The Kentucky Wildcats were in a dog fight early against the UNC-Greensboro Spartans. But, a big game from Reid Travis, some lock-down defense from Ashton Hagans, and some timely buckets from Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson helped UK pull away late. The Cats won by 17.
The Kentucky Wildcats fell behind early as UNC-Greensboro jumped out to a 13-9 lead behind 11 points from their star player Francis Alonso. Coach Cal went to his best on-ball defender, Ashton Hagans, to help keep Alonso in check.
It paid immediate dividends, as the Spartans came up short on three straight possessions and UK went on a 13-4 run, taking a 21-17 lead capped off by a triple from PJ Washington. Another turnover by UNCG helped the Cats put an exclamation mark on a 10-0 run and 23-17 lead.
Later in the half, Isaiah Miller converted a layup in transition to cut Kentucky’s lead to 29-27. Keldon Johnson went down with an ankle injury late in first half and had to be helped off the court. After Quade Green fouled Alonso on a three-point attempt, the Spartan’s senior knocked down all three freebies to tie the score at 35.
An alley-oop from Green to E.J. Montgomery put the Cats up a deuce, but UNCG nailed a three at the other end to take the 38-37 lead. Some questionable officiating at the end of the half had John Calipari and the Rupp Arena in a tizzy. UNC-Greensboro led at the half 40-37 behind 19 from Alonso.
Kentucky began the second half by attacking there basket and getting the ball inside to their bigs. Then a 5-0 run by UNCG was halted by a Reid Travis triple. The Spartans maintained a two point-lead midway through the second half with several questionable calls going the way of the Spartans. The Rupp Arena faithful were letting the officials hear their displeasure as the Cats trailed 53-55 at the under-12 minute timeout.
Ashton Hagans took a coast-to-coast layup with the and-1 and gave the Cats a 56-55 lead. The Spartans squeaked back in front, but only momentarily as Travis used a ball fake outside the arc to get his opponent in the air and drove the lane to hammer home an uncontested, two-handed dunk. The Wildcats grabbed the lead back and led 58-57 with just over 8 minutes.
Keldon Johnson converted two free throws and then threw down a tomahawk slam along the baseline to give UK a 5-point edge. After a missed throw by PJ Washington, Travis tapped the ball out to Johnson, who got to the basket again and this time sailed in for a two-hand jam.
Kentucky opened up a 9-point lead with just under 4 minutes left, as Tyler Herro knocked down a mid-range jumper to put the Cats up 68-59. The Cats closed on a 28-6 run and won the game 78-61.
Today’s box score is a bit deceiving. Even though Reid Travis will take home the MVP from today’s game, don’t discount the defensive effort that Ashton Hagans put on the floor during today’s game. He changed the game when he came in.
Francis Alonso scored UNCG’s first 11 points (4-of-4) in the first 5 minutes of the game. Calipari subbed in Hagans for Quickley, and the game immediately changed. Hagans only scored 5 points, but he hounded Alonso throughout the entire game and held him to 2-for-8 (25%) for the remainder of the game.
However, if you want to win, you have to score. Reid Travis did just that to the tune of 22 points. He also snagged 12 rebounds and muscled opposing defenders out of the paint to clear the way for the high-flying Keldon Johnson who finished with 13 points and 11 boards.
Travis was 8-of-16 from the floor, including 1-of-1 from downtown. He also put through 5-of-6 at the charity stripe. So, while there were several key contributors to today’s game, Travis is taking home the MVP.