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Kentucky knocks off UNC Greensboro: 4 things to know and postgame banter

A strong finish pushes the Cats past the Spartans in a hard-fought game.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats knocked off the UNC Greensboro Spartans Saturday afternoon, 78-61.

UNCG is no joke. This is the beginning of a tough stretch for the Cats that will extend into SEC play. The Spartans will likely win their conference and put a 4 or 5 seed on upset alert in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

This was a good test for a young team and a very good win for the resume.

Now, it’s time for Kentucky to take a step forward. Camp Cal will be starting as the semester is winding down and UK only plays on Saturdays for the next month.

That will give these Cats plenty of time to practice and perfect their craft. Hopefully, that includes fine tuning the defense. There’s no 20-hour per week practice limit, so Cal will work these guys hard.

This is usually when UK is able to really tweak some things, so we should start to see some improvement over the next month or so.

As for next week, the Cats are going to need to come ready to play. Seton Hall isn’t going to go down easy.

Oh, and I want to give a big shout-out to the Rupp Arena crowd. It was the loudest I’ve heard in a very long time. It was the perfect environment to get these Cats going and I’m sure top-ten recruit Matthew Hurt loved it, too.

The defense is still struggling

Man, it’s hard to watch at times. That’s the nicest way to put it.

If it’s not one thing it’s another. UK had one player to stop and that was Francis Alonso. And when Ashton Hagans wasn’t guarding him, he did whatever he wanted. UNCG is a good team, but they wouldn’t stay within 20 points of UK if the Cats did something to slow that kid down.

Anyway, the defense took a step back today. It wasn’t an easy matchup, but it sucks to see after the Cats were so dominant on Wednesday night.

The problem is that it isn’t just three-point defense anymore, which is still really bad. UK is giving up straight line drives to the basket at their opponent’s will.

That’s where it all starts. I’ve said it before: Kentucky has a lot of good individual defenders. I just don’t think they’ve put it together as a unit yet. Hagans, Johnson, Quickley, and Montgomery are all top-notch defensive players.

When Keldon turns up the intensity, he’s elite on that end of the floor. But every player on this team has to continue to improve and put forth 100% effort every time down the court. I think that’s the biggest thing right now.

However, down the stretch the Cats really turned it up. Now, they just need to do it for a full 40 minutes every single game.

Ashton Hagans is an elite defender

UNCG guard Francis Alonso came out hot against Kentucky. He started the game 4-4 and scored the Spartans’ first 11 points of the game. How did Kentucky respond? They put Ashton Hagans in to shut him down.

Hagans was all over the place. He didn’t give Alonso a sliver of open space. He went over top of screens and never let Alonso get around him. It was impressive to say the least.

On one play, Alonso stopped on a dime and pulled up for a jumper and Hagans did the same, blocked the shot, and started the fastbreak.

He’s constantly back-tapping the ball and he has players always looking over their shoulders to see if he’s coming up behind them.

The team looked completely different on the defensive end of the floor when Hagans was out there. If he can get his offense going, he’ll live up to his five-star hype. He’s already there defensively.

Reid Travis is the anchor

Kentucky fans have been begging for a veteran player since John Calipari arrived at UK. Well, they have one and he’s special. Travis won’t be another NBA superstar, but he is one very, very good college player.

Every time this team needs a basket, or appears to be falling apart, Travis holds them together. That’s what veterans are supposed to do. And he’s doing great.

He’s a consistent scorer around the basket, hits the occasional three, and rebounds anything in sight. I can’t help but love the kid because he works so hard.

The only knock on him is that because he always plays below the rim, he gets blocked...a lot. But that same trait doesn’t deter him from doing anything else expected of a traditional big man. And that’s what makes him so special.

Enjoy Reid Travis while he’s here, BBN. This kind of guy doesn’t come along often.

The rebounding and free throw shooting are excellent

This team crashes the glass as well as any team Coach Cal has had at Kentucky, outside of the 38-1 team. And they are by far the best free throw shooting team Cal has had at Kentucky.

Those two things are a recipe for success. If the Cats can put the defense together, then they are a legitimate contender. If not, then they better score a lot of points.

Kentucky dominates opponents on the glass. PJ Washington, Reid Travis, and Keldon Johnson lead the way, along with EJ Montgomery and Tyler Herro. This team gets to the ball.

As for free throw shooting, it’s awesome. Almost every player on this team can knock down free throws at a high clip. It’s really good to see because Calipari’s teams have generally struggled in that department.

Now, we have to wait a week in between games for the next month, which sucks. But it’ll be a fun month full of high-profile opponents. Let’s take care of business next Saturday against the Seton Hall Pirates!