Tuesday night's match-up with the Georgia Bulldogs was more than just a SEC game for the Kentucky Wildcats. Head coach John Calipari and his ball club needed a momentum boost before they play arguably the toughest stretch of their season. Kentucky is on the brink of a road game to Auburn, hosting Mississippi State, and then a home match-up with Kansas.
Needless to say, the Wildcats weathered an early storm before it got out of hand for the third consecutive game. After taking a narrow 35-31 halftime lead, the Wildcats held true to form by closing the deal, 69-49.
Hagans Continues to Blossom
Before tip-off, SEC Freshman of the Week Ashton Hagans anticipated boos from the Georgia crowd. While they seemed overly thrilled every time he missed a shot, they were also silenced by Hagans’ stellar play.
The blossoming star point guard continued his string of eye-opening performances, netting a career high 23 points and grabbing five rebounds while dishing out four assists. He also became the first Wildcat in program history with three or more steals in six consecutive games. His willpower to single-handedly drive his team to a win, though, stood out above everything else.
Against the guards of the Auburn Tigers, Hagans will be needed more than ever on Saturday afternoon.
Perimeter Defense Improves
Over the first half of Kentucky’s season, their achilles heel has been their defense along the three point arc. On Tuesday night, though, Kentucky held Georgia to just 4-27 shooting from three. While their paint defense slightly let up, the Wildcats will live with giving up more twos than threes.
Again, improving their defensive mentality was something the Wildcats were looking to do ahead of their difficult slate of games. Against an abundance of high-octane offenses, they’ll need to sustain their composure more than ever.
Bench is Coming Around
Who could’ve seen that EJ Montgomery, Jemarl Baker and Nick Richards would out-hustle the starters (outside of Hagans) on the road against a feisty Georgia team? Maybe Immanuel Quickley, but more than likely not the former three. However, that was indeed the case.
Baker made a significant impact shooting the three, Montgomery provided high-impact energy plays and Richards changed the game on the defensive/offensive glass. As the schedule moves on, Calipari should look their way more often. After all, this was the anticipated “platoon” team.
Mike Pratt Sidelined
If you listened to the radio broadcast tonight, you noticed that Mike Pratt was not calling the game alongside Tom Leach. That’s because Pratt had a surgical procedure that will keep him sidelined briefly, but he’s planning to be back next week. In the meantime, fellow UK great Tony Delk is filling in.
Mike Pratt had surgery this morning. He expects to return to UK's radio team for next Tuesday's home game against Mississippi State. Tony Delk will substitute for Saturday's game at Auburn as well as tonight's game at Georgia.— Jerry Tipton (@JerryTipton) January 15, 2019
It’s not the same having Leach and Pratt calling UK games, as Pratt is the perfect analyst to pair with the emotion and love of the game that Leach brings every night.
Get well soon!
Ready for Auburn
Kentucky had rough starts against both Texas A&M and Vanderbilt last week. On Tuesday, they faced a similar situation at Georgia. The Bulldogs showed aggression from the tip but the Wildcats answered with power plays of their own. For the second straight game, the defense suffocated the opposition, and tonight, the offense got going for a balanced attack that left Georgia in the dust.
Kentucky fed Reid Travis for their first four points, initiating their attack in the painted area. Hagans then took over the game, while Herro and Washington scored in double figures to carry Kentucky to the 69-point mark, while the Dawgs failed to hit 50.
Kentucky’s bigs also controlled the boards against one of the best frontlines they’ll face in SEC play.
As Kentucky heads into their three-game slate against Auburn, Mississippi State and Kansas, they’ll need to show that same fight early in each game.
Saturday’s tip is set for 4 pm EST.