Most Cat fans would be in agreement that, although it’s Kentucky Basketball, it’s harder to get up for a preseason matchup with their primetime season opener against Duke in the Champions Classic right around the corner.
Throw in Kentucky Football’s SEC East championship game against Georgia tomorrow at Kroger Field with SEC Nation in town, and I can see why the focus of the Big Blue Nation isn’t necessarily on the IUP Crimson Hawks.
With that said, the Cats beat IUP 86-64 on Friday night. The shooting was solid as the Cats shot 50% from the field, 41% from three, and 90% from the free-throw line. Where we all may still have questions, though, is on the defensive end, where the young Cats struggled at times.
After the game, Coach Calipari indicated some of the issues were in their defensive chatter.
“We had a lack of communication and I can go right down the line with it,” said Calipari.
In the first half, there was a lot of early offense. This, unfortunately, included IUP as well, who stayed neck-and-neck with Kentucky to start the game. The defense picked up over the next 8 minutes when the Cats went on a 19-6 run capitalized by strong defensive plays.
There was a little bit of everything: a few blocks, some forced mishandles, strong rebounding, a forced timeout, and a charge taken by Keldon Johnson. IUP’s inefficient offense gave Kentucky transition opportunities leading to easy shots and a pair of dunks by Johnson and Nick Richards.
If this group is going to play better defense, they need to get out and run after a good stop and see for themselves what the reward of getting out in transition feels like.
The second half started messy as IUP cut it to as close as 5 points with some easy baskets. From there, the rest of the second half was a hodgepodge of alternating runs for and against the Cats. There were plenty of highlights and good play, but just as much below average defense and typical, yet expected, preseason blunders.
“I think we have a few guys who are still anxious. I told them they can either be anxious or be excited,” said Calipari.
Reid Travis and PJ Washington both had very strong performances. Travis, who did most of his damage in the first half while looking like a man amongst boys, scored 22 points on 7-12 shooting with 14 rebounds.
Washington finished with 20 points of his own on a very efficient 8-9 shooting night. Tyler Herro broke out of his slump and regained his stroke by hitting 5 threes on his way to 17 points.
I couldn’t blame anyone for not taking this contest as intensely. UK sports are at a peak right now and this game had no record meaning behind it. The lessons learned from this game will be invaluable, though, but whether or not the messages from the exhibition season will stick or not is the real question.
With the schedule as demanding as it is, we hope these Cats took their notes before these games begin to matter the most on the biggest stages of them all.
Here are the postgame notes, courtesy of UK Athletics:
- The Wildcats begin the 2018-19 regular-season with a top-five matchup with No. 4/3 Duke in Indianapolis as part of the Champions Classic on Tuesday. Tip time is set for 9:30 p.m. ET inside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
- UK improved to 136-12 all-time in exhibition games.
- Kentucky has won its last 15 exhibition games dating back to Nov. 2, 2014, vs. Pikeville.
- Friday night pitted John Calipari vs. his longtime friend Joe Lombardi, head coach of IUP. Lombardi’s son, Dominic, was a video assistant on UK’s staff during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons before heading to South Florida with former UK assistant Orlando Antigua to be the video coordinator. Dominic Lombardi is now the director of basketball operations at Morehead State under another current UK staff, Preston Spradlin.
- Kentucky used the combination of Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington, and Reid Travis to start the game. This is the second different starting combination for the Wildcats during the exhibition slate. Washington and Travis started the first game.
- Kentucky won the opening tip and Travis found Herro on a kick out for a 3-pointer for the game’s first bucket.
- IUP scored the next four points, but Washington drained UK’s second 3-pointer with 18:34 to go for a 6-4 lead for the Cats.
- IUP put together another 4-0 run to knot the score at eight apiece, but UK answered with a lay-in from Travis on the next possession.
- After draining a 3-pointer on one end, Johnson came down to the defensive side and took a charge with 10:38 remaining. The effort by Johnson propelled a 12-0 run by the home team for a 28-13 edge with 9:30 to go, prompting an IUP timeout.
- The run extended to 14-0 and a 30-13 lead. It lasted over a 5:42 period on the clock.
- IUP fought back and pulled to within six with just over 30 seconds to play in the half before Herro knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the stanza for the halftime margin of 43-34.
- Travis nearly had a double-double in the opening half alone with team highs in points (15) and rebounds (eight).
- Johnson and Hagans both dished out four assists as Kentucky assisted on 13 of its 17 first-half baskets.
- Kentucky’s starting lineup also began the second half as the first five for the first time in the two exhibition games.
- IUP trimmed the deficit to five on two different occasions, the latest at 49-44 with 15:28.
- Nick Richards finished an alley-oop on the break with 14:10 to play to give UK a double-figure lead once again up 55-44.
- The Cats knocked down all 13 of their first free throws to earn an 18-point lead after Johnson made two to increase the lead to 77-59 with 4:53 to play.
- Kentucky’s largest lead came with 1:34 to go when Herro sunk his fifth 3-pointer of the night to give UK a 24-point edge at 86-62.
- After only making one 3-pointer in its first exhibition against Transylvania, Kentucky began the game by making each of its first three 3-point attempts and finished the game with nine. Kentucky shot 40.9 percent from behind the arc (9 of 22).
- Kentucky shot 50 percent or better in both of its exhibition games, also shooting 56.9 percent against Transylvania.
- UK went 19 for 21 from the free-throw line in the game for 90.5 percent. Combined in the two exhibition games UK shot (46 of 57) 80.7 percent.
- Friday’s free-throw percentage would have ranked as the seventh best in a game under Calipari if it were a regular-season game.
- Kentucky dominated in the paint once again with a 38-20 advantage in points and a 27-16 edge on the boards.
- UK also had an 8-2 edge in second-chance points.
- The Wildcats had 17 assists on 29 made baskets. Thirteen of those assists came in the first half.
- Reid Travis put together his second straight double-double with team highs in points (22) and rebounds (14).
- He was the game’s leading scorer and rebounder.
- Tyler Herro scored 17 points and knocked down five 3-pointers.
- He also had four rebounds and four assists.
- PJ Washington poured in 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting.
- He also added six rebounds and a game-high three blocks.
- He was a perfect 3 for 3 from the free-throw line.
- Keldon Johnson had 11 points and a team-high five assists.