Arguably the hottest team in basketball took their six-game winning streak down to Music City for a mid-week primetime match-up.
Kentucky stormed out to a 45-15 halftime lead and sustained their momentum en route to a 87-52 blowout victory. The win comes as their seventh straight in the midst of their SEC slate and surge towards a top-5 ranking.
Washington Continues to Dominate
PJ Washington led the Wildcats in their win over Kansas on Saturday. On Tuesday, he continued his offensive surge with 18 first half points at Vanderbilt. Washington finished the game with a double-double of 26 points and 12 rebounds to lead his team to victory.
Tuesday night was Washington’s fifth-straight game in double digit scoring, which have all resulted with a win. His leadership and and efficiency scoring the basketball has led the offensive unit during the team’s win streak.
As the team moves forward, Washington’s alpha-mentality will be key to their success. He’s also putting himself firmly in the lottery discussion in this year’s draft, and frankly, he’s been one of the best players in America over the last week.
Defense Rises to New Level
Kentucky held Vanderbilt to 25% shooting in the first half for just 15 points. Led by three steals a piece by Keldon Johnson and Washington, the Wildcats forced 20 turnovers from the Commodores.
Kentucky won their third-straight game by holding their opponent to 63 points or less. Defense has been a recipe for easy offense, which can be credited to the effort of the entire roster.
Considering the lesser competition Kentucky faced on Tuesday night, it was positive to see the Wildcats continue their emphasis on that side of the basketball in a game no one would have been surprised to see the Cats have a letdown performance.
Instead, it turned into a smackdown like we haven’t seen in quite some time.
Hagans Handles Offense
Ashton Hagans is primarily recognized for his hard-nosed effort on the defensive side of the basketball. However, over the last four games, he’s recorded six or more assists in each contest. His ability to have command of the offense has allowed the Wildcats to flourish in the half court as well as the fast break.
Head coach John Calipari seems to once again have once again landed his star point guard and coached him up beautifully. For evidence of past players, see Andrew Harrison, Brandon Knight, De’Aaron Fox, John Wall, Marquis Teague, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tyler Ulis. That certainly puts Hagans in an impressive class and should bode well for his draft position, should he declare for the NBA draft this spring.
Confidence Boost All Around
It’s been a rarity for Kentucky to dominate a team like this in any setting, let alone on the road in an arena where the Cats have usually struggled. The starters were collectively great outside of Reid Travis, who only took a handful of shots as others dominated the game.
What made that even better was it allowed backups to see extended minutes for the first time in what feels like forever. EJ Montgomery got a good amount of run in the second half and played well with the extra minutes.
Immanuel Quickley got some good run and made several great plays, including some tough contested layups.
Jemarl Baker hit multiple threes as he continues to find his groove and establish himself as a knockdown shooter off the bench.
Speaking of, Kentucky managed to win the second half with bench guys getting a lot of run, so the Wildcats’ backups effectively outscored Vanderbilt on their own.
This was exactly the kind of game this entire team needed as they’re nearly to the halfway point of conference play.
Herro More Than a Jump Shooter
Earlier in the week, Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne said that Tyler Herro is more than just a “white guy that can shoot.” Over the last couple of months, Herro’s play has mirrored that comment with his play. The freshman’s on-ball defense and ability to score off the bounce has elevated Kentucky’s efficiency at both ends of the court.
Coming into collegiate play, Herro was regarded as a catch & shoot player who would capitalize against lesser competition via his ability to spray from behind the arc. While he’s shot it well from three-point land, Herro has played a significant role in the team’s dribble-drive offense. His peskiness on defense has also been a quality compliment to Hagans in Kentucky’s backcourt.
Up next for the Wildcats is a trip to Gainesville for a matchup with the Florida Gators. Tip-off for Saturday’s game is set for 4 pm EST.