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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: UK answers the 3 challenges of John Calipari

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Coach Cal had three areas he wanted to see improvements from, and his Cats answered the call.

Citi Hoops Classic - Kentucky v Monmouth Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Prior to Kentucky facing Monmouth, John Calipari laid out three things he wanted to see big improvements from.

That included more production from PJ Washington and Wenyen Gabriel, as well as more three-point shooting. While all three are still a work in progress, we saw a lot of promise in Kentucky’s 93-76 win over the Hawks.

Here’s a recap of how well Kentucky did in these three areas:

More Threes

The Cats made it a point to find more offense from beyond the arc, finishing the first half 5-of-9 from deep, their best half of three-point shooting this season.

Amazingly, that didn’t include Kevin Knox making a field goal, as he’s been one of the best shooters on this team thus far.

But today, it was Shai Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, PJ Washington and Quade Green all hitting from deep.

Knox eventually got a three late in the second half, and the Cats finished 7-of-19 from deep in the game. That means they shot 2-of-10 from deep in the second half, which isn’t great, but it’s still enough to keep opponents from sagging off on the perimeter.

We’ve seen how dangerous Alexander, Diallo, Knox and Green can be driving to the rack, so hitting threes will keep those lanes from tightening up.

PJ Breaks Out

PJ was a man possessed in this game, as finished with 16 points in the first half, one point shy of his career-high of 17 set vs Vermont in early November.

The freshman forward also did better with his ball-handling, committing just two turnovers. He now has just four turnovers over his last four games after committing 20 over his first five games.

But today was all about PJ’s offense, as he finished with 20 points on 5-of-8 shooting with five boards, two blocks and an assist. He also was 9-of-9 from the free-throw line, which is a far cry from when he went 11-of-28 over his first six games.

PJ’s big game was even more crucial because it came on a day where Knox was a net negative. UK’s leading scorer finished with just four points on 1-of-10 shooting with seven turnovers.

While Monmouth is no UCLA, Louisville or Virginia Tech, seeing UK be able to win with Knox playing so bad is great to see. But for that to happen again, PJ must keep playing like the PJ we saw in Madison Square Garden.

Gabriel?

UK has been waiting on sophomore Wenyen Gabriel to step up and become a leader for these young Cats. While he’s not played bad, he hadn’t done much of anything over the first eight games, including just eight points over his last two games.

While Gabriel didn’t light up the box score against Monmouth, he did have one of his better games this season, scoring seven points on 3-of-5 shooting with four boards and two blocks.

We also saw Gabriel have a brief best-mode dunk that had MSG rocking.

All in all, we can say the Cats, at worst, went 2-for-3 in Coach Cal’s desired improvements. There were still plenty of things that must improve in this game, mainly the 18 turnovers, so hopefully, that’s the next thing to improve dramatically in the coming weeks.