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Player takeaways from Kentucky’s win over Ole Miss

The Cats won a thriller that felt like an NCAA Tournament game.

Keion Brooks Greg Goins - Sea of Blue

2-22 from three and a victory. The Cats won AND were challenged, in a few new ways, like that strange permuting 1-3-1/2-3 zone that UK beat without practically any three-pointers. Great.

And one of the hottest guards in America came into Rupp and was held to just 6/16 shooting from the field. When the offense was their dreadful self again Rupp, defense kept the game syrupy before the fun finish.

Here are the takeaways from our eight Wildcats in their win over the formerly surging Ole Miss Rebels.

EJ Montgomery

Saturday, EJ Montgomery made the first game-saving play of his career, I believe. Tough shots, hectic rebounds, and-one’s, loose balls, forcing turnovers, stuff down the stretch that can get you that extra, crucial possession. Like Ashton Hagans’ win-saving poke vs. Davide Moretti to put Texas Tech away or Nick Richards’ foul-drawing aggression in the paint or Immanuel Quickley’s platinum cooler status at the free throw when games grow tight down the stretch.

With a minute and a half to play and UK down one and in the midst of a basket-trading brawl in the final minutes, a Maxey miss from three bounced to two Rebels and EJ Montgomery ambushed from behind, sending both players to the ground in a tussle for the ball. EJ eventually yanked the ball out and whipped it to a driving Maxey for the lead on a contested layup.

Without that play, Kentucky is looking at the wrong-side of a one-point ball game with 1:40 left and Ole Miss possession. Analytics say that is generally a loss, even at home. Montgomery was a warrior on the glass and that last board (before he fouled) flipped the course of the game.

Nick Richards

Nick started slow Saturday but once again helped spearhead Kentucky’s second half comeback. He bobbed around the block/charge arc, pouncing for boards and dunk finishes while wrestling for post position when the guards would stall on the perimeter. Also again, Nick converted at the free throw line with the game in flux in the closing minutes; 4-4 at the line on a pair of possessions during the back-and-forth at the end.

Fans and media hoped for the big man to get a touch before Maxey dribbled the ball right out of bounds on our last real possessions, which raises the quandary: should Nick Richards be the guy in go-to we-need-a-bucket-right-now situations? His Siakam-inspired post-spin and dunk revealed a level of creativity and aggression that even his breakout hasn’t dipped into quite yet. Could he get even better by developing a PJ Washington arsenal of paint moves? He might be capable, and the NBA that drafts him will have a un-ceiling-ed big on their hands if he did.

But should we encourage him to attack like a PJ? He has a few tricks in the deep post, but how expansive is his scoring ability beyond what we’ve seen. If that spin ‘n jam is a scratching-the-surface deal, maybe Cal should pound the ball to NR4 on the final possession of the game.

Tyrese Maxey

Despite finishing as one of three Cats to miss five three-pointers, Maxey soared to a stellar second half and ended the day on efficient 7-13 shooting day for 14 points in addition to 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Since Cal threw down the “he’s not even touched where he’s going to be in another month” gauntlet, Maxey has been quietly dependable contrary to his first few months in blue. Over the last six, Ty is netting 16.8 points per game with two 20+ point outbursts on the road.

He’s always been the Picasso of the floater, but it feels like he’s shooting them now when he gets the opportunity rather than flying into a forest of bodies or shooting mid-range jumpers from beyond the FT line. If engaged and in rhythm, Maxey is effortlessly the best scorer in the SEC. And the points aren’t coming from the three-point line exclusively, Tyrese, your drives to the rim are mesmeric guarantees that usually involve made layups, floaters or a foul.

Immanuel Quickley

Immanuel topped all Cats, missing seven three-point shots, scoring 17 points and making eight free throws. He was ice-cold in the first half but he took open shots: open threes and tough layups. IQ kept shooting, hit a mini flurry of acrobatic jumpers, a three, and closed things out at the line with two free ones to push the lead to three with six seconds left.

I knighted Maxey as the ultimate raw scoring talent in the SEC, but Quickley is our most prolific shot taker. Elite three-point shooter, dangerous off cuts and screens, cooler at the line of course; and he keeps shooting. He’s dependable. Like Benny Snell. He probably isn’t breaking very many for 50 yard sprints but he’ll get those last ten yards on 1st & goal without a doubt.

Quickley shoots well from three, ok from midrange, alright at the rim. But he’s never a zero on offense, and he routinely takes the most shots, the biggest shots, the game-winners, the free throws to ice the game.

Cal on him: “These kids are not robots. They have bad games. But you play bad and win.”

Ashton Hagans

It’s my favorite comparison despite how much it frustrates the hell out of everyone: Ashton Hagans turns the ball over more than Prime Time Lamar. However, his energy is the cardiovascular engine for this basketball team. He’s like real tough. Bam was real tough.

Did you read Zach Lowe’s story about Bam putting his Mother’s trailer home as his phone background once he got to UK? Dude would put you six feet deep if you messed with him (and Cal just said in his interview with Leach on the other side of the arena, “How ‘bout Bam? I’ll text his mom and she says ‘I can’t believe all this is happening.’” Ashton is that ilk of foxhole soldier on both sides of the court.

Say what you will (and you will say a lot) about Ashton Hagans’ turnovers, he’s there to compete and to win basketball games. That’s a universal mindset. He keeps his teammates at the forefront, never lets the freshmen slack, hounding their ears with motivation to match his intensity. He also taunted his way into a Kermit Davis technical and fed him some vintage Ashton trash-talk as Davis told him to shut up while he skipped over to the UK sideline. That’s my corner-of-the-ring guy!

Keion Brooks

Brooks was scoreless aside from the final two FTs but, as Cal noted, he came two with two of the biggest rebounds of the ball game and one off Tyree’s final missed free throw. Brooks’ relentlessness on the boards is refreshing off the bench and so is his ample athleticism and quicker feet than other 4 options Montgomery or Sestina. He plays hard, stays pretty quiet on the court from what I can tell, and is so ready to breakout into a fine-tuned thoroughbred power forward as a sophomore.

Johnny Juzang

He made a three, had a pair of great rebounds and didn’t stick out as a glaring defensive issue, which will keep him on the court (not that we have a choice). Honestly, this was a pretty low-profile outing from Johnny but he’ll continue acclimating to a larger role at a blue blood and NBA factory like Kentucky.

Nate Sestina

Held up alright defensively today. Off the top of my head, and this is rare, I can’t think of any obvious blown coverages by Big Nate, who donated 5 points and 3 rebounds. His production is almost ornamental to this Kentucky team who ‘s shifted to the jumpier Brooks and lankier EJ at the one hole in Kentucky’s rotation.