A New Year, yet another game where the Kentucky Wildcats saw an opponent have the shooting day of their life from behind the three-point arc. On Saturday, the Wildcats traveled to Tuscaloosa to face a hard-nosed, Avery Johnson-coached Alabama Crimson Tide team.
Many experts predicted a double-digit victory for the Wildcats, but a particular Alabama player had other intentions. Tevin Mack, a junior transfer from the University of Texas, had averaged just 8.9 points per game prior to Saturday’s matchup with the Wildcats.
However, fueled by a first half of hot shooting, Mack went for 20 points in the first period and 22 for the contest.
Kentucky managed to overcome Mack’s hot hand early, edging Alabama 40-38 at the half. However, lackluster offensive production in the second half negated a late rally by the Wildcats to lead to a 77-75 loss.
Offense Stalls in Second Half
Kentucky had 40 points in the first half, receiving 10 from Reid Travis and eight from Ashton Hagans. However, their offensive rhythm blatantly slowed in the second half as Kentucky had multiple spans of which they failed to score a field goal.
Prior to Saturday’s game, the Wildcats had benefited from Keldon Johnson’s hot hand or one of PJ Washington/Reid Travis bullying their way inside for easy baskets. Kentucky had also enjoyed the benefit of Ashton Hagans creating in the open floor following their opponent missing shots or committing turnovers.
Alabama shooting better than 45% from the field for the game allowed Kentucky to score just four fast break points, exposing the Wildcats’ ability to score. Going forward, Kentucky will need better efficiency in their half-court offense.
Defensive Adjustments Not Enough
Mack’s first-half outburst was clearly frustrating for head coach John Calipari. Whatever the halftime message was, though, Calipari made it clear that Mack was to not have another clean look at the basket.
Kentucky’s defense had been notable over the past few outings and that trend continued in the second half. After letting Alabama net seven of their 11 three-point attempts in the first period, the Wildcats held the Crimson Tide to just 3-12 shooting from behind the arc in the second half.
Their efforts on defense didn't follow suit with their offensive production, though, resulting in the loss.
Hagans Blossoming Into Star
Since the departure of sophomore point guard Quade Green, Ashton Hagans has become Kentucky’s MVP. Hagans, a reclassified freshman, has been one of the better defensive guards in the country and has ultimately changed the mental intensity of the Wildcats.
Being disruptive on the ball, owning the passing lane and getting out in the fast break have all been ways of which Hagans has positively affected the game on defense.
Though Kentucky lost, Hagans’ play continues to be a bright spot for Kentucky as their season moves along.
Montgomery’s Minutes on Hold
No, Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson were not Kentucky’s top-recruits coming into the 2018-2019 basketball season. Instead, it was 6-10, 200 pound EJ Montgomery. The ninth-overall prospect was believed to have one of the higher ceilings of all recruits in his class.
While that may still be the case, he’s hasn’t exactly had many opportunities to showcase his ability. A front court of four capable big men has left Montgomery on the short end of playing time, which can explain his lack of production.
Montgomery has reached double-digit scoring just once this season. The freshman has an arsenal full of unique talents, but Calipari and the Wildcats are slowly running out of time to exercise their “Swiss-Army knife.”
Kentucky’s loss moves them to 10-3, with a home game against Texas A&M slated for Tuesday.