After an unbearable start to the 2018-19 basketball season, the Kentucky Wildcats were back in action against Southern Illinois trying to get back on track.
Unfortunately, out of the gate it was more of the same from these Cats as they were sloppy and the offense looked completely out of sync. At the first media timeout the Cats trailed 10-5.
Kentucky struggled to take care of the ball as they continued to turn the ball over, finishing the first half with 14. Most of the turnovers weren’t forced, Kentucky was just coughing it up in the sloppiest of ways.
At the under 8 timeout, the Cats still trailed 17-13 but finally looked like they were getting into a rhythm. With just over 5 minutes left in the half, a Quade Green three gave Kentucky their first lead of the season(!) at 22-19.
However, they couldn’t extend that lead and Kentucky went into the locker room with a 31-28 lead.
After the break, Kentucky came out slow, but they showed steady signs of improvement as the second half went on.
For the first 10 minutes of the second half, the game remained close as Kentucky fell behind 46-40 before finally going on a run to take the lead 51-48.
Then the Cats started to find a groove and with 3 minutes to play in the game they had built up a 10-point lead over SIU, 67-57.
The Cats were able to finish strong and get their first win of the season 71-59 over the Salukis.
Thoughts on the game
Nick Richards was fantastic
After what we saw in the Bahamas, we all expected Nick Richards to have a very good season. However, like almost everyone else on the team, Richards struggled Tuesday against Duke.
He bounced back in a big way tonight as he finished with 8 points, 3 blocks, and a career-high 19 rebounds.
He played exactly how this team needs him to play: Grab every rebound, score around 8-10 points, and protect the rim. Hopefully, he can build on this and keep playing at a high level.
Quade Green bounced back
Tuesday night against Duke, Green was maybe the worst player on the floor for the Cats as he looked completely out of sorts.
Like Richards, he bounced back tonight with a strong performance, finishing with 14 points and 3 assists. His defense was much improved, and he helped spark a huge second-half run that led the Cats to victory.
The defense was MUCH better
Kentucky’s defense was nonexistent against Duke as the Cats gave up 118 points, the most points allowed under John Calipari at UK. Tonight, they looked much better.
The defense wasn’t perfect by any means, but they showed a lot more effort on that end of the floor. They created 13 turnovers, which is a definitive positive after only forcing 4 against the Blue Devils.
Now, the Cats need to build off this defensive performance and look to be even better the next time out. This group certainly has the potential to be a lock-down defensive unit.
PJ Washington is struggling
Coming into the season it was expected that Washington would be one of Kentucky’s top players. He had a huge performance to end last season and he played so well in the Bahamas.
However, that is not the case.
Against Duke he got into foul trouble early, which took him out of the game. He could never really get into a groove and his performance was pretty disappointing.
Tonight, he struggled yet again as he only had 3 points on just two shots. He also turned the ball over 5 times. Going forward he has to be a much bigger factor for this team by establishing himself on the block and going from there.
It’s early. We know what he’s capable off and it’s only a matter of time before he gets back into his groove. Hopefully, it’s sooner rather than later because this team needs him to be a leader.
EJ Montgomery has to be on the floor
Some of those minutes might be PJ’s.
With PJ struggling, EJ has stepped up and played well. He had some spurts in the game Tuesday where he looked good and he backed that up with another solid performance tonight.
He finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks and was a big factor in the run that Kentucky went on late in the second half.
If PJ keeps struggling and EJ keeps playing at a high level, he will begin to take some of the PJ’s minutes. He has to be on the floor. He’s earned it.
Now, time for some postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky is 1-1 overall while Southern Illinois begins the year 0-1.
- Kentucky improves to 102-14 all-time in home openers with the win.
- UK improved to 15-0 at home as the No. 2 Associated Press ranked team under Calipari.
- This marked the first ever meeting between the two programs.
- Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats will host North Dakota on Wednesday for the start of the four-game Ohio Valley Hardwood Showcase. That game is slated for a 9 p.m. tip on the SEC Network.
In the First Half
- Kentucky started Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Reid Travis. This is the first game this starting combination has been utilized.
- Quickley made his first career collegiate start. The other four players were in the starting lineup for the opener against Duke.
- SIU took an early 2-0 lead with a turnaround jumper from Kavion Pippen.
- For the second consecutive game, Johnson knocked down UK’s first points with a baseline jumper on UK’s next possession to tie the score immediately.
- The Salukis earned a 7-2 advantage with 17:53 to go as Pippen hit another 15-footer.
- At the first media timeout, SIU held a 10-5 lead with 15:51 to go.
- The lead swelled to as many as eight at 13-5.
- SIU’s lead was in large part to UK turning the ball over nine times on its first 17 possessions.
- Kentucky forced five turnovers over a 3:26 span on the clock to pull to within two at 15-13.
- The Wildcats tied it up at 19 apiece with 6:05 to go on a nice sequence from one end to the other. Nick Richards swatted a Saluki shot attempt, which was rebounded by Washington. He got it out in front to Quade Green who found a streaking Johnson who finished the fast break.
- Following a Saluki timeout, the Cats forced a turnover and Green drained a 3-pointer to lift UK to its first lead of the game at 22-19 with 5:21 to play in the half.
- SIU reclaimed the lead at 26-25 after a 3-pointer from Marcus Bartley with 2:29 to play.
- Following a timeout, Richards slammed home an EJ Montgomery miss to give UK the lead back with just over a minute to go.
- After trailing by as many as eight, the Wildcats took a three-point lead, 31-28, into the break.
- Richards had 12 first-half rebounds, just three shy from a career high (15 vs. Fort Wayne on Nov. 22, 2017) in 14 minutes of first-half action.
- It was the most rebounds in a half for any UK player since Terrence Jones grabbed 12 vs. Notre Dame on Dec. 8, 2010 in the second half.
- Richards’ effort helped the Cats gain a plus-17 (25-8) margin on the boards in the opening half.
- The Cats committed 14 turnovers in the frame and forced the Salukis into nine miscues.
- The 14 turnovers tied the most miscues under Calipari in a half since committing 14 against Sam Houston State on Nov. 19, 2009.
In the Second Half
- Kentucky opened the second stanza with Quickley, Herro, Johnson, Washington and Richards.
- SIU tied it up with 18:64 in the second half on a put back lay-in from Pippen. The Salukis recaptured the lead on the next possession with a pair of free throws from Sean Lloyd Jr.
- The lead increased to seven after the visitors went on a 6-0 run to make the score 44-37 with 14:19 remaining.
- Green sparked a 9-0 spurt for the Cats with a 3-pointer and a runner in the lane off a Johnson steal to pull the home team within one at 46-45 with 12:52 to play.
- UK took the recaptured the lead on the next possession when Montgomery followed up a Green miss.
- Montgomery then turned in a block on the defensive end prior to the media timeout and finished home a slam off an assist from Green to push the lead to three at 49-46 with 11:05 to play.
- A traditional three-point play from Johnson with 7:41 to go gave UK its largest lead of the game at six points, 58-52.
- Green matched Johnson’s traditional three-point play with 5:39 to go to give UK a 61-52 advantage.
- The defense was also stout holding the Salukis scoreless for 2:19 of clock.
- The Salukis would get no closer than eight points the rest of the way. A jumper by Travis with 34 seconds to play resulted in the final 12-point winning margin (71-59).
- Green led the Cats in scoring in the second half with 10 points. Johnson and Quickley both had eight. Richards picked up seven more rebounds.
- The win marked the 44th consecutive home win over an unranked AP poll nonconference opponent.
- UK is now 224-38 under John Calipari against unranked competition.
- The win extended UK’s home opener winning streak to 10 games.
- UK has never lost a home opener under Calipari.
- Kentucky improved to 45-12 under Calipari following a loss. The Wildcats have only lost back-to-back games 12 times during the Calipari era.
- UK improved to 234-5 (.989) under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any point in the game.
- The Wildcats are now 153-7 (.956) under Calipari’s direction when limiting the opponent to 63 points or fewer.
- Kentucky committed 19 turnovers in the game, 13 coming in the first half. It’s the most turnovers committed since tallying 22 miscues last season against East Tennessee State on Nov. 17, 2017.
- UK outrebounded SIU by 29 (48-19).
- The Wildcats dished out 11 assists on 24 made field goals for a 45.8-percent rate.
- Kentucky shot 70.4 percent from the line and is shooting 72.3 percent from the charity stripe over its first two games. The Cats are currently averaging 32.5 trips to the line per game.
- Sophomore Nick Richards had eight points and a career-high 19 rebounds.
- It’s the most rebounds for any UK player since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist matched the mark against Louisville on Dec. 31, 2011.
- That total is the most in the Calipari era.
- Richards had the same number of rebounds as the entire SIU team.
- He snared 12 boards in the opening half, the most since Jones grabbed 12 vs. Notre Dame on Dec. 8, 2010 in the second half.
- Nine of Richards’ boards came on the offensive glass. That total matches the highest number in the Calipari era done before by three different players and most recently by Willie Cauley-Stein against Arkansas on Feb. 27, 2014.
- Richards also led the team with three rejections marking the fifth game of his career with three or more swats.
- Immanuel Quickley scored a team-high 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and hauled in four rebounds.
- He induced a team-high two steals.
- Keldon Johnson matched Quickley’s scoring output with 15 points. He also contributed four boards, two assists and a steal.
- He’s the lone Wildcat to score in double figures in both games this season.
- Quade Green served as a spark in the second half for the Wildcats. He helped generate a momentum-changing 9-0 run and finished the game with 14 points, a team-high three assists and a steal.
- It was the 18th double-figure scoring effort of Green’s career.
- It’s also the 19th time in his career he notched three or more dimes.
- EJ Montgomery was the fourth player to reach double-figure scoring. He contributed 10 points and added seven boards.
- Calipari is now 276-65 at UK.
- Calipari has a 721-205 all-time on-court record.
- He is now 21 wins away from tying Joe B. Hall for the most victories by a UK head coach in program history.