Behind their second-largest scoring output of the season (89 points), Kentucky trudged to victory against a mediocre-playing Georgia squad they beat just a couple of weeks ago.
But did we get a sneak peek at next year’s stars? By that I mean Johnny and Keion, it was their big day along with Ashton’s best offensive performance in I don’t know how long. That and the rest of our individual player takeaways from Georgia’s visit to Lexington:
Since the dawn of the 2020 basketball season, Kentucky’s glaring hole has been a reliable power forward, a 4 by gawd. We have three elite guards each capable of netting 20 and defending the other team’s best player, and we also have Nick Richards, author of a fairy tale turnaround from stone-handed dunk-misser to quite literally “one of the best big men in the nation.”
Kentucky just needed a fifth guy to clean up the glass, defend and fill a merely complimentary offensive role. Nate has obvious defensive issues, Kahlil...we’ll get to him later, and EJ has been solid but out of position as a college 4. Last night, Keion played his best game as a Wildcat, leaking out for fast break finishes, skying for offensive boards and working the defensive end.
Great outlet pass by Immanuel Quickley to Keion Brooks for the punch. pic.twitter.com/B6UEAgXsOE— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) January 22, 2020
Guys, the Wildcats may have found their fifth piece, and I think it could spark quite the winning streak, similar to last season when Ashton finally locked down the point guard spot.
Also, I found his comment to Kyle Tucker quite funny: “I’m a little pigeon-toed and I walk a little funny, but then I jump and they’ll be like ‘Oh, whoa, yeah.’”
Reminds me of Zion Williamson. I got to see Zion dominate Bankers Life Fieldhouse like a nitrogen-infused jumping spider in November 2018, but when he isn’t airborne, Zion waddles around like a three-legged stool. Keion and Zion may walk funny, but they’ll get the last laugh in any leaping match.
Hagans was just out of control on Tuesday; in all the best ways. Calipari smacked his fist on the table and declared him the best point guard in the country (in his opinion)—because of how he defends.
Well, he again defended like a “frenzied four-handed clock” to quote Haley O’Shaughnessy’s piece about Bam Adebayo; and he could pick even my zipper-pocketed sweatpants. Offensively, he was excellent as well, making easy layups, shammgod-ing into pull-up jumpers and tallying nine assists to go along with his 23 points.
Ashton Hagans remembers everything. pic.twitter.com/iH0akMUOoY— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) January 22, 2020
I already bought a venture capitalist’s amount of Johnny J stock. Our token Californian Sharpshooter Who Can’t Shoot missed both his treys, but he had his leash extended out to 18 minutes vs. Georgia because he rebounds, knows where to be on the court and really is a good passer.
Uh oh, shots are starting to drop for Johnny Juzang. pic.twitter.com/q8Hfe7oGpN— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) January 22, 2020
Two plays stuck out to me: his curling dribble around the right corner and toss-back to an open Immanuel for our only three-pointer, and his left-hand jump hook off an inbounds pass in the second half. I find myself pleased with every decision he makes on the offensive end. Please, let’s keep him. That kid is incredibly gifted and yes, he can shoot! Don’t let 18 (just 18!) three-point shots deter from his filthy high school shooting numbers.
Once more, Nick Richards ruled the paint. 20 points, 8 boards and a trio of blocks in a career-high 36 minutes with zero turnovers. He played exceptionally again. What more is there to say? He’s one of the best bigs in college basketball, and he continues to play like it.
Nick Richards— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) January 22, 2020
20 pts (7-12 FG) (6-6 FT)
3 blks pic.twitter.com/62koKlAtb7
IQ is slumping since his barrage to open SEC play. However, he continues to eliminate opposing stars on the wing and remains one of our all-time coolers at the free throw line. Dalton from Road House is even jealous. Quickley also rebounds the absolute hell out of the basketball. He grabs boards with the ferocity of a UFC fighter, snatching the ball like it’s Cowboy’s head.
EJ opened the game with a flurry of impressive possessions: rebounds, blocked shots, finishes through contact...and then was pulled for the remainder of the half after picking up two fouls. He honestly looked phenomenal Tuesday night, and the Nick Richards comparisons are deserved and accurate. If we can get him to stay for just one more year, he’ll develop likewise into one of the best big men in the country.
EJ Montgomery two hand rejection of Anthony Edwards. pic.twitter.com/v4ia5Kpru4— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) January 22, 2020
Maxey is supremely talented with the ball in his hands, but he just doesn’t assert himself enough. I called him the Hattori Hanzo Sword of zone defenses—he can slice them apart whenever he wants! Tyrese has the hand-waving arsenal of a Karate grandmaster when he’s attacking the basket. He flies past defenders and can finish with a flurry of flare and precise layup-converting or foul-drawing.
Tyrese Maxey leaves his man grasping at air and then finds Nick Richards for the slam. pic.twitter.com/ioASbCFuIg— Not Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton2) January 22, 2020
Without question, Maxey is Kentucky’s most talented offensive player. I’d love to see him really turn it on for one of these games in the dog days of SEC play the way he does vs. elite competition. By the way, he’ll go for 20+ vs. Texas Tech this weekend—sharpie!
Feel like I’m writing this after every game nowadays, but this just wasn’t a game for Nate Sestina. Georgia likes to run four and usually five guys out there who can attack off the dribble. It’s actually a pretty scary attack that would probably work if they were organized or if they could stop anyone on the other end.
But the Bulldogs’ overly-athletic forwards are Nate’s exact kryptonite. I’m starting to get concerned about whether he’s cut out for SEC caliber competition physically. Just a little bit slow.
However, in a matchup against more big-man-style fours, he usually does well, so he’s a nice shot-making and rebounding weapon in those particular contests, which is really nice to have.
Is it time to close the book on Kahlil’s freshman season? Kentucky checks all the boxes with its current three-way yin-yang of forwards. Keion is an athletic menace, Nate’s experience, hustle and leadership make him playable, and EJ is a reliable post presence at this point. Kahlil adds nothing those three don’t already possess (except maybe less than 2 fouls in a first half pinch) and, sadly, takes away more than he gives.
You’d be a fool to kick him to the curb long-term, but it just hasn’t happened for him this year for whatever reason. At this point, he fills the EJ Floreal role of Designated Dapper during the starting lineup introduction, but there’s still plenty of season left for him to become something more.