Kentucky came out aggressive, but struggled to slow down the Bulldogs early on despite Anthony Edwards doing absolutely nothing. That led to a 41-35 lead at half. UK eventually was able to extend the lead in the second half and they never looked back.
Georgia is a bit inconsistent, but they have a solid team with some very talented players that can make you nervous on any given night. So, this was a good win for the boys in blue and white.
Next up, the Cats will travel to Lubbock, Texas as they take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders in a tough road matchup.
Ashton Hagans was very aggressive
You know Hagans had UGA circled twice on his calendar before the season as he was formerly committed to the Bulldogs and grew up in Georgia.
After scoring a career-high in the game last season, Hagans didn’t play quite as well the first time around this season. He was coming off an ankle injury in a hostile road environment and might have been a bit too amped up as he missed his first five shots of the game.
Tonight, he came out like he had something to prove again, but this time, he did it under control. Hagans is always aggressive in one way or another, but he hit another gear tonight.
Whether it be driving the basket, rebounding, or defending, Hagans does it all and is the heart and soul of this basketball team.
Free throw shooting returned to form
Kentucky entered SEC play as one of the five-best free throw shooting teams in the country. However, the Cats had struggled from the line the last few games in a big way.
That changed tonight as UK lived at the line and the free throw shooting finally returned to form.
It was probably reasonable to expect a slight decline and it looks like they’ve gotten that out of their system. Now, it’s time to remain consistently good from the line. It can win or lose games.
Immanuel Quickley is cooling down but still playing well
Quickley went on a ridiculous stretch where he hit 15 of 16 three-point attempts in a row. He raised his three-point percentage from 32 percent to 42 percent just in SEC play.
So, it was only a matter of time before the deep ball stopped falling as often. However, that hasn’t stopped Quickley from continuing to play well.
He’s defending as well as I’ve ever seen him defend. He really slowed down Anthony Edwards tonight and he shut down Isaiah Joe on Saturday. He’s rebounding, as evidenced by his double-double on Saturday against the Arkansas Razorbacks. And he’s finding other ways to score.
To put it simply, the sophomore guard makes winning plays and his improvement has been tremendous.
Opponent offensive rebounding is a problem
Kentucky has struggled to keep opposing teams off the glass on the offensive end all season. That still hasn’t changed and it’s a significant problem.
The Cats defend very well the first time around, but giving up multiple shots on a possession will wear any team out. The last several games opponents have had a ton more shot attempts than UK simply due to offensive rebounding.
Efficiency is important, but the more shot attempts, the better chance there is of shots going in. Richards rebounds well and the guards usually rebound well, but someone has to become a force down low and slow this trend down.
EJ Montgomery finally woke up
Montgomery looked like he was starting to find his groove and carve out a role just a week ago. However, that quickly changed Saturday as EJ did absolutely nothing.
It looked like it was trending that way tonight, as well, but Montgomery finally woke up in the second half and gave Kentucky some solid minutes.
Montgomery scored in double figures for just the third time this season and fifth time in his career. He also played solid defense and hit the glass a little bit.
You want EJ to gain some confidence because it’d be nice to have his versatility on the floor. He does things other bigs can’t and he’s really good on the defensive end.
He’s not always the best option, but he’s showing flashes that have to excite you as a fan. He just needs to find some consistency.
Kentucky’s best lineup
Sometimes, this depends on the matchup. Some guys match up better with certain teams depending on their lineups and roster construction. But we can still pinpoint Kentucky’s best lineup in general.
That group includes Hagans, Quickley, Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks, and Nick Richards. This lineup has the Cats’ four best players together and uses Brooks as a versatility man that can stretch the floor and rebound effectively.
Cal will continue to start EJ Montgomery for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean he should be playing crunch time when your best five guys need to be on the court.
I’m confident this lineup is the best that the Cats can put on the floor.
Johnny Juzang is gaining confidence
I alluded to this in a recent article, but it was readily apparent tonight. Juzang is clearly gaining confidence as he earns more and more playing time.
Calipari is trying his hardest to get Juzang going, as he should be an excellent shooter. He’s struggled thus far and is still missing open shots, but they’ll start to fall at some point.
The good news is he’s starting to appear more comfortable. After skipping his senior year and reclassifying to play this season, Juzang was expected to be a little bit behind everyone else. Freshmen always are, so guys that should still be in high school are even more so.
But he’s starting to get it. He’s doing more than simply shoot. He isn’t afraid to drive, and he rebounds and hustles every time down the court.
A lot of people predicted Juzang to be Kentucky’s leading scorer before the season. He seemed to have a scoring package similar to that of Tyler Herro. While it hasn’t been all roses to date, it’s finally starting to come together.
Kentucky put together a second straight solid performance to get the win tonight. They lost their focus at times, but they were able to pull away when it mattered.
This would have been an easy game for the Cats to look ahead to Saturday’s big-time matchup, but Kentucky got the job done.