The Kentucky Wildcats may have lost Saturday, but there was a bright spot that could bode well for the rest of the season.
Despite the near come back at the end of the game, Kentucky trailed Alabama by 8+ for the better part of the last five minutes. The shots just weren’t falling for the Wildcats, and any time they did, Alabama came right back on the other end to negate it.
The ball looked a bit flat Saturday with the team, as their FG% and 3PT% were 43.1% and 27.8%, respectively. While the play as a team wasn’t great, there was a bright spot, and that was the play of Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley.
When the season started, the guard play was not great. There was a lot of confusion on the court between Immanuel, Tyler, Ashton, and Quade. Each player didn’t really understand their role and it deteriorated the effectiveness of the whole team.
Luckily, Reid Travis and PJ Washington stepped up their play to help Kentucky win games.
But then, Quade Green requested to transfer. After he was cut out of the equation, you saw Ashton Hagans take on a completely new role, and Tyler Herro started to find his grove. It has helped this Kentucky team form their identity to this point, getting marquee wins over North Carolina and Louisville.
While Hagans stepped up, Immanuel was still struggling to find his way.
Well, you saw the two of them play very well both individually and together on the court in Tuscaloosa. Hagans had 12 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals, while Quickley had 8 points, shooting 2-4 from beyond the arc and grabbing 2 boards.
Immanuel Quickley knocks down the straightaway 3. pic.twitter.com/p4j2w8P5OG— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 5, 2019
While Saturday’s result ended up in a loss, it is encouraging to see these two play well together, especially in the case of Quickley, who has slowly grown into his role as a three-point shooter off the bench.
Quickley hit just four of his first 18 three-point attempts this season, but he’s since hit six of his last 12 from deep and 11 of his last 22 shots from the field, as he is proving to be the kind of boost in this area that UK needs.
Immanuel Quickley steal and layup. pic.twitter.com/V4dhVjIt5W— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 29, 2018
On Monday, John Calipari talked about Quickley’s development and how it can work alongside Hagans.
“Better. Better,” said Cal of Quickley. “We’re trying to figure out – what’s interesting (is) I went to dinner last night with Dave Wahl, who is a GM in the NBA, and he said that in the NBA point guards are different. There are some that are slashers and get in the lane, and there are others that are hit and slide away.
“Well, we’ve got one of each. So, we’ve got a guy who should hit and slide and be ready to make a play, be ready to make a shot. One is really good on-the-ball defender; one is better off-the-ball defender. You can play them both together. But, he’s (Quickley) getting better. I’m holding him accountable.”
Quickley’s improvement have come in part due to he has to go against Hagans everyday in practice.
“First of all, Ashton is a really good player,” said Quickley. “I go against him in practice every day, so I know how hard it is for the opponent when they are going against him. He can get in the lane and distribute. He hit me on both of my threes (at Alabama).”
Excellent entry pass from Immanuel Quickley to Reid Travis for the jam. pic.twitter.com/wk3nXeSF4E— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 29, 2018
Quickley also cited a former Kentucky great that he’s emulating, to a degree.
“Not really watching film, but he kind of had related me to Brandon Knight in terms of my work ethic, leadership and all that stuff,” said Quickley on if there’s a former player Calipari wants him to emulate.
“But I think I bring my own set of tools. Something that he really hasn’t had in terms of getting to the rim and being able to shoot and help my teammates and stuff like that. Just trying to come in and be my own player is really what I’m trying to do.”
Calipari is actually challenging his players to pick a word and embrace it for the rest of 2019. For Quickley, his is simply getting a better feel for the game, something that’s coming easier since he’s not fighting Quade Green for minutes anymore.
“Mine was ‘feel’. Me and (John Calipari) have been talking a lot about that since I got up here as a point guard. Just feeling my way on the court and stuff like that. Having an idea of where everybody is, stuff like that. Really, just a point guard type of word.”
Hopefully moving forward, they can continue to gel and improve. It’s a very long season, and while this isn’t the ideal way to start conference play, there are plenty more opportunities for this team to prove themselves.
Ashton Hagans behind the back dribble on his way to the cup for the and-1 bucket. pic.twitter.com/0cUXbmiA2x— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 5, 2019