Following Kentucky’s late loss at Alabama on Saturday, a 10-0 deficit against Texas A&M early in the Wildcats’ SEC season opener wasn’t exactly the start they were looking for. However, behind a platoon performance, all hands were on deck in rallying the Wildcats to a 46-34 halftime lead.
While the Aggies battled back throughout the second half to cut Kentucky’s lead to 69-66, the Wildcats pulled through late behind the heroics of Ashton Hagans and Tyler Herro for a 85-74 win.
After scoring 10 in the first half, the Herro poured in 11 second half points to reach 21 for the game. Ashton Hagans has also been sensational as of late and that trend further cemented on Tuesday night. Hagans scored 18 points and dished out four assists with five steals in the win.
Keldon Johnson (eight points), PJ Washington (nine points) and Reid Travis (six points) had rather quiet nights.
Bench Comes Through
After falling down double-digits early, head coach John Calipari turned to his bench for a revival of offense. His second unit certainly answered the bell on both ends, starting with five quick points from Nick Richards on the fast break. Immanuel Quickley added seven while EJ Montgomery and Jemarl Baker each had four.
EJ Montgomery block leads to the Immanuel Quickley runout. pic.twitter.com/1kxIt1ivf4— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 9, 2019
Kentucky’s bench combined for 20 of the team’s 46 first-half points in one of their better first halves of the season. As SEC play moves along, Calipari could look their way even more.
Jemarl Baker rainbow corner 3 plus the foul. pic.twitter.com/tWlHqU20Wv— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 9, 2019
Rebounding Continues to Fade
Throughout the first third of the Kentucky’s season, the Wildcats were considered one of the better rebounding teams in the country. Specifically, their offensive rebounding was spectacular. The combination of PJ Washington and Reid Travis inside the painted area was a duo many opponents were quickly bullied by, but that hasn’t been the case as of late.
Since their statement win over North Carolina, the Wildcats haven’t been nearly as dominant on the boards. Kentucky only out-rebounded Louisville on the glass by one and were then out-rebounded by eight in their loss at Alabama.
On Tuesday, their rebounding struggles continued in a 31-28 margin. Travis and Washington, along with the rest of the Wildcats, will need to reclaim their territory in the paint as their SEC slate unravels.
Things Get Testy
For the first time this season, tension arose between the Wildcats and their opponents. In the first half, Ashton Hagans snuck through the back door of the Aggies’ minds with stellar defensive efforts. After picking the pocket of Brandon Mahan, Hagans drove hard to the basket where he was deliberately fouled by Wendell Mitchell.
The foul was deemed flagrant and immediately after, there was “much to do about nothing.” However, there were three technical fouls assessed for the light pushing & shoving. Kentucky’s PJ Washington, A&M’s Christian Mekowulu and John Walker III were handed the slap on the wrist.
Three technical fouls for this? pic.twitter.com/aSHDnN5cFS— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 9, 2019
Later in the second half, Kentucky’s Jemarl Baker was assessed a flagrant one foul for contact that looked to be minimal.
Jemarl Baker is whistled for a Flagrant 1. I don't get it but what do I know, I didn't go to clown college, I mean SEC ref school.— Warren Taylor (@WarrenETaylor) January 9, 2019
Things were certainly chippy, but the level of “chippiness” was clearly overstated by the officials.
Dan Issel is the “Y”
The second half of Tuesday night’s game provided a special treat for the Big Blue Nation. Yes, start running back Benny Snell Jr. was in the house to watch the Wildcats. However, it was the person sitting to his left who was the famous household name.
One of the program’s greatest players in history, Dan Issel, was the “Y” in the second half. His 2,138 points scored through three seasons are the most by any Wildcat in school history.
Dan Issel and Benny Snell. pic.twitter.com/7oSeCmPQeN— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 9, 2019
Issel and his wife, Cheri, sat court-side with Snell. Cheri is a former cheerleader at Kentucky, of which she met Issel.
The Kentucky Wildcats will have the rest of the week to prepare for the Vanderbilt Commodores, as they’ll host the Nashville natives on Saturday at 8:30 P.M. EDT.