What a weekend for the Big Blue Nation. The basketball Cats opened their season Friday night with a scare from the Utah Valley Fighting Mark Popes, the football team finally got a dominant win over an SEC opponent on the road, and then Kentucky Basketball had another legitimate test against a veteran Vermont squad that came down to the wire.
As we look forward to the Champions’ Classic match-up between the Cats and the Kansas Jayhawks in Chicago on Tuesday night, let’s take a look at the good, bad, and ugly from the weekend at Rupp Arena.
PJ Washington’s performance versus Vermont.
Washington had a solid effort in Kentucky’s opening exhibition match-up with Thomas Moore College, tallying 15 points and 10 rebounds, but failed to reach double digit points against Morehead State and Utah Valley, and hadn’t recorded more than four rebounds since that opening exhibition...until Sunday.
Sunday was a bit of a coming out party for the 6’8” freshman from Dallas. Washington led the Cats in scoring against Vermont with 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds. The performance was enough for John Calipari to begin singing Washington’s praises in Sunday’s post game press conference “I thought PJ was a beast, finally,” the UK coach said.
Kentucky’s rebounding in Friday’s opener against Utah Valley.
While the Cats were much improved in this area on Sunday, Utah Valley outrebounded the Cats on Friday by a 39-38 margin. Sophomore Wenyen Gabriel gave the Cats 13 of those 38, while no other Wildcat grabbed more than six boards against the Wolverines Friday. The Cats were also outrebounded by Morehead State, 30-25, in one of their earlier exhibition games, causing some concern in the eyes of UK critics. But they bounced back Sunday, winning the battle of the boards 36-27 against Vermont.
Kentucky’s shooting vs. Utah Valley.
The Cats struggled shooting the ball Friday, with their field goal percentage Friday just below 40 percent and their free throw percentage was less than 70 percent. In the first half, Kentucky shot 20.6 percent from field goal range. It took a switch to a zone defense, something Calipari doesn’t do extremely often, before the Cats went on an 18-0 run in the second half to pull away. It was a hard fought victory against a team UK should have beaten by a lot more. Call it growing pains. But the improvement from Friday to Sunday gives me hope that the Cats will at least be competitive against Kansas on Tuesday night.
Tip off for the Cats and the Jayhawks Tuesday night is slated for 9:30 p.m. Eastern. The Champions Classic will be broadcasted live on ESPN.