Good news, folks! UK looked much sharper in Wednesday’s 87-74 win over Winthrop. The bad news is Kentucky slept walked the final eight minutes. It was far from a perfect performance and Kentucky still struggled defending the perimeter, but we still saw plenty of positives.
Here are five takeaways from UK’s win over the Eagles.
1. The Win:
Four straight wins for UK! There have been several ups and a handful of downs during the month of November, but I think we saw the best stretch of UK basketball today. It wasn’t the best 40 minute game (I’d lean towards North Dakota) but the way UK started the second half was as impressive of a stretch as I can remember this season. This team’s bursts showcases their overall ability and while some folks aren’t high on this team they should still be considered a Final Four contender with the potential to win it all.
Obviously we know what happened when UK tried to run against Duke, but Kentucky will be at its best when they play uptempo. Several guys can get to the rim, but all week John Calipari talked about how good of a three-point shooting team he thought this group would be. We saw that today. The Cats hit seven threes and several more rattled out on open looks.
When UK is in the halfcourt it’s important for the Cats to work it inside-out, and we saw plenty of that today. Reid Travis, PJ Washington, Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery can all score on the block, but all four attract multiple defenders and have great passing instincts to kick it to wide open teammates on the perimeter.
2. Three-point shooting:
Like I mentioned, Calipari predicted this all week. Obviously Tyler Herro was on fire in the second half and he’s probably UK’s best shooter, but I have been really impressed with how far along Keldon Johnson’s shot has come in the last few months but especially since he was in high school and on the AAU circuit. We know Quade Green can hit outside shots and PJ and Reid have shown they can occasionally hit when open. That will likely mean at any given time UK will have three players on the floor that are good outside shooters. Immanuel Quickley has hit outside shots, too. That’s going to make this UK team incredibly tough to guard.
But where this team’s outside shooting is going to help UK the most is in SEC play. Most conference opponents will try to zone Kentucky and in the past UK’s inability to spread the floor has hurt them offensively. The Cats will have some off nights but this year should be different.
3. Three-Point Defense:
Still problematic, folks. The Cats gave up 13 made threes on the night and that makes 56 on the season. That’s an insanely high number and completely inexcusable. The Cats have run across some really good three-point shooting teams (or teams that at least throw up a lot of outside shots) but Kentucky must get better or it’s going to cost them games.
I couldn’t do it in the second half because of typing and liveblogging, but Winthrop took 17 threes in the first half. By my count 12 of those three were open and the Eagles made six of those open 12 shots. UK was in a good position on five of Winthrop’s threes and the Eagles made one contested shot. Simply put, you’re playing with fire giving up so many open shots.
Now, UK closed out on some of those open shots, but the opposing player had time to get set and get a shot up before a UK player was there. Several UK players were getting lost on defense, as they have most of the season, but Nick Richards is trying to protect the paint too much. Teams know that he’s looking to block shots and rebounds and they are daring him to drag out on the perimeter. When he doesn’t they get open outside shots. He needs to play further away from the basket and get his hand up.
4. Bad stretches:
What happened late in the second half is why this wasn’t UK’s best performance and why some fans are having a tough time buying in on this team. The Cats were outscored in the final 10 minutes and it’s a good thing Kentucky built the lead it did earlier in the half. Good teams win games but great teams blowout inferior opponents. There hasn’t been enough of that this season from Kentucky and it’s all effort. Competitors want to kill opposing teams. UK did it in the Bahamas, so I’m not sure what has changed over the last few months. Carelessness offensively and lackadaisical defense is to blame.
March is a long ways away and they have plenty of time to get better and work on closing out opponents, but the schedule won’t be this easy for too much longer.
5. Moving forward:
Kentucky gets Tennessee State on Friday and that needs to be a big win for the Cats. Tennessee State has already lost to Lipscomb, Arkansas Little Rock, CSU Northridge this season. There’s no excuse for the Cats to not to blow it open for a 30+ point win.
Today’s game only reassured me that offensively the Cats are going to be fine. 19 turnovers were way too many, but even despite the sloppy play the Cats scored 87 points and shot over 56 percent from the floor. I continue to hope to see Kentucky make strides on perimeter defense and cut down on the lazy lulls. The talent is there, but the Cats need to put to together for 40 minutes nightly.
Have a great Thanksgiving!