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Kentucky clamps Utah: 4 takeaways and postgame banter

A great bounceback win for the Cats!

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night called for another basketball game featuring the Kentucky Wildcats against the Utah Utes.

While it was their 10th of the 2018-2019 season, it was their first without sophomore Quade Green. Green announced his transfer from the program earlier in the week. Despite Green’s absence, the Wildcats snatched a sizable lead early and held on for a 88-61 win over the Utes.


Last Saturday’s half-court, overtime-sending three-point shot from Keldon Johnson lit a fire that never went out. In the win over Utah, Johnson carried his team in the first half by scoring 15 points on five made threes. The freshman forward finished with 24 points for the game.

Johnson, the team’s best player to start the season, could assert himself even higher with the addition of a consistent outside shot. Before Saturday’s game, he had made just four from deep. His hot hand will be essential when game planning for North Carolina next weekend.

But as hot as Johnson was, Jemarl Baker managed to steal the show. After not playing most of the game, Baker checked in with two minutes left and drilled two three-balls, including a stepback shot with a defender in his face.

The three-ball suddenly looks like something that can be a real strength for this team, just as John Calipari said it could.

Hagans Clicks Offensively

The announced transfer of Quade Green wasn’t exactly what anyone wanted or was excited to hear. However, that doesn’t mean it didn’t benefit the Wildcats. Though Utah isn’t the opponent Seton Hall was, Ashton Hagans continued to start at point guard for Kentucky.

The offense clicked very efficiently, with the ball constantly moving and Kentucky’s tempo surging. Hagans also brought his usual energy on defense, rubbing off on other Wildcats’ as well. His offense is still a major work in progress, but he’s slowly learning to become the facilitator this Kentucky team needs him to be while also being a go-to defender.

Going forward, expect Hagans to become even more comfortable with Calipari’s offense.

Defensive Efforts Heat Up

As mentioned before, Hagans always brings his best on defense. However, that can’t exactly be said for the rest of the team. Tyler Herro was abused on that end of the floor by Seton Hall’s Myles Powell last Saturday and most of the other Kentucky players have been wildly inconsistent in the department to start the year.

However, on Saturday, the Wildcats held Utah to just 27 first half points. Forced shot clock violations, steals and blocked shots all smothered the Utes. It was more of the same in the second half, though they did briefly collapse and allow the Utes to make eight-straight shots.

Thankfully, Kentucky finished the half strong and ultimately held the Utes to just 61 points.

Against a talented North Carolina team next week, Kentucky will need the same efforts on defense.

Not An Anomaly

The main question after Kentucky’s win will be if they can repeat Saturday’s stellar effort when they take the road to Chicago next weekend. Despite a well-traveling fan base, Kentucky’s two losses this season have both been at neutral sites. The Wildcats have played poor and failed to efficiently execute plays when away from their home court.

Next week, though, Kentucky should be able to weather the storm and play well enough to win the game. Utah isn’t near the level of North Carolina, but the Wildcats will be motivated to prove doubters wrong on a nation stage.

This will also be a great chance for Kentucky to get a signature win that would help them a lot on Selection Sunday.

Tip-off for Kentucky’s game with North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic is set for 5:15 P.M. EDT.

Now, let’s discuss today’s game!