The Kentucky Wildcats were at Madison Square Garden for the season opener against the top-ranked Michigan State Spartans.
Former Kentucky stars John Wall and Terrence Jones were in attendance to see the new group of Cats and were just as into the game as the rest of BBN.
Right from the tip, one thing was certain: The Cats were locked in defensively, as they held MSU to just 7 points by the under 16 timeout and held an 11-7 lead.
The Cats had a chance to pull away early but couldn’t find a rhythm offensively as each team scored just 2 more points by the under 12 timeout.
Then the scoring started to pick up for both teams as they began trading baskets, and Tyrese Maxey drilled a deep moving 3 to put the Cats up 21-18 with just under 8 minutes left in the half.
With just over 4 minutes left, the Cats held a 25-23 lead. From that point, they would end the half on a 9-1 run to take a 34-24 lead into the break.
The Cats didn’t get off to the best of starts in the second half, as they allowed Michigan State to cut it to 34-28 before Coach Cal took a timeout.
Each team would go on big runs as the Cats would stretch the lead to 8. However, MSU would battle right back to keep it close.
After each team made a big run, the Cats held on to a 45-41 lead at the under 12 media timeout.
The Cats would be the next to go on a scoring run, and Nate Sestina drilled a transition 3 to give the Cats their largest lead of the night at 54-41.
Unfortunately, the Cats had their worst defensive stretch of the game following that 3, and the Spartans cut the lead to 3, 56-53 with 6 minutes to play.
Kentucky would maintain the lead, but with 1:27 remaining, Cassius Winston converted an and-1 to make it a 62-60 game.
The Cats then turned to Maxey with the shot clock running down, and he drilled a deep 3 to make it 65-60.
Kentucky would get the stops and convert the free throws and came away with the 69-62 win over the No. 1 team in the nation.
Thoughts on the game
Tyrese Maxey was outstanding
Coming into the year, we all believed that Maxey would be our best player… by the end of the year. I didn’t expect he would prove that in Game 1.
Maxey was 7/13 for 26 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal. He was also 9/10 at the free throw line and made big play after big play down the stretch, including a big time rebound with less than a minute to play.
Maxey didn’t get the start tonight, but I fully expect that change to be made sooner rather than later. He already looks like a legitimate Player of the Year candidate.
This team is elite defensively
I expected this team to be good defensively eventually due to their length and athleticism,
However, I didn’t know that they would be this good defensively this early.
Besides the hard-fought 21 that Winston was able to put up, the Cats didn’t allow any other MSU player to score in double digits and held the team to 62 points.
The Cats’ rotations were very good, and they were helping each other and fighting for each other. They also double-teamed and forced Spartans into turnovers or inaccurate passes on many occasions. That helped make up for the lack of a big impact from Kentucky’s frontcourt.
Besides a couple stretches, each shot that MSU got had a hand in their face, as the Cats made life difficult for the Spartans.
Nick Richards was impressive
Even though Richards didn’t put up big numbers in the stat sheet as he had 5 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, and he fouled out.
Richards did play really solid defense as he was battling with the Spartans bigs all night and was also able to get out on guards and contest their jumpers. He also helped hold an all-conference level Xavier Tillman to just 7 points on 3/8 shooting with
What Nick brought to the table didn’t show up in the stat sheet, but he was a major factor in the Cats getting the win.
EJ still finding himself
It’s been a rough month for EJ Montgomery. He failed to impress in either of the exhibition games or even the Blue-White Game, as he’s looked really overwhelmed in the post and looks like he had little confidence in himself.
Things didn’t really change vs. the Spartans, as he struggled to rebound against the Spartans physical bigs, and he only hit 2/6 shots for 4 points to go with 2 rebounds. He did block 2 shots, but the sophomore forward has to improved dramatically for Kentucky so survive the grind of this schedule, as well as make a deep run in the Big Dance.
Kentucky converted from the foul line
How many times have the Cats lost a game they could’ve won if they shot descent from the foul line?
Well, this team is off to a good start from the line as they were 25/32 on the free ones, good for a 78% rate.
If they are able to convert those chances at that rate all season, then they will win a lot of games, especially in close defensive slugfests like this one.
The Cats will be in action again on Friday night in Rupp Arena when they take on the Easter Kentucky Colonels. That game will tip at 7:00 pm and can be seen on the SEC Network.
Now, here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky opens the season 1-0. Michigan State begins 0-1.
- UK improves to 14-11 vs. Michigan State and has won three of the last five matchups, including back-to-back games.
- Kentucky increased its NCAA-leading win total to 2,294 all-time.
- UK how now won 10 of its last 11 season openers, all under John Calipari.
- Next up: The Wildcats open their home season Friday night in Rupp Arena vs. Eastern Kentucky. That game will tip at 7 p.m. on SEC Network.
- UK is 12-0 all-time vs. the Colonels.
- Tuesday’s matchup marked just the second all-time meeting between the Associated Press Top 25’s top two ranked teams to open their respective seasons.
- In November 1975, No. 1 Indiana defeated No. 2 UCLA 84-64.
- It was the 42nd time overall the AP’s top two teams have met.
- UK improved to 6-3 in AP 1-2 matchups but captured its first win in a 1-2 meeting since the second-ranked Wildcats defeated Calipari’s top-ranked UMass team 81-74 on March 30, 1996.
- It was UK’s first 1-2 meeting since losing to Michigan State 78-74 in the 2013 State Farm Champions Classic in Chicago.
- Kentucky – regardless of its ranking – defeated the AP top-ranked team for the ninth time in program history. UK is now 9-16 vs. the No. 1-ranked team.
- The Wildcats have defeated the No. 1 team in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. UK topped Tennessee 86-69 on Feb. 16.
- UK is 3-2 vs. the top-ranked team under Calipari
Kentucky in the State Farm Champions Classic
- Kentucky moved to 5-4 in the State Farm Champions Classic.
- Duke leads the four teams with a 6-3 record. Kansas is tied with UK at 5-4 and Michigan State is 3-6.
- UK is 2-1 vs. Michigan State in the Champions Classic
Kentucky in New York
- UK improved to 38-14 in games in the New York City area.
- The Wildcats are now 14-4 in Madison Square Garden and have won five of their last six in “the Mecca.”
- Tyrese Maxey made his Kentucky debut in historic fashion. With 26 points, Maxey scored the most points by a UK freshman in a debut in school history, topping Terrence Jones’ mark of 25 (Nov. 12, 2010).
- Mike Casey scored 28 on Dec. 2, 1967, in his debut but was a sophomore.
- Maxey was 7 of 12 from the floor, 3 of 7 from 3 and 9 of 10 from the free-throw line.
- He also had five rebounds.
- In addition to his typical lockdown defense, Ashton Hagans scored 11 points with three assists.
- Immanuel Quickley was the third Wildcat in double figures with 10 points thanks to a 7-of-8 performance at the free-throw line.
- It’s his seventh career game in double figures.
- He also added five boards.
- Calipari improved to 306-71 at UK.
- He has a 751-211 all-time on-court record.
- UK is 10-1 in season openers under Calipari.
- In addition to his 3-2 record vs. top-ranked teams at Kentucky, Calipari is now 6-4 all-time vs. the AP’s top team in the land.
- Calipari is now 61-31 vs. AP Top 25 teams at Kentucky.
- Calipari improved to 13-8 in his career when both teams are ranked in the AP top five, 27-18 when both are in the top 10 and 83-54 when both are in the top 25.
- At UK, Calipari is 7-4 when both are in the top five, 16-11 when both are in the top 10 and 52-27 when both are in the top 25.
- UK shot 38.0% from the floor but held Michigan State to 29.6% from the floor.
- The Wildcats improved to 188-16 under John Calipari when holding the opponent to 40% or less from the floor.
- Kentucky is now 174-7 under Calipari when limiting the opposition to 63 points or less.
- The Wildcats generated 21 points off 16 Michigan State turnovers.
- UK improved to 271-6 under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points.
In the First Half
- The first starting lineup of the season consisted of Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Kahlil Whitney, Nate Sestina and Montgomery.
- Nick Richards was the first sub of the season.
- Quickley scored the first points of the season with three free throws on UK’s first possession after drawing a foul on Cassius Winston for a 3-2 lead.
- Montgomery made the first field goal of the season, a turnaround layup in the paint on a feed from Hagans.
- UK reeled off the first significant run of the game, an 8-0 stretch to take an 11-4 lead.
- After the Wildcats took a 16-9 lead, Michigan State answered with a 7-0 run to tie the game.
- The Cats went 7:28 of game time without a field goal before Tyrese Maxey hit a floater at the 9:20 mark.
- Maxey would go on to score UK’s next seven points.
- Kentucky opened up a 30-23 lead on a Quickley 3 with 3:09 left in the first half. Maxey increased it to 34-23 after a pair of free throws.
- UK took a 34-24 lead into the halftime locker room.
- Quickley led the Wildcats in the first 20 minutes with 11 points. Hagans and Quickley added seven.
- UK held MSU to 29.6% from the floor.
In the Second Half
- With Michigan State clawing back, Maxey again provided the answer for the Wildcats. He scored six straight points to put the Cats up 42-36.
- The key stretch of the game was a 9-0 run by the Wildcats midway through the second half. With Michigan State trailing by four, Quickley got the run going by getting fouled on a 3-point attempt and making all three at the line. Whitney followed with a trey from the right wing and Sestina answered with another triple from the top of the key on three straight possessions. That put UK up 54-41 with 10:00 left.
- Michigan State answered with seven straight points.
- Up 60-56, Maxey hit a another key bucket – a layup – to go up by six with 2:25 left.
- MSU closed it to 62-60 on an “and one” by Winston.
- Maxey answered with a 3 from three feet behind the 3-point line to go up 65-60.