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EJ Montgomery is starting to find his role

The sophomore forward is finding his footing.

Jamie Boggs - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats beat the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon by a score of 76-67. That was thanks in large part to the foursome of Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, and Nick Richards.

However, there’s one player that was vastly overlooked: EJ Montgomery.

The +/- stat can be a bit deceiving at times, but it does provide an important look at how the Cats played with certain players on the floor. Sure, there are a lot of different factors that could affect it, but Montgomery played significant minutes. The larger the sample, the better.

EJ finished with eight points, six rebounds, and one block on 4/6 shooting from the field in 25 minutes of play. Those stats might not jump off the page, but it does show us that he’s starting to improve. And maybe even starting to find his role on this team.

“I just want to go out there and compete,” Montgomery said after the game. “We fight every possession and want to get rebounds. I just do the little things that I can be doing.”

A lot of people expected, or at least hoped, that Montgomery would take a PJ Washington-esque jump from his freshman to sophomore season. In reality, it was Richards and Quickley that did so, but that doesn’t take away from EJ’s apparent improvement.

“I think that I am breaking through my shell,” said Montgomery. “Me and (John Calipari) had a talk and he just wants me to go out there and have fun, and that is what I tried to do out there.”

Last season, Montgomery averaged 3.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game while shooting 48 percent from the floor in about 15 minutes per contest.

This season, the 6-10 power forward is averaging 7.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.9 percent from the field in roughly 24 minutes per game.

The improvement isn’t drastic, but it is there. While only scoring in double digits twice last season, with his high being 11 points, Montgomery has already done so twice this season, scoring 16 and 25 points in consecutive games.

The problem has been consistency. After putting up 41 points in back-to-back games against the UAB Blazers and Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, Montgomery has only scored 29 points in the seven games since.

However, what he is doing is rebounding and defending. He can stretch the floor with 15-to-18-foot jump shots. He can defend the guys on the perimeter that Richards struggles to keep in front of him.

And while he isn’t the strongest guy in the paint, he does things that other bigs can’t, like drive the lane and hit a floater.

Montgomery isn’t UK’s best player. He’s not even their fourth or fifth best player. But his production and continued improvement is pivotal to this team making a run come March.

It may not always show up in the box score, but Montgomery is starting to find his role on this squad. And if he does reach his ultimate potential, whether it be this year or next, watch out.