This one went back and forth as both teams dealt with foul trouble and got cold as quickly as they got hot. The Cats got off to a hot start before cooling down and then finding a rhythm again. They went into the half up 35-34.
It was truly a game of runs that determined the winner in this one. The teams went blow for blow with one another in what was a heavyweight matchup. It was sloppy and ugly, but when it was all said and done, UK just couldn’t get the job done.
Next up, Kentucky will head home to face a hot Mississippi State Bulldogs team on Tuesday night.
Brooks had some good minutes
Keion Brooks has played minimal minutes over the last couple of games, apparently due to an illness. And when he did play, he struggled.
However, Brooks bounced back today with some solid minutes when the Cats needed him. When Nate Sestina was struggling and EJ Montgomery picked up his second foul, Brooks stepped up to pick up the slack. And he played well.
He’s still dealing with some growing pains and adjustment to the college game, but he’s certainly coming along. I think Brooks has an extremely high ceiling, especially on the glass. He seems to just have a knack for the ball.
If he can gain some weight and refine his shot, Brooks can be a special player in a year or two. But for now, let’s hope we continue to get the good minutes he gave today. Because Kentucky is going to need them.
Hagans’ turnover issues are becoming a problem
It’s no secret that Nick Richards down low and Ashton Hagans running the offense is what makes this team go. The Cats just aren’t the same when these guys aren’t in the game.
Hagans breaks the press, initiates the offense, and, of course, guards his tail off. Couple all of that with his ability to attack the rim and it’s easy to see why he’s so valuable.
However, just because someone’s that valuable doesn’t mean they don’t hurt the team as well. And that’s exactly what Hagans’ over-aggressiveness is starting to do.
Some games are worse than others but averaging 3.4 turnovers per game is significant. Especially when he has five-plus turnover games.
Today was one of those days, as Hagans played his worst game of the season, fouling out and turning it over six times in just 21 minutes. The worst part is that it’s usually just trying to do too much, or simply being lazy with the ball.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Hagans. He’s so important to this team, especially when he gives them 35 minutes per game. But the turnovers are becoming a problem.
The Cats obviously aren’t very deep. They weren’t before Kahlil Whitney suddenly left the team and they certainly aren’t now, even if Dontaie Allen returns at some point (unlikely).
That means that the starters play a lot of minutes. Johnny Juzang, Brooks, and Sestina can play sparingly, but they can’t all play at once or for too long. They all do something well, but they just aren’t guys you can trust to play a ton.
So, that leads to the starters playing A LOT of minutes each and every game. Even more so when you consider the fact that Kentucky just doesn’t blow teams out. The starters have to stay in because they don’t pull away from inferior opponents.
They controlled the South Carolina game and Cal tried to give other guys, like Juzang, extra playing time when he had the chance. Well, we saw how that turned out in the second half when Kentucky didn’t put it away.
What concerns me about this is wearing these guys down. Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, and Immanuel Quickley especially. Those guys hardly ever come out barring foul trouble. Experience is good, but overwork is not. I just hope it doesn’t come back to bite them in March.
Free throw barrage
There were a lot of fouls and free throws in this one. We’ve become accustomed to seeing college basketball referees make the game all about them recently and this game was no different.
In the first half alone, Auburn shot 20 free throws and Kentucky shot 14. That should be close to a full-game amount. There ended up being more than 50 free throws shot between the two teams combined. To be fair, both teams draw a lot of fouls and normally get to the line. However, this was just excessive.
It makes the game unbearable to watch when three guys with stripes want to be the star of the show. Eventually, the NCAA and/or SEC will do something to fix it. But for now, we’re stuck with guys that held completely unaccountable for significantly affecting the outcome of every game.
Quickley has become an expert at drawing fouls...and doing much, much more
Quickley has improved in a ton of ways and he’s been nothing short of excellent this season. But one thing that he’s become an expert at is drawing fouls.
Considering the fact that he shoots 92 percent from the free throw line, that’s significant because it’s like getting free points.
And, boy, was it fun to watch tonight as Quickley drew foul after foul on the Tigers. He forced one of Auburn’s best players — Samir Doughty — into two fouls before half by doing what he does. He also had a couple James Harden-esque drawn fouls by sweeping through when the defenders would stick their arm out to guard him.
Honestly, it’s just basketball IQ. He’s so smart and knows exactly what he doing when he’s out there. And that’s a reason he’s improved so much.
He had a great game tonight. Other than drawing fouls, Quickley was able to knock down the deep shot, hit his free throws, and shoot that perfect floater in the lane.
However, the great games from Quickley and Maxey went to waste as the Cats just couldn’t get it done.
This was a frustrating loss because Kentucky is clearly the better team, but foul after foul and getting destroyed on the glass was too much to overcome.
On to the next one.