, experience, and talent to be a dangerous, dangerous team come March.
He started with the Kentucky frontcourt.
“It really helps to have a fifth year in Reid (Travis),” he said. “There is a lot of experience between him and PJ Washington. For him to be a sophomore and be as good as he is, they have two really experienced guys up there. Nick Richards is back for his sophomore year, it’s just something that hasn’t always happened because these guys sometimes leave early. I think those three guys really anchor their front line.”
And he continued with the Wildcat backcourt, saying Kentucky head coach John Calipari deserves a lot of credit for what he has been able to get out of this group so early in conference play.
“I think their perimeter players, those three freshmen are really good,” Howland said. “They have Ashton (Hagans) who is 19 years old and he’s mature. I think Tyler (Herro) is fantastic, he really hurt us early tonight. … Those guys did a really good job and I think Immanuel (Quickley) give them good depth coming in. He’s a real high level guard. They don’t drop out when he comes in the game. So, they’ve got good depth and they are playing with a lot of poise.
“Part of it is their schedule, they have played a tough schedule early. Think about where they were during the first game of the year versus Duke. It’s credit to John (Calipari) and his staff – Hall of fame coach.”
After the game, Calipari said that while a 21-point victory against a ranked Mississippi State team and a 5-1 start in the SEC certainly feels spectacular, he needs his team to continue to have that same hunger every night for them to reach their goal of contending for a national championship.
“They are getting better,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to keep an eye on being humble and being hungry. Not, you know, getting carried away, because we’re just — we’re just beginning the climb of where we need to go. … They are engaged. We had a coach come in the gym the other day and watch us practice and said, man, are they engaged. They are really locked into what you’re doing and what you’re trying to do as a team.”
When asked about keeping that focus and hunger in such a tough stretch of games, Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans said that competitive spirit kicks in while playing against tough opponents. He says he’s confident in his team’s mindset moving forward.
“Coming off a tough win at Auburn against a great team, we just came in knowing we had to play another really tough team (in Mississippi State),” he said. “And then we know we have another tough team coming in here on Saturday. We just have to keep listening to what the coaches have going on at practice, keep the gameplan going. We’re looking a lot better on the defensive end, and that’s really all it is.”
For Hagans, he says it’s a fantastic feeling to have a group of teammates that understands their roles and gives it their all from tip-off to final buzzer.
“It feels good going out there knowing I’ve got my guys with me. We always go out there and try to fight the whole 40 minutes. I feel like this entire team is getting better, everybody is playing their role that coach has given us. We’ll see how the season goes from here,” the defensive standout said with a grin.
Calipari says a big part of that fight has to do with Hagans himself leading the way. When he goes about his business and fights the way he does on each possession, his teammates follow his lead. As a result, the wins are coming at a rapid pace and the chemistry is the best it’s been since the season began.
“I thought Ashton (Hagans), when you’re on the ball, playing like he plays, it bleeds into everybody else,” he said. “If your guy at the point is getting beat on a dribble and can’t control the guy a little bit, you’re in jeopardy. That’s why when we recruit point guards, if we have a guy, I tell them: How are we going to start our defense if he can’t stay in front of the ball? The stats don’t matter to me; can he do it. Last year, Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) did it, and now Ashton does it.”
Kentucky guard Tyler Herro says growth and maturity has been a major reason for his team’s consistent success here in the heat of conference play. As the game has slowed down for the newcomers, productivity has picked up.
“I think the game is slowing down for everybody,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, I think we were all really young, but we’re starting to mature a lot more. We’re really getting better game to game.”
They can prove it on Saturday by knocking off No. 9 Kansas at Rupp Arena when College GameDay comes to town.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 23rd, 2019 @ 5:00pm
Kentucky is currently 15-3 overall, 5-1 in conference play. What will that record look like at the end of the regular season?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a time machine, but I do have access to the Sagarin and KenPom ratings, both which include predictions for the rest of the season. Obviously, the chances these numbers turn out to be right isn’t great, but it’s a rainy day, so let’s have some fun and look ahead.
Sagarin Predictor: 27-4, 16-2 in conference play
Kentucky’s current Sagarin Predictor rating is 89.14, ninth best in the country. The home advantage is 3.1. Using those numbers and the numbers of Kentucky’s opponents, the Sagarin Predictor has the Cats finishing the regular season 27-4, the only loss being at Tennessee.
|Sat, Jan 26||HOME||Kentucky 92.24||Kansas 89.61|
|Tue, Jan 29||AWAY||Kentucky 89.14||Vanderbilt 82.31|
|Sat, Feb 2||AWAY||Kentucky 89.14||Florida 88.82|
|Tue, Feb 5||HOME||Kentucky 92.24||South Carolina 78.24|
|Sat, Feb 9||AWAY||Kentucky 89.14||Mississippi State 88.25|
|Tue, Feb 12||HOME||Kentucky 92.24||LSU 85.66|
|Sat, Feb 16||HOME||Kentucky 92.24||Tennessee 91.03|
|Tue, Feb 19||AWAY||Kentucky 89.14||Missouri 82.18|
|Sat, Feb 23||HOME||Kentucky 92.24||Auburn 88.38|
|Tue, Feb 26||HOME||Kentucky 92.24||Arkansas 81.24|
|Sat, Mar 2||AWAY||Kentucky 89.14||Tennessee 94.13|
|Tue, Mar 5||AWAY||Kentucky 89.14||Ole Miss 86.33|
|Sat, Mar 9||HOME||Kentucky 92.24||Florida 85.72|
That’s pretty much a dream scenario and one I’d pay good money to see happen. Unfortunately, there is no way to put a point value on “Everybody’s Super Bowl,” so you have to think the Cats have more slip ups than on the road vs. the current No. 1 team in the country.
KenPom: 23-8, 13-5 in conference play
The Cats are currently No. 8 in the KenPom ratings. KenPom also predicts future games and team’s final records, but the formula for the final records is based off cumulative probabilities, so in some cases — like this one — the numbers don’t match. I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand that, but KenPom’s projected record for Kentucky is 23-8, 13-5 in conference play. That would have them finishing third in the SEC, which could mean the late game Friday night at the SEC Tournament, depending on tiebreakers (gag):
KenPom’s individual game projections are much rosier, showing Kentucky only losing two more times, at Florida and at Tennessee (the far right column is percentage chance to win):
|Sat, Jan 26||HOME||Kentucky 74||Kansas 69||65%|
|Tue, Jan 29||AWAY||Kentucky 75||Vanderbilt 66||78%|
|Sat, Feb 2||AWAY||Kentucky 64||Florida 65||50%|
|Tue, Feb 5||HOME||Kentucky 82||South Carolina 66||92%|
|Sat, Feb 9||AWAY||Kentucky 72||Mississippi St. 71||51%|
|Tue, Feb 12||HOME||Kentucky 78||LSU 71||74%|
|Sat, Feb 16||HOME||Kentucky 75||Tennessee 74||51%|
|Tue, Feb 19||AWAY||Kentucky 69||Missouri 63||71%|
|Sat, Feb 23||HOME||Kentucky 76||Auburn 71||68%|
|Tue, Feb 26||HOME||Kentucky 79||Arkansas 66||88%|
|Sat, Mar 2||AWAY||Kentucky 71||Tennessee 77||27%|
|Tue, Mar 5||AWAY||Kentucky 73||Ole Miss 71||57%|
|Sat, Mar 9||HOME||Kentucky 68||Florida 61||73%|
Personally, I see two or three more losses for the Cats. One will undoubtedly come vs. Tennessee, probably at Thompson-Boling, and another at Mississippi State or Ole Miss. Add in a loss to Kansas on Saturday night or a random off night somewhere along the way and that feels about right; however, with the way this team’s building momentum right now, you never know.
How do you think Kentucky will finish the season? Pick their final record below:
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 23rd, 2019 @ 1:00pm
On Saturday, College GameDay will return to Rupp Arena for the eighth time. Recent history suggests that’s a bad sign for Kentucky vs. Kansas. The Cats have lost their last three GameDay games at Rupp Arena:
Kentucky in College GameDay games at Rupp Arena
|2/19/2005||Mississippi State at No. 5 Kentucky||Rupp Arena||W, 94-78|
|2/10/2007||No. 1 Florida at No. 18 Kentucky||Rupp Arena||L, 64-61|
|2/13/2010||No. 12 Tennessee at No. 2 Kentucky||Rupp Arena||W, 73-62|
|2/23/2013||Missouri at Kentucky||Rupp Arena||W, 90-83|
|2/15/2014||No. 3 Florida at No. 14 Kentucky||Rupp Arena||L, 69-59|
|1/28/2017||No. 2 Kansas at No. 4 Kentucky||Rupp Arena||L, 79-73|
|1/20/2018||Florida at No. 18 Kentucky||Rupp Arena||L, 66-64|
Kentucky has also lost its last three games vs. the Jayhawks: the Champions Classic last season and the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in 2016 and 2017. On the flip side, Kentucky did win its last GameDay game at West Virginia last season. Let’s hope that’s the only streak that continues on Saturday.
If you’re interested in going to GameDay, the show starts at 11 a.m. Admission is free and doors open at 9 a.m. After watching last night’s game, I just hope they don’t talk about Duke the whole time.
Jonathon Givony (formerly of Draft Express fame) has a new 2020 NBA mock draft up over on ESPN.com and it includes two current Wildcats and two future Wildcats.
Updating his mock draft after this past weekend’s Hoophall Classic, Givony has Jaden McDaniels, ESPN’s No. 1 overall player in the 2019 recruiting class, as the top overall pick in 2020. Right behind him is another familiar name, Anthony Edwards, at No. 2 overall to the Chicago Bulls. Edwards, a five-star guard, was in Lexington this week for his official visit to UK.
Missed target James Wiseman is third overall. The next name of note is current UK commit Khalil Whitney at No. 11 to play with De’Aaron Fox and Willie Cauley-Stein in Sacramento. Whitney’s UK classmate, Tyrese Maxey, is at No. 21 to Portland.
The most interesting takeaway from Givony’s mock draft is he has two current Wildcats, Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans, in the 2020 draft, which means he expects them to return to school. He has Herro at No. 18 to the Clippers, where he would join Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Hagans at No. 20 to Houston (one spot ahead of would-be backcourt-mate Maxey).
1. Jaden McDaniels (current UK target)
2. Anthony Edwards (current UK target)
3. James Wiseman, Fr., Memphis
11. Kahlil Whitney, Fr., Kentucky
16. Matthew Hurt (current UK target)
18. Tyler Herro, So., Kentucky
20. Ashton Hagans, So., Kentucky
21. Tyrese Maxey, Fr., Kentucky
33. LaMelo Ball
To see the entire ESPN.com mock draft, click here.
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Underrated moment in the game: Keldon Johnson and EJ Montgomery calming Nick Richards down.
It’s unclear what Nick Richards said when he was pulled from the game after a (bogus) foul call, but whatever he said, it caught the attention of teammates Keldon Johnson and EJ Montgomery. Johnson and Montgomery were quick to silence Richards’ frustration and lift his head up as Calipari walked by.
It’s what you want to see out of your team, especially two freshmen coming to the aid of a sophomore. But we really want to know what was said.
We need more of this enthusiasm in the lower level.
Big shout-out to Tyler Kratzer for bringing the energy to the eRupption Zone last night. Tyler is one of our employees at KSBar and Grille and we were thrilled to find out he didn’t have a heart attack during the game last night. We were a little worried.
He brings that same passion to work everyday.
You know what wasn’t a three-second violation? This.
However, the official called Reid Travis for a three-second violation. Reid Travis, who wasn’t standing in the lane.
Aric Holman didn’t score and that’s awesome because we learned he grew up a Louisville fan.
Mississippi State’s Aric Holman, a native of Owensboro, Ky., did not score a single point against Kentucky with 45 friends and family members in Rupp Arena to watch him play. Holman entered the game averaging 12.4 points for the Bulldogs in his senior season, but Kentucky’s bigs held him to ZERO in his final homecoming game in the Bluegrass.
More importantly, we learned on the broadcast that Holman grew up rooting for Louisville and dreamed of playing for the Cardinals. I no longer have any sympathy for my fellow Western Kentuckian.
Ben Howland had really nice things to say after the loss.
Read his opening remarks about the Cats:
“I thought the University of Kentucky was really impressive tonight. Facing them here, I liked their defense in particular, they really caused us a lot of problems. They forced us nine turnovers in the first half, although two or three of those were ones where we shot our self in the foot. I thought they had us playing fast and had us playing to where we were in a hurry rather than being in control offensively in the first half, and we were probably fortunate to only be down eight, and I thought we did a great job battling back. It was 41-39 and they called a timeout and we had some momentum at that point and right away they came out and really executed well on both ends of the floor. We were in about six or seven minutes where they were scoring four points and we really struggled tonight offensively and give them credit with their defense.”
Coach Cal hasn’t watched one thing on Kansas this season, he says. (Okay, four minutes, maybe.)
“I have not watched one thing on Kansas,” he said Tuesday night, when looking ahead to Saturday’s big game. “I watched a little bit of maybe Iowa State, maybe. I think I watched maybe four minutes of them, live TV. I can’t tell you one thing about how they play.”
He better get familiar with the Jayhawks because Bill Self and his fake hair and his ninth-ranked team will be here Saturday.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©January 22nd, 2019 @ 10:35pm
Coming off a big win at Auburn, Kentucky could easily have looked past tonight’s game vs. Mississippi State. Yes, the Bulldogs are ranked, but with No. 9 Kansas and College Gameday coming to town on Saturday, would anyone have been shocked if the Cats had slipped up? For a few tense moments in the second half, it looked like that might happen, but thankfully, Kentucky put its foot back on the gas and cruised past Mississippi State 76-55 for their fifth straight win. Let’s talk about it.
PJ Washington took over
A lot of guys played well tonight, but we have to start with PJ Washington. PJ hasn’t been the most consistent Cat this season but put the exclamation point on a string of good games with 21 points off 9-15 from the floor, 3-5 from the three-point line, six rebounds, and a career-high four blocks in 28 minutes. After a massive dunk about five minutes into the second half, PJ picked up two fouls and had to go to the bench, but when he came back in, scored eight quick points and blocked two shots to help put the Cats ahead by a comfortable margin. As Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said, when PJ’s playing like that, he’s hard to beat.
“[PJ Washington] looked like an All-SEC player to me,” Howland said. “What makes him so special is that he’s versatile…He can score in every way possible.”
PJ’s potential is one reason Calipari refuses to accept his lapses.
“PJ played. Four blocks, 21 points, and 6 rebounds, but I still think he played without that motor in parts of the game, and that’s what was making me angry. Come on, man. Battle. But that’s how good I think he is.”
This dunk said it all:
The defense was excellent
Kentucky held Mississippi State to 31.1 percent from the floor tonight, the third lowest field goal percentage by an opponent this season behind Monmouth (27.6) and Georgia (30.4). Coming into this game, the Bulldogs were hitting 48 percent from the floor and making nine threes a game; they were only 3-20 from beyond the arc tonight for 15 percent.
“Their defense caused us a lot of problems,” Howland said. “They got us playing fast and they got us to playing to where we were in a hurry rather than being in control offensively.”
Tyler Herro was a catalyst on offense
Herro followed up a clutch performance at Auburn with another big night, finishing with 18 points (5-10 FG), 5 rebounds, an assist and a steal. He was a perfect 3-3 from the three-point line and 5-5 from the free-throw line. When Kentucky’s offense stalled, more often than not, Herro was the one to get it going again, a promising sign from a player who continues to trend upwards.
Still too many lapses
After the win over Auburn, Calipari said he showed his team ten plays that gave Auburn a chance to win in the second half. The fact that Kentucky let Mississippi State cut the lead to two tonight and committed 16 turnovers is proof they’re still a work in progress.
“Those two or three plays, we’re making ourselves, they’re self-inflicted that let teams be in the games when we should be good enough to get away from teams,” Cal said. “It only takes one or two things to change the whole complexion of a game so we’re showing them, we’re talking about it.”
How about that three by EJ Montgomery?
Did EJ Montgomery listen to today’s show? The lanky freshmen reminded everyone that yes, he can shoot by making his first three of the season with 2:50 left in the game. The three was refreshing, but his block ten minutes earlier was much more important. With Kentucky’s lead down to three, Montgomery swatted Quinndary Weatherspoon’s shot, which Tyler Herro picked up and threaded to Nick Richards for a rim-rattling dunk.
“I keep telling him, he’s going to break through and everyone’s going to say, oh my gosh, who is that guy?” Calipari said of EJ after the game. “Did you see that block? It changed the game. If we had another big guy in and he acted like it’s not my man and didn’t block that shot, we could have lost the game. That changed the game.”
Did the KSR curse hit Nick Richards?
Nick Richards came into this game making 71.4 percent of his free throws, an impressive mark Matt just had to praise on the pregame show. Tonight, Nick only hit 4-8 from the charity stripe. That’s not a bad percentage for a big man, but is still proof the KSR curse lives on.
Keldon Johnson didn’t need a wakeup call
Ashton Hagans didn’t need to yell at Keldon Johnson tonight; after Mississippi State went up 4-0, Keldon scored seven of Kentucky’s first ten points, including two massive dunks. He went quiet in the second half, scoring only two points and grabbing two boards before fouling out with about six minutes left, but at that points, the Cats were up by 13. That foul on him was totally bogus, by the way.
Reid Travis owned the boards, but missed buckets
Kentucky won the rebounding battle 43-36 in large part thanks to Reid Travis, who had a team-high 12 boards. On the flip side, Reid was only 1-6 from the floor, a mark that Calipari said has to go up.
“I like the fact that Travis had 12 rebounds, but still, he’s missing some baskets he’s gotta make.”
Ashton’s steals streak came to an end
Unless UK sends out an updated box score crediting Ashton with another steal, his streak of games with three or more steals will end at seven. That being said, the freshman had a career-high nine assists and was once again a pest defensively.
“I thought Ashton, when you’re on the ball, playing like he plays, it bleeds into everybody else,” Cal said. “That’s why when we recruit point guards, if we have a guy, I tell them: How are we going to start our defense if he can’t stay in front of the ball? The stats don’t matter to me; can he do it. Last year, we had — Shea did it, and now Ashton does it.”
Get the tweak shirts back out because Calipari said he made a change on offense.
“We are still trying to mess with offense. I did a couple different things today that you guys don’t know basketball, so you wouldn’t know, but there was some things I did offensively that were different because I wanted to try some stuff. And I kind of liked one, and the other, I wasn’t so sure of.”
I think Cal listened to the pregame show and told EJ to go do his best Steph Curry impression. What’s your guess?
By Maggie Davis on ©January 22nd, 2019 @ 10:34pm
PJ Washington and Tyler Herro led the Cats in scoring against Mississippi State, with 21 and 18 points, respectively. Ashton Hagans finished with just five points, but he added nine assists and two steals. Hear what they had to say following the Cats’ 21-point win.
Herro talked about how the team was able to get off to a fast start, what the Cats did to extend the lead late in the game and how dominate PJ Washington can be when he’s playing his best:
Washington discussed his “motor,” what this team still needs to work on and how they were able to interrupt Mississippi State’s offensive rhythm:
Hagans talked about Kentucky’s defensive intensity and how EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards can make “one hell of a team” when they come together:
Read the full transcript from Coach Cal’s post-Mississippi State press conference.
Q. How concerned or curious were you how your team was going to play, coming off the big emotional win at Auburn?
JOHN CALIPARI: Every game we play, there’s emotion to it, so it’s a different feel for this program. Because whether it’s at Auburn or at Vanderbilt, they are all sold out and it’s a huge game, and so, we need to be more steady in how we do this, and we are.
I said the next, the Kansas game, is really, really big, because it’s the next game. I mean, we weren’t worried — I have not watched one thing on Kansas. I watched a little bit of maybe Iowa State, maybe. I think I watched maybe four minutes of them, live TV. I can’t tell you one thing about how they play.
This was about beating a top 20 team, a team that’s played well all year. A team that makes nine threes per game, missed some shots today, thank goodness, and then they rebounded like crazy. They are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. They missed a lot of shots that they normally make.
Q. Ben and one of his players was talking about your defense and how it sped them up, got them out of their rhythm. What did you think of your defense tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: I thought Ashton, when you’re on the ball, playing like he plays, it bleeds into everybody else. If your guy at the point is getting beat on a dribble and can’t control the guy a little bit, you’re in jeopardy.
That’s why when we recruit point guards, if we have a guy, I tell them: How are we going to start our defense if he can’t stay in front of the ball? The stats don’t matter to me; can he do it. Last year, we had — Shea did it, and now Ashton does it.
I tell you who else did it, and he was sick today, and we don’t know if he had a flu or a virus, was Jemarl Baker. So when I went back to him, he said, “Coach, I can’t feel my legs right now,” so that’s why I didn’t go back to him in the second half and he’s another one that’s really — and the guy that’s really improved is Tyler. Tyler went from not being able to stay in front of anybody to like he’s not bad. Now, he leaves his feet, at times, but he’s not bad.
How about EJ today? Aren’t we all waiting for him to go do that. You say: Well, if you just play him more. Well, if the other kid is playing well, it’s hard.
But today we had a stretch where our two bigs were going through the motions, couldn’t fight. Okay. Bang; you’re out. We’ll play these two. Now you become the backups to them.
And I told those two, play as many minutes as you can play, you need a break, let me know and we’ll sub a guy off the bench and when you want to go back in, you go back in.
Nick was good again today. I thought Nick did some good things. And I like the fact that Travis had 12 rebounds, but still, missing some baskets you’ve got to make.
Q. You beat me to the punch on EJ but how significant, if it was, was it for him to see a jumpshot go down? He’s had — obviously he’s a good shooter. Just doesn’t look like it so far. You talked about Tyler earlier in the season.
JOHN CALIPARI: I told him, “It’s the first one he made all year. It’s good that you made one finally.”
I keep telling him, he’s going to break through and everybody is going to say, oh, my gosh, who is this guy.
I mean, did you see him block that shot? It changed the game. If we had another big guy in, and he just acted like, well, it’s not my man and didn’t block that shot and that ball goes in, we could have lost the game.
That changed the game. Those kind of plays, one, they make it so guards won’t drive in there, but two, they changed the game because you get breakouts down the other end. And he and Nick are able to do that for us. P.J. had some blocks today.
P.J. played four blocks, 21 points and six rebounds and I still think he played without that motor parts of the game and that’s what was making me angry. Come on, man. Battle. But that’s how good I think he is.
With a 3-for-5 shooting night from outside in the win over Mississippi State, PJ Washington is now the leading three-point shooter on the team. Washington passed Keldon Johnson in three-point percentage with a 41.2% clip on 34 tries through 18 games played.
Anyone opposed to PJ taking that shot now?
Numbers don’t lie.