11-21-18 is not the combination to a locker, but it was the combination needed for the start of a new basketball season.
The unofficial launch of Air Cal – aka – The Run & Gun – aka – The Revenge Tour began last Friday. Sure it was an exhibition game and doesn’t officially count toward anything, but it did give the Kentucky Wildcats a chance to unfurl a new-look team that fans have been waiting to see since last spring.
What we saw lived up to the hype.
In fairness, it was just an exhibition game, but as a tune up for the upcoming season, this one was a lot of fun to watch.
The new high octane Wildcat offense gave us a sneak peek of an offensive machine that hasn’t been the norm for UK teams of the recent past. Over the forty minutes of play, Kentucky launched 29 3-pointers in the 95-72 victory over Kentucky Wesleyan College. The Cats managed to land 11 of those missiles - an overall percentage of 37.9 percent. Not too bad when you flash back to the shooting woes of the previous season.
Perhaps most striking was not the percentage but the number of triples itself. The last time that Kentucky fired that many triples was in December of 2011 when the Cats destroyed Chattanooga and in the process connected on 12 of 33 behind the arc. (36.4%) That very same team was also the national champions.
This edition of the Cats has an arsenal of 3-point shooters but what Coach Cal has been promising all summer is what we saw at times in the exhibition, the team will play fast, spread the floor, move the ball, and be aggressive. They pushed the ball up the court and ran.
Kentucky was off the races early and scored 21 points off the fast break. Kentucky Wesleyan scored zero fast break points. Another 18 points for the Cats came from KWC turnovers.
In a perfect basketball world, this team is going to play fast and hard. The very real threat of the outside shot will open the lane for slashing and driving. There also is the need to feed the Bigs and Oscar Tshiebwe can be the anchoring presence on the inside that makes the outside that much more frightening for opponents.
As stated before, this was just an exhibition game, and it doesn’t count in the record books, but it is a starting point. The summer is over, the scrimmages and anticipation is over, and now the real grind begins.
Although it has not been the emphasis yet, we have already seen the need for the interior defense to be strengthened. The Cats will have to maintain their pacing the full forty minutes, but those things should come sooner than later.
Neither Jacob Toppin (bad shoulder) nor CJ Fredrick (leg surgery) played against KWC. Toppin could be back soon, but Fredrick may take a bit longer according to some reports. And then there’s the hip that is giving Tshiebwe problems which limited his minutes. All of those factors need to click into place, but as Cal reminds us you coach the team you have. What we got to see was…
11- 3-Point Bombs
21 – Fast Break Points
18 – Points off of Turnovers
That was the perfect combination to start the exhibition season.