The Kentucky Wildcats are in their longest winning streak of the season, and they were able to take down the South Carolina Gamecocks to win their ninth straight.
It wasn’t the best start for the Cats, as they didn’t have much energy out of the gate, and they were not locked in defensively. But they were able to take an 8-7 lead into the first media timeout.
However, South Carolina came into Rupp ready to play as they were knocking down threes at a high rate and getting to the rim. The great start for USC allowed them to grab a 17-13 lead with just under 12 minutes left in the half.
Then Cal went to Jemarl Baker off the bench, who has done just about everything well except make shots consistently. However, he came into this one and knocked down a big three and knocked down a mid-range pull-up shot to tie the game at 22.
With 5:11 left in the half, a PJ Washington layup would tie the game at 24. From that point on, the Cats would go on a 15-4 run to close out the half and take a 39-28 lead into halftime.
The second half was much better all around for the Cats as they were much more active and aggressive on both ends on the floor.
The ball was moving on offense and they were crashing the offensive glass. The hustle allowed them to build up a 51-35 lead at the under 12 timeout.
PJ Washington took over the second half and was doing it on the inside, as well as knocking down outside jumpers. This helped the Cats to build up a 62-38 lead with just under 7 minutes remaining.
The entire half was a completely dominating performance by the Cats, and they were able to roll to their ninth-straight victory with a 76-48 win.
Thoughts on the game
EJ Montgomery was outstanding
All season it seemed like EJ was just a step behind and was overthinking while he was on the floor. We all know what he is capable of, we just hadn’t seen it come together like it did in this one. However, we have seen it in spurts.
Well, against the Gamecocks, EJ was dominating them on the boards as he had 13 rebounds and five of them were offensive rebounds. He also had 11 points for a double-double to go along with an assist, a block, and a steal.
It was the performance that we were all waiting to see from the freshman.
EJ has made strides during the last couple weeks and he put it all together for an excellent performance in this one.
EJ Montgomery drains a beautiful straightaway 3 pointer. pic.twitter.com/CywaJBVPbd— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 6, 2019
Grabbing 13 rebounds in just 20 minutes of play is tremendous productive for any big man. his offense is still a work in progress, but if he can come in and dominate the boards like that, it makes an already-dangerous Kentucky team even more scary going forward.
Jemarl Baker continues to improve
Baker checked into the game and started knocking down shots on his way to five points off the bench as well as grabbing three rebounds.
Jemarl Baker knocks down the 3 against the zone. pic.twitter.com/zWdnQglTDe— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 6, 2019
Jemarl Baker rainbow midrange jumper. pic.twitter.com/qnDl74JYg4— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 6, 2019
Aside from that, he continued to play excellent defense as he was able to get his hands on the ball to disrupt the offense of South Carolina. Plus, he is most likely one of the better passers on the team.
This team will continue to get better and better as Baker continues to grow, improve as a player and settle into his role.
Slumping from deep
While winning nine streak games is great, Kentucky has done so as of late without getting much help from beyond the arc. After going 5/16 from deep against the Gamecocks, Kentucky has shot below 32% from deep in three of its last four games (Kansas, at Florida and vs. South Carolina).
In those games, Kentucky hit just 15 of its 55 three-pointers, a putrid 27.2%. That’s going to have to chance for the Cats to win at Mississippi State this weekend. Thankfully, the Cats went 8/16 from distance in the win over Mississippi State in Rupp Arena. Let’s hope they produce that type of outing in Starkville this weekend.
Rise of the bench
It wasn’t that long ago when Kentucky would go several games without getting much production from its bench. The starters were playing great, but you can’t expect them to do everything if you’re going to beat great teams.
Then there’s the issue of foul trouble, something Kentucky had to deal with in this game when Reid Travis went out early with two fouls. It also didn’t help that Hagans was struggling to make a positive impact while on the floor.
Thankfully, the bench came through and picked up the slack in a big way. It was actually the bigs who really stepped up, as Montgomery had the best game of his career, while Nick Richards also chipped in four points and four boards in just 11 minutes while defending the rim well.
Immanuel Quickley had a nice game, despite going 0/3 from the field. He finished with three points, one steal, three rebounds and four assists vs. just one turnover in 19 minutes.
Jemarl Baker had a good game as well, as he and Quickley helped Kentucky overcome Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson combining to shoot 7/20 for 20 total points, a so-so game by their standards.
Ashton Hagans struggled again
The first half was one that I am sure Hagans wants to forget as he turned the ball over six times and was just out of sync. This was coming off a not-so-stellar performance on the road at Florida.
However, he did come back in the second half and play better as he was able to get into the lane and kick it out for open shots. The only problem was they were missing those shots.
Despite Hagans struggling most of the game, he still managed to get four assists and three steals. However, he’s committed 4+ turnovers in three of his last five games, which included a five-turnover first half in the win over South Carolina (finished with 6).
Kentucky has improved by leaps and bounds, but it’s hard to see them making a deep run in March is Hagans can’t get out of this funk.
Hopefully, this is just a mini slump because they will need him to be much better Saturday in Starkville.
Kentucky dominated the boards
We already knew that this team is excellent on the glass, but in this one they took it to a completely different level. They won the rebound battle 50-27 and came up with 21 offensive rebounds, which led to second and third chance opportunities.
EJ Montgomery with another big time offensive rebound out to Tyler Herro for the 3. pic.twitter.com/5sKSfjJRzJ— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 6, 2019
They missed 36 shots on the night, so they grabbed 58% of their own misses. That is a recipe to win a lot of games, especially in March when the games slow down.
The defense is very fun to watch
This team has made one of the most impressive improvements on the defensive end since the beginning of the year when it felt like they couldn’t stop anyone from driving to the rim.
Tonight, they held South Carolina to 35.8% shooting and forced them into 19 turnovers. Not to mention, they held them to under 50 points for the game.
If you enjoy defense like I do, then you loved watching them talk on that end and the way they were rotating to make life miserable for the Gamecocks all night.
Immanuel Quickley with the takeaway and assist to Ashton Hagans on the break. pic.twitter.com/fFgUFEmJ7E— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) February 6, 2019
Kentucky now ranks seventh in KenPom defensive efficiency. What makes that even more impressive is Kentucky has done this while facing teams with an average offensive efficiency of 28. For comparison, that’s higher than five teams ranked ahead of Kentucky in KenPom.
Up next, the Cats will make another road trip as they travel to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday. That game will tip-off at 1:00 pm EST on CBS.
Now, here’s a look at the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky is now 19-3 overall and 8-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
- Kentucky has won nine in a row, longest since a 14-game win streak in 2016-17.
- Kentucky has won eight consecutive SEC games, longest since an eight-game league streak in 2016-17.
- South Carolina is 11-11 overall, 6-3 in the SEC.
- Kentucky leads the series 52-12, including 28-2 in Lexington.
- Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats play at Mississippi State on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET (noon CT in Starkville) and it will be televised on CBS.
In the First Half
- Kentucky started Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Reid Travis for the 15th time this season. UK is now 12-3 with that lineup.
- Kentucky was trailing 17-13 when Coach John Calipari inserted substitutes, EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, Immanuel Quickley and Jemarl Baker at the 11:45 mark. The Wildcats promptly went on a 7-0 run for a 20-17 lead.
- Trailing 24-22, the UK defense had a three-minute scoreless stretch and the Wildcats went on a 10-0 run, grabbing the lead for good at 32-24.
- All totaled, UK finished the half on a 17-4 run to take a 39-28 lead into intermission.
In the Second Half
- UK began the second half with the starting lineup.
- Ahead 39-32, Kentucky held South Carolina without a field goal for almost six minutes, and the Wildcats 9-1 run rushed the lead to 48-33.
- Kentucky continued to pull away, leading by as many as 29 points at 69-40.
- Over the last 18:50, UK outscored South Carolina 37-16.
- South Carolina scored 48 points. UK is 166-7 under Coach John Calipari when keeping the opponent to 63 points or less, including 14-0 this season.
- UK has held six straight opponents to 63 or less, first time that has happened since November 2015.
- UK is 71-0 under Calipari when keeping the opponent to 55 or fewer points, including 7-0 this season.
- UK has held three straight opponents to 55 or less, first time that has happened since January 2015.
- South Carolina shot only 35.8 percent from the field. UK is 175-15 (.921) under Calipari when keeping the opponent at 40 percent or less, including 10-0 this season.
- UK has held seven of the last eight opponents under 40 percent.
- Kentucky dominated the rebounding 50-27. The +23 margin is UK’s largest of the season in SEC play and third-largest of the season.
- UK actually outrebounded South Carolina 21-18 on Wildcat missed shots and UK won second-chance points 18-7.
- UK had 11 steals tonight and the Wildcats are 9-0 this season when having at least seven thefts.
- During the current nine-game win streak UK has …
- Held the opponents to 58 points per game
- Limited the opponents to 37.3 percent from the field
- Limited the opponents to 31.2 percent from 3-point range
- UK improved to 252-5 (.981) under Calipari when leading by at least 10 points at any point in the game.
- UK has won 16 in a row at Rupp Arena, including 13-0 this season.
- EJ Montgomery had his best game as a Wildcat, notching his first career double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds, both career highs.
- PJ Washington finished with 20 points and five rebounds.
- It is his sixth 20-point game of the season and he has seven straight games in double figures.
- Tyler Herro had 11 points and added three rebounds.
- Reid Travis neared a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds. He also had a season-high three steals.
- Ashton Hagans tallied two points, four assists and three steals.
- Hagans has 16 consecutive games with at least three assists. He’s led the team in assists 17 times this season.
- Nick Richards had four points, four rebounds and a steals in 11 minutes.
- UK is 9-0 this season when Richards scores at least four points.
- Calipari is now 294-67 at UK.
- He is now three wins away from tying Joe B. Hall for the second-most victories by a UK head coach in program history.
- Calipari has a 739-207 all-time on-court record.
- UK is 238-40 vs. unranked competition under Calipari.