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Player takeaways from the Cats’ win over Alabama

The Cats continue to make positive strides as SEC play heats up.

Nick Richards Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

Kentucky followed up what I thought was their most impressive performance of the season Tuesday vs. Georgia with a win over a fluky Alabama squad. New head man Nate Oats has his boys still playing Avery Johnson’s style—launching 45 three-point prayers and playing super disorganized defense.

Despite the strange style of play, Bama has some real dudes and to be honest, they really scared me coming into the game. My nerves were settled by a 15 point Cats lead but flamed up again as Kentucky escorted the Crimson Tide to a steady second half comeback. However, behind our best shooting day of the season and Immanuel’s meditative three-point nirvana, Kentucky controlled a 76-67 victory.

Immanuel Quickley

After going 5/6 from three on the day with a final tally of 19 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists, it’s safe to say IQ has found his role, and it isn’t point guard like high school recruiting gurus suggested. He’s a slithering off-ball sharpshooter—our only one in fact. But after months of Keion’s skying clankers and Maxey’s million November misses, Quickley’s sudden barrage is magnificent. Like watching Alex Smith for a decade and then switching to Pat Mahomes. Hopefully, Immanuel keeps this up, even with much less time to meditate as class gets going again.

Ashton Hagans

Calipari huffed that he “wasn’t satisfied by Ashton.” Neither was I. 15 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals on a bum ankle is pathetic. At least get a triple double. Or hit five threes like Immanuel. Or block five shots like Nicholas. Or—seriously, and what Calipari pinpointed—turn the ball over less than 4 times. I understand the frustration, we turn the ball over more than Lamar Jackson in a big game. So curbing the carelessness is the fix. But he’s one of the best point guards in the country, no doubt.

Tyrese Maxey

After really impressive plays—the really, really cool tricks—my go-to move is to short-sigh and turn my head the other way, as if what I’m watching is too royal for my eyes. Like HOLY hell did Christian Wood just yam on Anthony DAVIS? One or two Maxey finishes slump me like that in every game since the turn of the calendar. Here’s Saturday’s:

Knifes through four defenders in one fail swoop. Opponents might think their zone is tougher than a two-dollar steak against our dreadful shooting, but Maxey is a Hattori Hanzo sword. Turns everything into butter. And Calipari is as deadly as the Bride wielding him, particularly against AP ranked competition. Here’s to hoping he turns our tournament foes into the Crazy 88.

Nick Richards

The popular Nick Richards take this week was “Stop being so surprised when Nick Richards plays well!” BBN was chastised in at least five articles (of those I read) and several times on the radio, claiming we need to accept that he’s good. No, he’s freaking incredible—ALL-SEC WORTHY! Hold on, though.

Can we can admire the progress and address the possibility that in a game or two this year he’ll probably revert to his old self for a few minutes? It’s well documented that Richards had hands of stone for two years before spontaneously learning how to dunk in year three. He used to drop everything, botch every single alley-oop, and the poor kid couldn’t grab a rebound with two hands if Leah Edmond was suspended over a pool of sharks.

So my thoughts are WOW, I’m so happy for that kid! Look at how far he’s come! Good-hearted, hapless freshman don’t spend three years flipping themselves from Jamaican nobody to fan favorite and elite shot-swatting center in the Calipari era. He’s a story to enjoy, and yes, so is his journey from frustration to fruition.

Keep being amazed by Nick, this doesn’t happen very often.

EJ Montgomery

Played well, to the tune of two deep mid-range net-slappers, his own euro step mid-lane floater and a nice little drive and baby hook off the right baseline. I think he is actually playing very well lately. He isn’t often out-rebounded, generally blocks a shot a game, and his offense is growing in confidence and creativity. The euro step was 1,000 percent a forbidden move last year. I mean I still cackled when he attempted it but it went in! Guess EJ got the last laugh.

Instead of another PJ Washington, EJ is next line to be Junior Nick Richards, though EJ he’s had a better sophomore year than Nick did.

Nate Sestina

By far the simplest player to figure out. Other team has an athletic 4? Bad defensive day for Nate. Typical big-bodied forward at the 4? Nate’s gonna play quite a bit, shimmy open for a couple treys and clean up the rough edges around Kentucky’s guards as a big man: vocalizing the defense despite being the weakest link, grabbing hectic rebounds, never making dumb decisions; what Seth Greenberg calls “all those little things.”

Oh, and he finds Immanuel in the corner for one three a game now. It’s Kentucky Basketball Cannon.

Keion Brooks

Keion started, made 1 of 2 mid-range jumpers in the first minute of the ball game and was never heard from again aside from a turnover and two fouls. Our five is Hagans-Maxey-Quickley-Richards and a forward. Kahlil, Keion, Nate and EJ are the candidates, and the latter two are simply the better options over the frosh at this point. Defense and rebounding could catapult him into a finishing lineup rather than merely starting.

Kahlil Whitney

What’d he play, like 20 seconds? Nevermind, it was eight minutes—eight minutes highlighted by three missed shots and a foul, a rebound and even an assist. Last year, as a high school senior, he was featured in a Youtube series titled “Year of the Dragon,” suggesting he was an Eragon sort of character on the basketball court, a fire-spitting vulture ready to torch the college ranks and trampoline to the NBA. Instead, he’s spent his freshman season dragging his feet to the bench following boneheaded jumpers or missed defensive assignments.

I need to hear Calipari raving about Kahlil’s performance in practice. Last year, I went and watched a practice where Keldon Johnson was screamed at for his last place finish in sprints and then absolutely demolished Reid freaking Travis on a rebounding drill. Pushed to brink of his own temper, Keldon channeled it into a glass-clearing rage that had Kenny Payne chuckling, at least until Keldon gobbled the last board over PJ and howled loud enough for the entire Craft center to freeze.

Let’s hear one—just one!—story like that about Kahlil in practice.

As Anthony Davis wore on his shirt during his last night in New Orleans, “That’s all, folks!”