The Kentucky Wildcats knocked off the Division II IUP Crimson Hawks, 86-64 on Friday night in Rupp Arena.
It was the second of two exhibitions games the Cats play before the regular season starts on Tuesday. This team has a lot of potential, but they’re no where near where they were expected to be at this point.
The game was highlighted by great offense, but the defense was hard to watch at times. On one hand, UK has spurts that show just how good they can be. On the other hand, they also show that they have a ways to go.
Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was simply not getting up for an inferior opponent. Maybe the team just needs time to mold and grow at their own pace. To be fair, it is only the beginning of November. But they’ll really be tested next week as they take on the Duke Blue Devils and we’ll see what this team is really made of.
A new starting lineup
After starting a huge lineup against Transylvania that included Immanuel Quickley, Quade Green, PJ Washington, Reid Travis, and Nick Richards, the Cats changed it up tonight. And I think tonight’s lineup is a little more realistic. It included Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington, and Reid Travis. I think you could argue Quickley over Hagans, but either way, this is probably Kentucky’s best starting five.
The problem is both Hagans and Quickley struggled to make much of an impact in this game. Green was a little better in this game, but it’s clear the guard situation isn’t set in stone with Game 1 on deck.
This team has a lot more experience than a normal Calipari team, and Cal has even raved about how far along they are as a unit. But the first two exhibition games serve as a reminder that it is only early November. Cal’s teams are designed to peak in March, but despite all the hype (myself included), they’ve looked pretty sloppy in the first two games of the year.
It was another slow start as the Cats only led the Crimson Hawks 43-34 at halftime, and the lead was trimmed down to five in the second half.
The offense looked good at times, but they also turned the ball over way too much. The defense just looked lost. IUP players were driving right by Kentucky defenders and getting shots off whenever they wanted. This made it difficult for Kentucky to pull away in the second half.
They need to avoid slow starts, limit turnovers, and fix the defense as soon as possible.
Reid Travis is still a grown man
Travis was absolutely unstoppable yet again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Reid Travis is the best player on this team. There is not a player in college basketball that can guard this dude or keep him off the glass. He’s a beast. And he’s absolutely relentless.
He finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds, posting yet another double-double. He would have had more if the game stayed close and Kentucky needed to rely on him more down the stretch, something they’ll probably have to do Tuesday against Duke.
Can you say First-Team All-American?
The shooting and passing were a lot better
The improved three-point shooting was thanks in part to Tyler Herro, who came out firing. He finished 5-7 from three-point land and 6-12 overall for 17 points with four assists. But a few others also got into the mix. Green, Johnson, Washington, and Travis all added three pointers of their own.
However, it wasn’t just the three-point shooting that improved. They also shot a lot better better from the free throw line, and that included 10 combined made by PJ Washington and Reid Travis, two guys who have struggled there.
Kentucky’s passing was much better as well. It was a marked improvement from the game against Transylvania. They really shared and moved the ball well, which was a welcome sight. That kind of ball movement can really wear teams down and will help provide a plethora of open looks.
The Cats showed a lot of potential, but they also struggled at times. They’ll need to get it together quick as they look ahead to the No. 4 team in the nation on Tuesday night.
What are your thoughts about the game?