The Kentucky Wildcats got a sports packed weekend off to a good start Friday night beating the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers by a score of 82-62.
It looked like much of the same in the first half as UK could not shoot or defend, struggling to a 39-34 lead at the break.
However, that changed in the second half as Kentucky finally found a rhythm and got things going.
Not only does Kentucky get to become bowl eligible in football tomorrow afternoon, but the Cats also have a quick turnaround in basketball as they face the Lamar Cardinals on Sunday evening.
EJ Montgomery and Immanuel Quickley return
After missing the last three games, EJ Montgomery returned to the lineup Friday night. He didn’t start like he did in the first game of the year, but he did sub in less than three minutes after the opening tip.
He looked healthy as could be. Maybe a bit rusty, but he ran well and the bounce was there. He also knocked down a long two and a three-pointer in a good amount of action.
However, Montgomery wasn’t the only Cat that returned from injury Friday night. Immanuel Quickley also returned to lineup.
Quickley subbed in less than five minutes into the game and played quite a bit. He knocked down a couple triples of his own and played solid defense.
These are two veteran guys who might start a lot of games over the course of this season. Getting them back was huge, not only for their talent and skill sets, but also for chemistry.
Let’s hope this is the last we see of the injury bug this season.
0, 1, 2, 3, 4
Okay, look, this isn’t very important, but it’s cool nonetheless.
Kentucky’s starting lineup consisted of Nos. 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4. This is the second game in a row that’s occurred, but I didn’t even notice it until Friday night.
It probably won’t last long as both Montgomery and, especially, Quickley could work their ways back into the starting five, but it’s a fun fact, regardless.
Nick Richards is the man
What can’t Junior Nick Richards do? That’s rhetorical because, yes, I know he’s had his struggles in Lexington. But it’s nice to see Nick finally confident and competent.
Seriously, he really can do a lot, though. He shoots free throws well. He can knock down a midrange jumper. He rebounds and defends well. He’s starting to block more shots, even if he mistimes his jumps every now and again. And he’s finally catching the ball and dunking it.
I get it. He’s seven feet tall, so some of these things should be easy. But they weren’t as recently as last March.
Nick looks like he’s taken a huge step in his third year at UK. And I love that for both him and the BBN. He may very well be working his way into a second, or dare I say, first-round draft pick.
The outside shots started to fall
It’s not new for a John Calipari coached Kentucky team to not be able to shoot, but it’s been really rough this year.
The thing is that they have multiple guys who can in fact shoot. Cal specifically brought in both Nate Sestina and Johnny Juzang to be shooters.
The problem: neither have been able to shoot thus far, or defend for that matter, making them hard to keep on the floor.
Sestina hustles and rebounds, and Juzang uses his length to get boards as well, but these guys are supposed to be lights out from deep. They just aren’t right now.
Friday night, other guys finally started to contribute from deep. And I can’t tell you how loud the arena got when the Cats hit their first three.
It needs to be more consistent because the offense will struggle if not, but this game was a move in the right direction.
Rebounding is still a concern
Kentucky has now outrebounded their last two opponents after not doing so well in the two prior games. While the rebounding is getting better, though, it’s still a concern.
Teams are getting way too many second chances on offensive rebounds. Couple that with the turnover issues the Cats have struggled with so far and that’ll help explain some of the defensive troubles.
This should continue to get better as Richards, Sestina, and now Montgomery get accustomed to being on the floor together.
The guards do a solid job and there’s length everywhere, so there’s definitely some potential moving forward. We just aren’t seeing it right now.
Ashton Hagans is reaching a new level
We all hoped Ashton Hagans would make a jump between years one and two in Lexington and boy has he.
Everyone (besides Jimmy Dykes) knows that Hagans is one of the best defenders in all of college basketball. Now, his offense is starting to catch up.
Last season, Hagans wasn’t asked to do a lot on the offensive end other than play floor general and distribute. That’s not the case this year. And Hagans has embraced his new role.
He’s passing, rebounding, and scoring extremely well so far. While his three-point shot hasn’t yet developed like many hoped it would, Hagans is finally finishing at the rim and taking advantage of his quickness.
Things will continue to get better as the season moves along. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.
If the outside shots start falling like they started to Friday night, everybody better watch out. The defense can be top notch and this team is more than capable of being a top-10 team.
Friday night’s game was just the beginning.