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No one has been more clutch for Kentucky than Immanuel Quickley

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The question’s been asked all season: where would Kentucky be without the rise of Nick Richards? There’s a new question coming to the forefront of discussions lately: where would Kentucky been without Immanuel Quickley right now? (Answer: not leading the SEC title race like they currently are.)

Hagans, Quickley Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

Last Saturday in Knoxville, Kentucky sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley canned what was perceived by everyone watching the contest between the Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers as the ‘nail in the coffin’ in the Cats’ win over the Vols from the left wing.

This past Tuesday, Quickley cashed home not one, but two massive triples to halt any comeback attempt from a young, but talented Vanderbilt side that led Kentucky by nine at the intermission.

This past Saturday, Quickley was a mule in every positive meaning of the word, carrying the Kentucky offensive attack to the tone of 16 second-half points, including a span from 13:36 left in the second with Ole Miss leading 38-37 to the 4:55 mark with Kentucky leading 55-54 where the sophomore scored 12 of Kentucky’s 18 points in that time frame.

“That’s what the tournament is about, you know, you want to be at your best when the tournament comes around,” Quickley said after Kentucky’s 67-62 escape of a boiling Ole Miss team, putting themselves in the pole position to win the SEC regular season title with six games to play.

“We hear all the stories about a bad shooting night in the tournament and you lose a game. Just knowing that we can still win games when we aren’t shooting, you know our defense can come through for us and that’s really what it’s about.”

Quickley’s offense helped saved the day once more for Kentucky, but his thoughts about Kentucky’s defense should be noted.

With 10:46 left, Kentucky trailed the Rebels, 47-40. In those last (almost) 11 minutes, Ole Miss scored just 15 more points, while Kentucky poured in 27 in that same span, 11 from Quickley alone to win the Cats’ 12th game in the last 14 outings.

Add in draining all four of his free throw attempts in the final 4:55 to help the Cats finish the the second half going 13-for-13 from the charity stripe and, yeah, the kid and his friends are pretty clutch.

That’s not bad for a guy that missed 11 of his 15 total shot attempts on the afternoon, including seven of his eight 3-point attempts. (The one he made was pretty important, though!)

Ole Miss’s defensive approach was basically, don’t throw the same look at Kentucky for 40 minutes and it was working for virtually the entire game. Kermit Davis throw an array of zone-based looks at the Cats, including an extended 1-3-1 and a 2-3 zone, along with some man-to-man possessions in the half-court.

When Kentucky did have opportunities to find the seams and gaps to attack off the bounce, Quickley (along with Tyrese Maxey) did an excellent job using the runner/floater part of their offensive games to make some tough shots to keep Kentucky afloat before the 9-4 push inside of the final 2:11 of the game.

One of Quickley’s most dangerous skills for opponents on his scouting report is his ability not only to shoot triples at a solid clip, but having to find him in transition because he will let it fly if Ashton Hagans finds him with space like this possession here.

Quickley hesitated just slightly here (maybe because he was 0-for the day at this point or because he had that much space to fire), but when you’re a 38.7 percent shooter from 3, chances are you’re bound to make one or two sooner or later.

Whether it’s when they break a defensive press or in the half-court when the guard gets penetration and the last line of defense in the form of a big man looks to stop a drive, Kentucky’s the best team in America each year with a backside lob.

You’re at their mercy if the guards get deep penetration, forcing you to make a lose-lose choice more often than not: either stop the guard’s drive and leave a big open or stay attached to the big and give up a layup/dunk.

On this possession, Quickley gets into a gap with no problems and throws that weakside lob to Nick Richards, even with Ashton Hagans’ man sliding down to try and help. The effort’s good, but Richards was too big and Quickley put the pass right where only he could snag it.

I can’t be the only one that thinks Quickley hits a shot that he probably shouldn’t have per game, can I? Because this has felt like such a common trend throughout the last few games for him. Still, every bucket mattered at this point in the game inside of seven minutes to play and Quickley basically willed this one in with some luck.

This is arguably the most important thing that Quickley provides to this Kentucky team. He’s a serviceable defender with his length. He’s become a knockdown shooter from deep at times. He attacks the rim.

However, his ability to change his pace with the ball, create his own shot utilizing good footwork, take contact and draw countless fouls all mixed into one is fantastic. You can’t leave your feet against Quickley because he’s going to draw a foul on you, no matter what kind of trouble you think you have him in. It’s basically proven science at this point.

On this drive into the lane, it looks like Quickley’s in trouble, but his uses his feet to pivot, his head (and the ball) to draw his defender in the air and then gets the call when the defender leans into him as he attempts to put a shot that he almost actually made.

One of the most valuable parts of Quickley’s performance was the fact that he shot one less free throw (10 total, eight made) than Ole Miss shot as a unit (11) on Saturday. I’m no coach, but putting a 91.5 percent free-throw shooter on the line 10 times just seems like a bad idea.

A bonus thing that’s almost funny (since it’s not costing Kentucky games at home in SEC play ... yet)

(If you’re not following @bigbluehistory on Twitter yet, change that after you finish reading this, please and thank you. Their stuff is tremendous for any member of the Big Blue Nation.)

Quickley and the rest of the Cats shot 2-for-22 from 3-point range in the win on Saturday. That’s uh, that’s very not good, and it’s been a common trend during the entirety of conference play.

The trend’s getting worse for Quickley himself, too. Since opening conference play with nine triples on 14 makes in Kentucky’s first two home games, Quickley has shot just 3-of-21 from long range since.

The good news, 17 of his 43 total 3-point makes this season have come on the road in SEC play.

Kentucky’s still got three of their final six games at home, including the anticipated rematch with Auburn, but it would be kinda hilarious if the Cats shot this poorly at home and didn’t lose in conference play (and they continued to shoot well away from Rupp).