In the last exhibition game before the beginning of the regular season, the Kentucky Wildcats got by Indian University of Pennsylvania with a final score of 86-64.
Early on in the game, it seemed like it could go down to the wire, but luckily at the end, Kentucky pulled away. The Wildcats only led by single digits during the second half, and you could tell they haven’t hit their full potential yet.
Their transition defense, inside scoring, and awareness all need to be tweaked before we see what this team can truly be. There were some players like Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards whose defense made a bigger impact than what the stat sheet will show, and guys like Tyler Herro, Reid Travis, and PJ Washington were also some bright spots in the win for the Wildcats.
Reid Travis showed exactly what Kentucky is going to get with him on the court. He was active on both ends and you could audibly hear Travis leading the team when he was out there. His leadership is matched only by his production, he finished the game with a double-double (22 points, 14 rebounds).
Coach Cal went with Tyler Herro to start the game, and the decision paid off. Herro started off the game going 4/5 from deep, and stayed consistent on that shot all night with 17 points overall and 5/7 from deep. Every player on this team has the capability of knocking down deep shots, and when they get, hot it’ll be hard for any team to keep up.
PJ Washington showed us that he has grown a lot in this off season and that staying back to work on his game has paid off significantly. He left a few things to be desired with his defense early on, but he quickly corrected his mistakes. You could tell that Coach Cal was trying to work PJ into multiple lineups to see what fit best in certain situations. Whether he was down low next to EJ Montgomery or Reid Travis or Nick Richards, he shined.He finished the game with 20 points.
Once they clean up the little mistakes this team could be very special.
Here’s what Coach Cal and some of the players had to say about the last exhibition game of the season, courtesy of UK Athletics:
Q. Your opponent was appreciate that you played them and said there’s a lot of opponents that don’t want to be challenged. You got challenged tonight. Is that what you kind of hoped for?
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, it was. And you know what, we’re still learning about individual players. We fouled three times and gave them six points, once on a jump shooter, one 96 feet from the basket and the other one we grabbed a guy on a back cut. You’re just giving them points when they’re struggling to score. Understanding that you’re not trying to stop them from scoring; you’re trying to make it difficult so that if they take a tough shot – if they make one – and then we rebound and go. So we’re still learning. I mean, our post passing right now, we throw balloon balls. You won’t believe this but we work on it every day. The second this is, which I really like, they were saying if they get the ball we’re going to have a problem so tip it away. Like, and that’s all they were doing. And so we had guys that weren’t moving their feet and weren’t fighting. They tipped five balls away. In the second half I thought we did better. When you look at it, a veteran team, and you look at the numbers, the numbers look good. But when you get to where we’re supposed to beat everybody by 40 and 50, that’s, you know – we had some guys play well and we had some guys play not so well. But they’re fine. It’s just early in the season and it’s a process. We’ll build and we’ve got a couple days to prepare for this next, which is going to be a hard game. Now it appears it’s going to be even harder than I thought.
Q. Coach Joe Lombardi said you guys shot a lot of 3s. He was hoping you would shoot many more than you did. Do you think you got a little beer muscles there with the quick start from 3 and maybe took too many?
JOHN CALIPARI: There were three or four that post-ups were there that we didn’t throw it. And here’s what I would say: This team may be -- not that that’s all we’ll do – but this may be a post-up team. So then we’ll play to our strengths. We’ll make people figure out if they’re trapping or how they’re going to play these guys. But there were three or four plays that I can remember Quade (Green) had one on the wing in front of us and PJ (Washington) had the guy on his back throw him the ball. Another one we had Nick (Richards) had it and I think it was Tyler (Herro) again moved the ball to the other side of the court when the guy’s in the post. Just throw it in there and we’ll play off of it. There’s all kind of ways to play this game. Rebounds, I want to run and fly and play open, but if we get in that half court and we can play that way, we probably need to some. But I don’t mind 22 3s. I mean, last game we were 1 for 13 and I told you that’s not who we were. But 22? That’s fine. Eighteen to 22 is probably who we are. We’re going to play teams that are trying to get up 40 3s. That’s how they play. We just don’t play that way.
Q. Reid Travis had a double-double tonight. How much of a comfort is that for any coach to have somebody that seems fairly consistent with it?
JOHN CALIPARI: No. I thought he played really well. Rebounded, fought, played hard. The biggest thing for us, we had some straight line drives. Not as many as last game. We had lack of communication on some pin downs, on some handoffs, on some screens and fades, and it included PJ, Reid, Keldon (Johnson). I mean, I could go right down the line. Ashton (Hagans). Like, if you are in trouble, you yell to your teammate and they will pick up your man. You don’t just lay on the screen and give them a 3. We did that today. But Reid is one that usually is going to talk and he’s a veteran and he knows what you’re talking about coming out of timeouts. He’s huddled the team. I thought PJ played well. PJ did some good stuff and made free throws and would have liked to have seen him rebound a lot more, but if you watch that team, they did a terrific job of blocking out. That’s the team that you could tell one of their things is the shot goes up, you’re getting your man and everybody blocks their man out. That’s how they played.
Q. What do you think of your point guard play tonight, and what do you want to see from those guys going forward?
JOHN CALIPARI: I thought it was OK. I mean, it was good. They’re two different point guards. Probably got to get – Immanuel (Quickley) went from being too aggressive on the ball to not being aggressive enough. There’s an in between we need him to be. I still think we still have a couple guys being a little anxious. And I keep telling them, you can be anxious or you can be excited. It’s about the same physiology so why not be excited? Be excited about playing, not anxious about making this play or that. Just play. I thought Ashton did some good things. They kept him out of the paint, which is hard to do for him.
Q. Is it weird with the Duke game coming up on Tuesday just how much attention is on the football team and the big game coming up tomorrow?
JOHN CALIPARI: Who do they play tomorrow? (Laughter).
JOHN CALIPARI: Oh, I’m just kidding. Well, I’m happy. And I’m happy for Mark (Stoops) and his staff. I’m happy for those players. I’m so happy the guys that came back can say it’s an experience that I’ll live with the rest of my life. They’re a team that feels good and confident about themselves. I mentioned Mark has empowered the team. When your wide receiver (Lynn Bowden) comes up to you and says, let me run this punt back, and you go, ‘Go for it kid, go.’ They didn’t do it to be selfish. Someone else told me that the tight end (C.J. Conrad), they were going to change a play and he said, ‘No, no, you run it, I’ll make this catch.’ I’m happy for their quarterback (Terry Wilson), how he played. I mean, these guys are balling now, and Georgia’s really good. Like, Georgia’s really good. You ready for this? We’re really good, too. Our defense, woof. So it should be a great game. We’re not going to practice around that time because I know I want to see it and I’m imagining our players will want to see it so they get a chance to go over.
Q. Those last two minutes everybody seemed to get a jolt of energy after the tangle up with Ashton. What did you feel like that was missing from the rest of the game that energy that competitiveness from everybody but Reid?
JOHN CALIPARI: No, but here’s what you find out: Every team we play it’s the biggest game on their schedule and they’re so excited. And this team was excited about playing us. They came out with high energy and what we got to do is forget about them, we got to come out every game we play. And let me tell you it’s really hard to do. It’s hard to do. But that’s who we are and that’s what it is to be playing here. So I -- no, I think we need a little more energy defensively compared to some of these teams and how they’re playing. And we’re going to find out. I mean, the game Tuesday is going to be great for film to really watch who need to work on what. Individual matchups, you know, playing fast, defensively taking chances, denying, playing. You got to get open before you catch that ball. You better know. And so there’s some good stuff. I’m not sure. Like I said, after today, I think we got a ways to go, but that was a good team, a team that beat Morehead (State). And Joe’s right: No one wants to play them. Back in Pittsburgh no one will play them. They won’t play them. I don’t even know why I played them, to be honest with you. I must have lost my mind. When I saw the Morehead tape I was thinking, what was I thinking? No good deed goes unpunished. Just know that. Remember that.
On his double double …
“It is something I really pride myself on, hitting the glass. I don’t necessarily say a double double is my goal every game, but I know if I’m active and have energy and crashing the glass every play, certain things just work itself out.”
On mood for game against Duke …
“The mood is a lot of excitement. Taking it game by game, but obviously we’re getting to the real big games so it’s a lot of excitement in the locker-room. We want to get better, we all want to get back on the court tomorrow and just work on things. Feels like we didn’t do well this game, and just continue to prepare to grow. I think that’s something special about this team is that there’s so much excitement and passion in what we do.”
On overall defense …
“I think we took some definite steps in the last expedition game, and we really worked on straight line drives and are in different rotations and things like that. This game there was some breakdowns on not calling out, switches or not getting plays. I think for us we keep progressing. It’s only been a week since the last time. Realize that we made big jumps from the last time defensively. Throughout the season you’re going to see a lot of those things get cleaned up.”
On his shooting performance…
“I think it’s the way basketball goes. Sometimes you have an off night. I had an off night obviously last Friday, but I just stuck to I would normally do, came out and bounced back.”
On how good IUP was…
“No, we knew that they were gonna be real good, better a division two team. The coaches were saying that early on they’re going to be better than some of the teams that are actually division one, but it was good having a game going into the actual season coming up.”
On the game against Duke …
“I think it’s going to be a good game. We’ll see what happens. Obviously they’re real good, they got three or four freshman that are highly rated so we’ll see what happens.”
On 3-point defense tonight compared to last game (Transy)…
“It was a little better. They had a lot of contesting threes, but they still had too many threes that were wide open in my opinion. We just got to fix those little things.”
On Cal’s feedback…
“He said great team win. Everyone knows what we have to improve on.”
On Reid’s (Travis) competitiveness setting an example …
“It would say so. I think we all are competitive. We go out every game, so I think that with him being that competitive it brings more out of us.”