It’s like Christmas morning in August for Kentucky fans as they get to see their favorite basketball team take the floor roughly three months before the regular season begins.
Kenny Payne was the one calling the shots on the sidelines in this one as coach Cal sat up in the stands to be able to analyze and watch his guys on the floor to see what he has to work with rather that having to worry about the score and rotations. This gives Cal the perfect chance to see what his team is good at and what they need to work on the most.
Out of the gate, Kentucky got off to a hot start breaking out to a quick 11-0 lead before the Bahamas National team was able to get on the board. However, the Cats never sustained a big lead due to some lapses on defense, and they had stints where they struggled to score the ball on offense.
Coach Payne experimented with a lot of different lineups during the first half and tested what worked best and what didn’t. After a rollercoaster half, the Cats were able to take a 42-35 lead into the locker room.
After halftime, the Cats struggled for the first minutes of the half. The Bahamas came out strong and had the game tied up. However, Kentucky was able to step it up and pull back out in front.
The length of the Cats was a lot for the Bahamas team to handle and Kentucky was able to pull out an 85-61 win in the first game in the Bahamas.
Thoughts on the game
Nick Richards looked much improved
Last season Richards struggled throughout the year, but he did have his moments when he looked good and showed glimpses of what he was capable of. I was eager to see how much the offseason would help Richards, and after one game, it looks like it has helped him tremendously.
He finished with 23 points and looked much improved on the offensive end of the floor. He still left his feet too often on defense, but he made strides on that end of the floor as well and came up with some big block in this one.
Reid Travis was a monster on the boards
During this game Travis seemed to struggle on the offensive end of the floor. He never got into a rhythm and looked uncomfortable throughout the game. However, I wouldn’t worry about that too much, he was a star at Stanford, and once he figures out his role and gets used to playing with these guys, the dominant Reid Travis will come out.
Although he struggled on the offensive side, he was a beast when it came to rebounding. Travis grabbed 14 rebounds, and if a ball was coming his way off a shot, he was going to rebound it. Very encouraging considering the rebounding struggles he had last season.
Tyler Herro was impressive
Coming into the year, we knew that Herro was a scorer during his time in high school but was curious to see how he played at Kentucky. Well, this first game should have fans excited and eager to see him this season.
Herro had 16 points and came up with two steals, but when the Cats would struggle to score the ball, he seemed to always come up with a big basket to get the team back on track.
Kentucky struggled on defense...
Yes, it is August and Cal has been known to not work on defense this early, and it showed in this one. The Cats were constantly leaving their feet on head fakes and struggled when trying to rotate on defense.
On the positive side, this team has incredible length and athleticism so once they get time to work on defense they could be a scary defensive team and really create havoc for opponents trying to score on them which will in turn lead to a lot of fast break opportunities to get some quick, easy buckets.
Except for Ashton Hagans
It may be August, but Ashton Hagans already looks like he’ll be one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball. He was an absolute pest Wednesday and really kept the Bahamas Team from ever finding rhythm on offense.
Whether it was straight man-to-man defense, playing the passing lanes or contesting drives to the rim, Hagans rarely gave up any ground to a Bahamas team that had pros.
My unofficial final tally: Opponent scored on just 15 of 44 possessions (34%) with Hagans on the floor. He personally gave up just six points, had four steals and three other deflections, pressured the ball. Had easily a half-dozen assists blown by misses on great looks. He good.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_SEC) August 9, 2018
Hagans is going to be a major problem for the rest of college basketball.
The Cats struggled from behind the three-point line
Last season we saw the team struggle to shoot the ball from outside and coming into this season those struggles were believed to be gone. However, in this game, the Cats couldn’t buy a three.
They went 2/20 from three with Brad Calipari and Immanuel Quickley knocking down the only two for the night. Obviously, this was the first time they have played in a real game, and we shouldn’t panic because this team is a much better shooting team than what we saw in this one.
With the first game over, I would take this as a positive performance from the Cats especially since it is August. We saw improvement from players that is encouraging, and we saw what these young freshmen are capable of This is going to be a very fun team to watch grow and develop throughout the season as they work towards March.
Here is a look at the postgame notes, courtesy of UK Athletics:
- Kentucky’s starting lineup featured Quade Green, Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Nick Richards.
- Johnson scored the first points of the trip with a pull-up jumper just inside the right elbow 3-point line.
- Kentucky stormed out to a 13-0 lead in the first three minutes, highlighted by two dunks from Richards and Washington.
- Richards was unstoppable early in the first half. He reached 10 points just five and a half minutes into the game and scored 14 for the half.
- The Bahamas clawed back after the fast start and cut the Wildcats’ lead to 25-22 with 7:54 left in the first half. The Bahamas would get as close as two points on several occasions.
- Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans helped UK earn some breathing room with some solid play late in the half. Hagans was all over the floor defensively with three steals while Herro scored 12 points in the first half.
- The Bahamas quickly erased a seven-point deficit with a 7-0 run to start the second half in the first 1:37 of game time to tie the score at 42-42. It was the game’s first tie.
- The Bahamas team took its first lead of the game at the 16:44 mark on a layup by Jerome Burrows to go up 44-43. Herro got the lead back on the following possession with a leaning layup.
- Washington’s bank shot with 15:14 left gave UK a 47-45 lead it would never relinquish.
- Kentucky went on an 11-2 run after the game was tied 45-45 and pulled away.
- Kentucky used its size to good advantage, outrebounding the Bahamas 57-45 and winning points in the paint, 46-30.
- Four Wildcats scored in double figures.
- Kentucky scored 20 points off turnovers and gave up just three from its own miscues.
- UK had 13 steals, compared with two for the BNT.
- UK committed just eight turnovers, compared with 15 by the BNT.
- Nick Richards led all scorers with 19 points, including 14 in the first half. He was 6 of 7 from the floor and 7 of 8 from the line.
- Had it been a regular-season game, it would have been his second-highest scoring output in a UK uniform. He posted 25 points vs. Fort Wayne as a freshman.
- He also blocked a team-high two shots.
- Tyler Herro notched 16 points, including 12 in the first half.
- He was 6 of 11 from the floor
- Reid Travis showed off the rebounding ability that helped him to back-to-back All-Pac-12 selections at Stanford. He grabbed a game-high 14 boards.
- Travis, a transfer from Stanford, averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds at Stanford a season ago.