After last Saturday’s thrilling win over Virginia Tech, the Cats getting a full week to prepare for the Bruins in the CBS Sports Classic.
Here are some takeaways from their reports:
Richards Working Extra
We’ve only seen glimpses of what freshman center Nick Richards can be, and it’s been a frustrating start for him this season. He’ll look like an eventual NBA starter in one game, then look like he won’t even make the G-League in another. He’s still a very raw player, as he’s played organized basketball for about five years.
Richards knows this, and to help himself, he’s spending extra time in the gym before and after practice. He’s getting in extra individual work with Kenny Payne, who has helped develop big men such as Terrence Jones, Willie Cauley-Stein and Josh Harrellson.
The hope is Richards will be here at least one more year so he can make the kind of leaps those guys did during their time in Lexington, and it sounds like he’s doing his best to make it happen.
It’s possible Richards makes the leap this year and heads to the pros in 2018. That looks unlikely as of now, but if he were to make that leap, UK becomes a far bigger threat to cut down the nets at the end of this season.
Wenyen & Hami Sizzling From Deep
The Cats caught fire from three-point range against Virginia Tech, which included Hamidou Diallo hitting 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. It looks like he’s staying hot in practice, as he hit 8-of-10 threes at one point in practice today. Diallo is averaging 20.3 points over his last four games and made 30 of 56 shots (53.6 percent) during that stretch. He’s also hit seven of his last 15 three-point shots.
But Gabriel was really stroking it from deep, hitting seven consecutive threes from the right wing during the five-minute shooting drill. I’ve personally gotten to watch Gabriel in pregame shooting before a lot of games at Rupp Arena, and he is absolutely money from either corner.
Gabriel has only attempted five three in his last three games. UK really needs to find a way to get him 3-4 shots every game. He’s too good of a shooter to not be getting more attempts, especially at Rupp.
For what it’s worth, Gabriel has hit six of his last 13 three-pointers, good for a 46.2-percent rate.
Arguably the biggest focus of Cal’s cats right now is rebounding, and for good reason. Aside from Quade Green, everyone in the top eight of UK’s rotation (Knox, Diallo, Quade, Shai, PJ, Nick, Wenyen and Sacha) has a 6-11+ wingspan.
That kind of length is insane, and it’s why UK should be a great team on the boards. While they’ve shown promise, we’ve seen far too many lapses in this regard to call it something UK is great at right now.
They currently rank 44th nationally in rebounds per game (40.1) but with so much of the schedule thus far being cupcakes, that number should be better, so that’s why it’s such a big focus right now.
This team has the potential to be elite on crashing the boards and absolutely bullying anyone they go against. This is one area where UK can get a real edge on just about anyone they’ll face for the rest of the season and in what hopes to be a deep run in March.
As expected, Jarred Vanderbilt and Jemarl Baker are still not practicing, Vanderbilt hinted at a return last week, but so far, he’s still not practiced since injuring his foot.
During his Monday call-in show, Calipari gave a brief update on Vanderbilt, though it was more of the same things he’s been saying all along.
"Until he’s in a great frame to be able to come in there and physically ready to go with our guys, it’s hard to tell. I’m just saying this to everybody that’s listening: I will not push this kid,” Cal said Monday. “If he’s able to do this and it’s good for him and us, that’s great. I’m not trying to win another game by playing a kid before he should play and then all of the sudden you hurt him more than you help him. I’m not going to do that."
Freshman point guard Quade Green is still wearing protective glasses, so it looks like they’ll remain on for the UCLA game.
One other injury note: Tai Wynyard sat out Tuesday with what the team is calling general soreness. The redshirt sophomore is listed as day to day, so it doesn’t appear he’s in danger of missing Saturday’s clash with UCLA. He could provide minutes off the bench if Richards and other bigs get into foul trouble.
What were your big takeaways?