The Kentucky Wildcats were nearly unstoppable during their four-game Bahamas tour, outscoring opponents by nearly 30 points per game.
They did so thanks to a stifling defense that helped lead to a lot of fast-break opportunities, but even in the halfcourt, Kentucky’s offense was just too much for their opposition.
Outside of a bad Game 1, Kentucky was red-hot from deep while also getting great production in the paint from PJ Washington, Nick Richards and Keldon Johnson, all of whom shot over 50 percent.
Even Reid Travis got going Sunday with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting, though he made sure to credit Kentucky’s guards for his breakout performance:
Reid Travis lavishing praise on all three point guards. pic.twitter.com/GQSnivF0aj— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 12, 2018
For a young team with five new players, the Cats passed very well, as they dished out 68 assists vs. 45 turnovers. When it came to the point guard triumvirate of Quade Green, Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans, they combined for 39 assists vs. just 15 turnovers.
What got lost in the shuffle was how well Kentucky was from the charity stripe, hitting 83 of 113 attempts, good for a 73.5-percent rate.
All of this has even a “slow the hype” John Calipari thinking this could be a special unit, especially on offense.
“We’re not going to average 100 points a game. I think we’ll probably average more than maybe any team I’ve coached,” Calipari said following Sunday’s destruction of Team Toronto. “So my guess would be, I don’t know, what’s the most my teams have scored? It’s probably near 80. And I would say that’s what this team would probably average. That would be my guess.
“And that’s a lot for us, because teams are not going to let us run. They’re going to try to shorten a game like some of my good teams if you played against us. We can’t play in the 90s, they’re going to kill us. This game has gotta be in the 60s. We’re trying to push it. Good. You get 60, we’ll get 80 and we’ll both be happy.”
It’s rare for Calipari to express that kind of optimism with any aspect of his team in August, but he’s made it clear this is a different group that he already sees something special with.
On multiple occasions since July, Calipari has stressed how much his players love basketball and how he loves coaching them.
That may sound like coachspeak, but anyone who’s followed Calipari knows he’s rarely said he loves coaching his team in August, and for good reason.
August is when his usual grouping of freshman phenoms look like they’re still playing high school basketball. They may play selfish, lack defense, don’t communicate and just simply don’t look ready for high-level basketball, which is to be expected.
Again, we’re talking about kids who just finished up high school, so breaking them of all their bad habits makes coaching in August/September/October seem like a burden.
Not this group. In the Bahamas, we saw a group of men already showing signs of becoming a special team, which speaks to why Calipari already loves working with this team.
“If you remember, Brandon Knight came to Kentucky and kind of changed our culture and helped push us to where we were trying to go,” Calipari said Sunday. “This group of freshmen, I just told them, you guys are getting guys, like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did, you either get in there and become more skilled or you go by the wayside.
“If you play with a high motor, there’s a guy or two out there that aren’t and it’s obvious that you all see it. Like, why isn’t he playing as hard as those guys? We haven’t had that. This is a group that is driving each other.
“I told them, our practices were so competitive for 10 days, and they said, ‘you’re right.’ These became, let’s play somebody else. It became a little easier for them because they were going at each other the way you’re seeing them go at these other teams.”
It also helps that these Cats aren’t getting too ahead of themselves, despite manhandling four teams in the Bahamas, several of which were full of quality pros and could probably be top-25 teams in college basketball.
Quade Green says the Cats won’t get full of themselves from this trip. “These are just preseason games.” The fall is when “the real games start.” pic.twitter.com/knqolLRrSr— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) August 12, 2018
While the offense is nice, it was clear Kentucky’s biggest strength in the Bahamas was its suffocating defense, something Calipari hopes to keep harnessing before the real season begins.
“I told the guys I’m not intoxicated by this,” Calipari said. “I just told them, I’m not. At the end of the day, we should be a monster defensive team, we should be a great rebounding team, we should be a team that can fly up and down the court and put pressure on you both sides of the ball, and we should be a team that shares, because we got a lot of guys that are skilled enough to play that way.”