The Kentucky Wildcats trampled the Kentucky State Thorobreds Friday night by a score of 83-51.
The Cats looked sloppy at times, but all in all, it was a good performance. There was a lot to like and look forward to this upcoming season.
Next up, the 2019-20 basketball season will officially get under way as the Cats take on the No. 1-ranked Michigan State Spartans on Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden.
No Nick Richards
This is no surprise since Richards has reportedly been wearing a walking boot throughout the week, but it wasn’t officially official until the game started.
The 7-footer sprained his ankle in Kentucky’s first exhibition game against the Georgetown Tigers. He jumped to block a shot and landed awkwardly, rolling his ankle.
Lower leg injuries are never good news for big men, and with UK, there’s no telling how serious or not most injuries really are (see PJ Washington and Reid Travis). But he’s listed as day-to-day and the sprain does seem relatively minor.
He’ll be questionable up until Tuesday, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t play, but we probably won’t know much more until then. His absence does, however, lead to the next topic of discussion.
New starting lineup
This one is relatively obvious considering Richards wasn’t playing tonight after starting the first exhibition game, but that wasn’t the only change made to the starting five.
The Cats started with Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Khalil Whitney, EJ Montgomery, and Nate Sestina. As you may remember, the starters for the first game were Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Keion Brooks, Jr., Montgomery, and Richards.
It isn’t unusual for Cal to tinker with lineups early in the year, especially in the preseason. But it’s interesting to note, nonetheless.
Quickley played extremely well last week against the Tigers, so maybe Cal felt compelled to get Whitney some confidence by giving him the start. Maxey should’ve been a starter regardless, because UK’s best lineup is him paired with Hagans and Quickley.
But for now, we don’t know who the starters will be for game one.
Kahlil Whitney had a big bounceback performance
Whitney had an incredibly bad performance in his first college action last Sunday. He didn’t score a point, missed multiple easy looks, and contributed next to nothing.
He quickly turned that around tonight. He looked more confident, which might be at least somewhat attributed to him getting the start. Regardless, it was a different Whitney that we saw.
He was hitting shots from deep over and over, and even showed off his solid mid-range game. Last weekend, the uber-athletic forward looked like an athlete just trying to play basketball. Tonight, he looked like the real deal.
There will be inconsistencies from everyone, especially the freshman, but if Whitney can exert the effort and confidence that he did tonight, then he’ll be just fine.
Immanuel Quickley picked up right where he left off
Quickley looked timid at times last season, which makes sense because he was a rookie and had a short leash. He was afraid of getting pulled.
That’s not the case this season. I mean, IQ is not afraid at all. He will come down the court and immediately pull from three or drive to the basket.
He looks like the five-star point guard Cal recruited. His stroke is maybe the best and most consistent on the team, and he just plays like he has nothing to lose.
The blue-white game was one thing, but this is two exhibition games now that Quickley has looked excellent. The Cats don’t need 20 points per game from him, but if he can average double figures, that takes this team to a whole new level, especially if the big men don’t come around.
The defense was smothering
Kentucky played pretty well defensively against Georgetown, especially considering one extremely hot player had half of their points, but it was even better tonight.
At the half, the Cats led 44-20 as they held the Thorobreds to 22.2% shooting from the field. And it only continued after the break.
For the game, Kentucky State shot 25.9% from the floor, 27.6% from three, and only scored 51 points.
This team has some serious athletes, some length, and a lot of guys with a ton of potential on the defensive end. They won’t be perfect, especially with the freshmen in the game, but overall, defense will be a major strength.
This team can shoot it from deep
Unlike teams in the past, there’s more than just one or two guys who can stroke the deep ball. There have been Cal teams that shot the ball well in the past, but it usually seemed like it was either a low percentage at a medium clip or a high percentage at a low clip.
I think this team will have both volume and a high percentage from three this season. They have multiple guys who are legitimate threats, and others who can keep you honest from time to time.
As times are changing, Cal has learned that three-point shooting is becoming integral to the game of basketball on all levels. Shooting percentages will be down as a whole across college basketball as the three-point line was moved back 15 inches.
However, this UK team will be solid in that area. They’ll be a team where you’re confident the majority of the time that they shoot it, rather than mad or frustrated that they don’t take the ball to the basket.
Thank goodness for Nate Sestina
This team might not have any paint presence whatsoever if it weren’t for Sestina. Richards looked somewhat improved in the first exhibition game before going down with an injury, but Montgomery looks like he has motor issues.
The talent is there for the other two, but Sestina is better than people thought and he is relentless. Whether it’s shooting the three, or crashing the boards, Sestina works hard.
He’s no Reid Travis, but he can shoot better and he’s actually a bit more athletic. He won’t bang inside as well as Reid did, but his leadership and willingness to do what needs to be done for the team will only help these guys in the long run.
UK would be lost on the inside if it weren’t for Sestina. Thank goodness for the Bucknell transfer.
The preseason is over. It’s time for basketball season to officially get under way. And there’s no better way to start than a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 to kick things off.