You win some and you lose some… and that is a fitting description of the opening week of play for this edition of the Kentucky Wildcats.
It is tough to get dinged early in the season, but in taking a hit early it sets the stage for growth and learning the new habits that these young Cats are developing. In fairness, Richmond is considered by many basketball experts as an NCAA Tournament team that could win multiple games in the Big Dance, and their seniors flexed some experience and leadership against the Wildcats in a 76-64 upset in the Bluegrass Challenge.
So as always you take the loss and learn from it. You also look for signs of what is to come and there are plenty of signs….Brandon Boston Jr. scored 20 points and recorded the first double-double of his career adding 10 boards. For the week he is now the team scoring leader at 17.5 points per game and the team leader in rebounds at 8.5 boards per game.
As the year unfolds keep watching Olivier Sarr. The transfer senior faced the seniors of Richmond and scored 17 points with 11 rebounds. It is his first double-double at Kentucky. When the Wildcats are in close games, his leadership, especially early in the season may be one of the keys to Kentucky success. He played well, again displayed a sweet touch, and has size. In matchups like the one against Richmond, the young Cats need Sarr to show up and play big.
Once again, Terrence Clarke (15 points) and Isaiah Jackson (14 rebounds) looked amazing at times as they continued their first week wearing the blue and white. The Cats also won the rebounding battle with a solid plus 23 rebound margin. It is well known that the team is athletic and long, so this is something they must continue to do. So although the week ended with a record of 1-1, there are some good signs as we move into what is going to be a grueling stretch of growing opportunities for the team.
With Kansas next up, the Wildcats are going to have to shoot better. Richmond found them hitting 36.1% from the floor, 60.6% at the foul line, and no three pointers. Those numbers were not good enough this past weekend and they won’t cut it against some of the teams that are waiting. The skill set is there, but one of the concerns early in the year has been how well they would shoot. It is going to take some time, but they should respond.
The biggest sign that there is room to improve is the total of 5 assists. There were no assists in the second half. The early stretch of the season is one where they have to learn to play as a team. The lack of assists is a symptom that suggests they still have some things to do as they gel together. Perhaps Davion Mintz will emerge to give some added experience at the point as Devin Askew finds his consistency in the backcourt.
But the best news of all is that we are playing basketball again in Kentucky! So sure, it would have been nice to win both of the games in week one, but the season is here, the team is talented, and they are just getting warmed up. From all indications, we are in for an exciting ride.
The Cats play in the Champions Classic against seventh-ranked Kansas in Indianapolis tonight. Tipoff is set for 9:30 pm on ESPN.