Kentucky’s sixth straight win of the 2018-2019 season came as expected on Wednesday night, as the Wildcats defeated the Monmouth Hawks 90-44.
Entering the game as 27-point favorites by tip time, head coach John Calipari and his team showed promise in the blowout win. With multiple improvements from last week’s stretch of games, there were four specific aspects that stood out.
Right from tip-off, Kentucky’s defense looked better than it had all season long. Following three games in less than a week, the Wildcats’ had five days of preparation for their matchup with the Hawks.
On-ball defense, awareness, rebounding, rim-protection and communication all vastly improved. Guys like Tyler Herro (5 steals) did a great job of pressuring Monmouth guards and causing havoc all night.
Monmouth finished the game shooting 16/58 from the field and 2/16 from three-point range. Kentucky played lights out at every level and made sure the Hawks worked for everything they got, something we haven’t said much of the defense so far this season.
On Monday, Calipari stressed the significance of his team’s improvement on the defensive end. Though their efforts came against a winless team, flipping the switch was a turn in the right direction.
The Tyler Herro Show
As arguably the biggest fan-favorite since Devin Booker, Herro has played consistently well after a slow start to the year.
However, Herro’s production exceeds past the three-point line. A handful of free throw attempts, rebounds and steals added to multiple three-point shots for an exceptional all-around performance.
Herro also recorded his second five-steal game, a mark you’ll rarely see any player reach at any level of basketball. That goes back to Calipari saying in the summer that Herro was challenging Keldon Johnson for the title of Kentucky’s best defender.
Playing at Kentucky, specifically under Calipari, requires much more than the ability to shoot the basketball. As the games go by, Herro is showing his critics that he’s capable of much more than just a long range jump shot.
Easy Offense Continues
Kentucky has scored more than 70 points in all seven of their games this season. Attacking the paint has led to high-percentage shots as well as opened up three-point shooting. When they aren’t shooting field goals, Kentucky is consistently visiting the FT line and making a much improved percentage compared to years’ past.
With athleticism, depth and height the three highest qualities of Calipari’s Cats, expect this trend to continue. While the argument can be made that Kentucky has simply beat up on smaller teams, that debate will have to wait until the Wildcats’ face a roster that matches up against their height.
And as the defense improves, more transition chances will come and make this already-dangerous offense even more devastating by the time March rolls around.
Keldon Johnson Remains Consistent
Johnson, while quite possibly being the team’s best player, is also one of the more under-appreciated players to suit up each night. His effortless ability to score in double digits, as well as contribute on the defensive end is a coach’s dream.
The freshman forward mans Kentucky’s thinnest position, too, calling for his contributions that much more often.
Scoring more than 10 points in six of Kentucky’s seven games, he should remain at the top of Calipari’s go-to options. His offense may not be the prettiest, but it’s been the most effective thus far, as he remains Kentucky’s most complete player.
The Wildcats return to action on Saturday at Rupp Arena, hosting the UNC Greensboro Spartans at 1 P.M. EDT.