In front of an uneasy crowd, Kentucky found themselves trailing early in the first half. UK struggled to contain UNCG defensively and they trailed by three at halftime. Things seemed to get even worse when Keldon Johnson went to the locker room late in the half after rolling his ankle, but he returned to start the second half.
Coming out of halftime, Kentucky played with much more energy on the defensive end. Their stifling defense led to transition opportunities on the offense as well. After trailing by 5 early in the 2nd half, the Cats went on to dominate for the rest of the game with a final score of 78-61.
Even considering their struggles in the first half, this was an impressive win for Kentucky. They successfully made adjustments and came out a much better team in the second half.
Reid Travis once again stepped up to lead the team in both points and rebounds with 22 and 12. Keldon Johnson made multiple fantastic plays. Tyler Herro finished the game extremely strong as well. He played lock down on-ball defense and tied his career high in points with 18, 12 of which came in the second half.
This UNCG team was just the first of five hard matchups the Cats will face in the month of December. The rest of the month features games against the Seton Hall Pirates, the Utah Utes, the North Carolina Tar Heels, and the rival Louisville Cardinals. That will be a much tougher stretch than the previous 7 teams Kentucky has seen after their opening Duke loss.
Kentucky will look to continue their seven game win streak when they face Seton Hall in Madison Square Garden on Saturday, which actually could be a biggest test than the Spartans were.
After all, KenPom has UNCG ranked 69th as of Sunday evening, while Seton Hall is up at 58. KenPom also projects Kentucky to be just a seven-point favorite, which would be the smallest spread since Kentucky vs. Duke.
Then there’s the fact this is a neutral-court game in New York. The Pirates of New Jersey should have a decent crowd there, and while Kentucky fans are known to travel well, they’ve not had the greatest showing at home games so far this season. .
Then there’s Utah, who has struggled a little more than expected this season, but they’ve won 20-plus games in each of the last five seasons. They’re currently 114th in KenPom.
The real fun begins the following week against UNC in Chicago. Currently, ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Kentucky just a 35.9-percent chance of winning the game. KenPom gives the Wildcats a 39-percent chance of winning. While the Tar Heels have already lost two games, that’s still going to be a very hard game for Kentucky in another neutral-court setting.
Perhaps the most surprising challenge of the month will come in the annual rivalry clash with Louisville. Coming into the season, the Cardinals were expected to be in a major rebuild.
However, the Cardinals already have wins at Seton Hall and vs. No. 9 Michigan State. ESPN’s matchup predictor now only gives Kentucky a 51.7-percent chance of winning, while KenPom is giving them a 56-percent chance of winning.
So to recap, Kentucky has a 70-30 game against Seton Hall, a 30-70 game vs. UNC and a 55-45 game at Louisville. Kentucky will likely win at least one of these games, but just getting two is going to be a tall task.
3-0? We might get back to the preseason level of excitement with this team.