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7 more thoughts and postgame notes from Kentucky beating Georgia

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Is it time for Nick and EJ to take minutes from Reid?

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night, the Kentucky Wildcats made the trip to Athens ready to face a Georgia Bulldog team that ranks in the lower tier of the conference ranks. The Wildcats went on to take care of business, turning in yet another strong performance on defense for a 69-49 victory.

Their offense clicked later in the game, but early first half struggles continued once more for the Wildcats. Kentucky’s issues weren’t just scoring the basketball, as the Wildcats’ interior defense allowed Georgia’s first five baskets to be dunks.

As the half continued, Kentucky found their first lead of the night (13-11) via a three-pointer from Jemarl Baker.

A game of tug-of-war tied the game at 27 but Kentucky resisted to fall behind for the rest of the half to take a 35-31 half-time lead.

Coming out of the break, Kentucky looked like they flipped the switch.

The Wildcats played with energy on both ends of the floor to start the second half on a 9-0 run to lead 44-31.

Georgia battled back but Kentucky held firm throughout the remainder of the second half for the win.

Thoughts on the Game

Is Ashton Hagans Kentucky’s best player?

Coming into the year, everyone expected Keldon Johnson to lead the charge. However, since Ashton Hagans’ coming out party against North Carolina, the freshman point guard has been the team’s most consistent force at both ends of the court.

Tuesday, Hagans set a career high in scoring with 23 points. He also finished with five rebounds, four assists, and posted at least four steals for the sixth consecutive game.

Nick Richards Gaining Minutes

Over the first quarter of the season, Nick Richards saw his minutes take a sizable dip due to the play of both PJ Washington and Reid Travis.

However, over the last three games, Richards has sparked the team’s slow starts immediately off the bench. While his offense took a back seat tonight, his rebounding and defense were top-notch.

Richards logged seven rebounds, three blocks and miraculously drew two charges while finishing with a +/- of 13 (third-best of any player) in 15 minutes.

Time for less Minutes for Reid Travis?

Travis has been struggling since SEC play began and he’s faced more athletic bigs that are giving him fits in the post. He didn’t play bad vs. Georgia, per se, but he had just six points on 3/7 shooting with five boards and no blocks in 22 minutes. He actually scored all of his points within the first 15 minutes when Kentucky was leading 27-25, then didn’t score again as Kentucky outscored Georgia 42-24 the rest of the way.

EJ Montgomery, on the other hand, finished with six points on 3/6 shooting, six boards and one block while affecting several other shots with his length in just 14 minutes.

Travis is still a vital member of this team, but it’s clear that certain matchups make Richards and Montgomery more effective. We’ve seen glimpses of that over the last few games. Travis certainly needs to keep playing, but it may be time for it to drop in that 16-18 minute range and allow the younger bigs to play more.

PJ Washington Embracing Alpha Role

PJ Washington’s up-and-down year has been rather alarming, as most anticipated the sophomore forward to return and instantly become the team’s 1B to only Keldon Johnson.

While that hasn’t necessarily been the case, Washington did step up tonight on the road with 10 points and six rebounds. He also played great defense and helped limit Georgia’s top three bigs (Claxton/Hammons/Ogbeide) to just 30 combined points and 15 rebounds. They were the driving force for Georgia, so keeping them in check was critical to winning this game.

The team will need Washington’s consistency on both ends of the floor as the SEC schedule unravels.

Keldon Johnson MIA

It’ was quite the struggle for Keldon Johnson in Athens. He finished this game with zero points on 0/6 shooting with two turnovers, his worst game as a Wildcat.

That really speaks to how well Kentucky played with arguably its best player struggling so much. Imagine how much Kentucky would have won by had he had even an average game by his standards.

Now, imagine Kentucky playing as good as it did Tuesday and Johnson having a big game when they play Auburn this Saturday. That’s certainly the recipe for what would be a monster road win.

Cats Cruising from Free-Throw Line

Kentucky is on pace to have the best free-throw shooting team in the John Calipari era. After going 9/11 from the charity stripe vs. Georgia, Kentucky is now shooting 75.4% on freebies this season.

Free throws have haunted many of Cal’s teams, even some of his best ones. Seeing this team do so well in that regard has been key to getting points even when they’re struggling from the field.

It’s also going to be something that wins them a game or two if they make a deep run in March.

Dominant Defense Continues

Kentucky has held their opponent to sub-50 point performances in back-to-back games. While the competition hasn’t been great, that’s still an amazing feat in such an offensive-first era.

Kentucky also did a good job of defending the three-point line on Tuesday, holding Georgia to 14% shooting from deep.

Saturday trip to Auburn should further test the team’s defensive hustle, as the Wildcats face one of the better teams in the conference, let alone the country.

Now, here are the postgame notes and updated season stats via UK Athletics:

Team Records and Series Notes

  • Kentucky improved to 13-3 overall, 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference. Georgia is now 9-7, 1-3 in the SEC.
  • UK leads the series 127-26, including 43-17 in games played in Athens, Georgia.
  • Kentucky extended its winning streak over Georgia to 12 games, which is now UK’s longest active winning streak vs. an SEC opponent
  • UK has won 11 straight over Mississippi State, who Kentucky will play next Tuesday.
  • The streak is not the longest in the series, however. UK has previous streaks of 20 (1950-66), 16 (1994-2001) and another one of 12 (1977-82).
  • The Wildcats’ 20-point victory was its largest margin of victory in Athens since a 76-55 victory on Jan. 15, 2004.
  • The 49 points the Wildcats held the Bulldogs to were the fewest Georgia has scored vs. UK in Athens since limiting UGA to 44 in a 57-44 Kentucky victory on Jan. 24, 2012.
  • Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats will remain on the road for a Saturday showdown at No. 14/12 Auburn. Game time is 4 p.m. ET and it will be televised on ESPN.

In the First Half

  • Kentucky started Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Reid Travis for the ninth time this season. UK is now 6-3 with that lineup.
  • UK gave up five dunks in the opening six minutes for Georgia’s first five field goals.
  • The Wildcats settled in after – another – slow start. UK went on a 12-3 run to take an 18-14 lead.
  • Hagans sparked the run with two sharp assists. First he found Herro slicing to the basket for a layup and then fired a dart to Jemarl Baker Jr. in the left corner for a 3-pointer.
  • Washington capped the run with his first 3-pointer in five games and had a team-high tying eight first-half points.
  • Georgia tied it at 25-25 after a 7-2 run.
  • After a 1-for-7 shooting start, Hagans sparked the Cats at the end of the half for the lead at intermission. He pulled up for a long 2-pointer for the lead and then followed with a layup as he was fouled for a quick four-point burst.
  • Despite the shooting troubles, he finished the half with team highs in points (eight), rebounds (four), assists (two) and steals (one).
  • Nick Richards provided a big lift in the final minute of the half with a dunk and a block as UK went into the locker room with a 35-31 lead.

In the Second Half

  • Kentucky opened the second half with Hagans, Herro, Johnson, Washington and Travis.
  • Hagans was the spark to start the second half. After the Cats committed a shot-clock violation on their first possession, Hagans drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer on the second possession. He followed with two straight layups for the first seven points of the half for either team.
  • EJ Montgomery followed with a layup for a 9-0 UK start to the second half and a 44-31 lead, UK’s largest lead to that point.
  • The run was 11-0 going back to the second half.
  • Montgomery punctuated an 8-0 Kentucky run over 2:47 with a dunk at the 9:07 mark to give UK a 16-point lead, its largest of the game. Kentucky cruised from there.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky improved to 2-1 in true road games this season.
  • The Wildcats are 3-3 away from Rupp Arena in 2018-19.
  • UK is now 246-5 when leading by at least 10 points at any time in the contest. The Wildcats have led by 10 points or more in a whopping 85.4 percent of John Calipari’s 288 wins at Kentucky.
  • Kentucky is now 235-40 vs. unranked competition under Calipari.
  • Georgia totaled 49 points. UK is 67-0 under Calipari when keeping the opponent at 55 points or less, including 3-0 this season.
  • It’s the second straight game the Wildcats have held the opponent to 50 points or less. That’s the first time UK has done that since holding South Carolina (Feb. 14, 2015) and Tennessee (Feb. 17, 205) to 43 and 48 points, respectively, during the 2014-15 season.
  • Kentucky limited Georgia to 30.4 percent from the field. UK is 170-15 under Calipari when keeping the opponent at 40 percent or less, including 6-0 this season.
  • The field-goal percentage was UK’s second-best defensive effort of the season and best since holding Monmouth to 27.6 percent on Nov. 28.
  • It was a season-low field-goal percentage for the Bulldogs.
  • UK shot 50 percent from the field tonight. It is UK’s seventh game of the season at 50 percent or better, all wins.
  • After Georgia scored via dunk for its five field goals of the game, the Wildcats limited Georgia to 12 points in the paint the rest of the way. UK won that category overall, 40-22. UK is now 11-2 when winning the points in the paint.

Player Notes

  • Ashton Hagans had no letdown in his return to his home state in Georgia (Cartersville native). He finished with a game- and career-high 23 points, a career-high five rebounds, a game-high-tying four assists and a game-high four steals.
  • Hagans’ finished the game 9 of 18 from the floor despite making just one of his first seven shots (8 of 11 from that point forward).
  • He has now scored in double figures in five straight games after scoring in single figures in his first 11 games. He’s averaging 15.8 points, 4.4 assists and 3.6 steals over that time span.
  • Hagans extended his streak of three or more steals to six games. When he hit five straight games, it was believed to be a school record.
  • Tyler Herro had a solid all-around game with 12 points, seven rebounds – his most since Nov. 28 – and a game-high-tying four assists.
  • PJ Washington scored in double figures with 10 points for the seventh time this season and the 30th time in his career. He was an efficient 4 of 6 from the floor.
  • Nick Richards pitched in with an important 15 minutes. He scored four points with seven rebounds – his second most of the season – and a career-high-tying three blocks.
  • He leads the team with 22 swats.
  • Jemarl Baker Jr. tied his career high with six points on a career-high-tying two 3-pointers.
  • With six points, EJ Montgomery had his best scoring output since Dec. 1 vs. UNCG.

Calipari

  • Calipari is now 288-67 at UK.
  • He has a 733-207 all-time on-court record.
  • Calipari is now nine wins away from tying Joe B. Hall for the second-most victories by a UK head coach in program history.
  • He improved to 332-102 all-time in conference games, including 124-36 in the SEC.
  • Calipari is 7-3 vs. Georgia head coach Tom Crean, who previously coached at Marquette and Indiana.