With Lexington abuzz with College GameDay and the nation’s No. 1 team in town, the Cats rose to the occasion and ran past Tennessee, 86-69.
Now, it’s time for a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from Saturday’s big win.
Unstoppable. That’s the only way to describe PJ Washington’s performance over Tennessee on Saturday night as the 6-foot-7 sophomore finished with a game-high 23 points on 9/12 shooting from the field.
From his patented jump hook to his deft touch from behind the three-point arc, Washington is clearly in the hunt for SEC Player of Year honors and continues to climb up NBA draft boards as a potential first-round pick.
Washington currently leads the team in scoring (14.8 ppg), rebounds (8.0 rpg) and three-point shooting (43%).
Smash Mouth Basketball
Not sure if it was the heartbreaking loss to LSU or just the emotional high of hosting the nation’s top-ranked team, but these Cats had a very different look in their eye as they manhandled Tennessee.
As expected, this was a physical game that saw both teams take its share of hard knocks as Kentucky was only whistled for three fouls in the first half. The Cats clearly won the battle in the post with the play of Washington and Reid Travis, who used his wide body to bang around and establish great position.
Length might hurt this team at times, but there’s certainly no fear when it comes to physical play and aggressive, hard-nosed basketball.
Tennessee entered the game with a high-scoring offense that averaged just over 86 points per game. But they’ve also not played a Top 25 team since December 9th and Kentucky’s defense exposed the Vols’ selfish play and inability to score in the post. Ashton Hagans returned to form with another solid defensive effort and now has 53 steals on the season.
But it was Tyler Herro’s blue collar effort that stole the show as the 6-foot-5 guard finished with a game-high 13 rebounds and his first career double-double. Per UK Coach John Calipari’s postgame press conference, the Wisconsin native also led the team in rebound attempts.
Big Blue Nation
As usual, Kentucky fans came out in full force on Saturday, beginning with a packed Memorial Coliseum for ESPN’s College GameDay and ending with the third-largest crowd in Rupp Arena history. It was simply big-time college basketball at its finest.
From a UK student nailing a money shot at Memorial to Marlana VanHoose’s rendition of the National Anthem, you just knew we were in for something special. Most importantly, the noise level at Rupp on Saturday night was off the charts.
Marlana Vanhoose brings the house down (again) with a flawless National Anthem rendition. What. An. Atmosphere. pic.twitter.com/WwLppBJC7i— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) February 17, 2019
You can bet Tennessee heard the noise all the way back to Knoxville.
It’s hard to find fault in a 17-point win over the No. 1 team in the country, but Kentucky’s zone offense continued to look out of synch, maybe even awkward at times, as Tennessee’s 2-3 zone in the second half sparked a brief run to make things interesting.
The Cats have struggled against the zone all year, often being pushed too far from the basket and missing scoring opportunities in the post. Putting Washington on the foul line certainly keeps the defense honest, but we must do a better job of dribble penetration, finding the gaps and flashing to the ball.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why EJ Montgomery doesn’t log more minutes. I understand that Calipari has a set lineup with Washington and Travis in the post, but Montgomery was fantastic again on Saturday against Tennessee with six points and four rebounds in just nine minutes of action.
One solution might be to play Reid, Washington and Montgomery together as each can play facing the basket. Montgomery could also steal some minutes from Jemarl Baker, who is averaging 8.9 minutes a game after returning from a significant knee injury. If Baker continues to struggle with his perimeter shooting, it might be time for an eight-man rotation as we gear up for March Madness.
Montgomery, who’s averaging 13.8 minutes per game, could take this team to another level if he could get 20-plus minutes per game down the stretch.
The “Overrated” Chant
With the upset inevitable late in the second half, the UK student section broke into an “Overrated” chant that literally sent Calipari over the edge. He was visibly upset and could be seen on the ESPN telecast waving his arms toward the crowd to shut it down.
Calipari often refers to Kentucky as the “gold standard” in college basketball and he wanted to send the message that we don’t do that here. In the past, he’s also said that “we don’t storm the court” after big wins and both are great reminders for the fan base. Disclaimer: I still whistled Rocky Top all the way home.
On to Mizzou.