The Cats got off to a slow start as they were down early 8-0 and 11-3. However, they bounced back due to some stellar play off the bench as they roared back after knocking down five consecutive 3-pointers. Despite a slight momentum swing at the end, Kentucky led 48-41 at the half.
After the break, Kentucky came out with intensity and took it right at the Jayhawks. They extended their lead to as many as fourteen before Kansas made a run of its own to get back in the game.
It was a back-and-forth affair after Kansas tied the game and subsequently took the lead, but Kentucky didn't back down. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough, as the Jayhawks were able to make winning plays down the stretch.
Next up, the Cats will return to Lexington to take on the Stonehill Skyhawks on Friday night.
Wagner is not Kentucky’s best guard
And he’s not the second best, either.
DJ Wagner plays hard. His motor never stops, and he’s a fierce competitor that hounds opposing players on the defensive end. However, he’s limited offensively as he struggles to shoot from deep, and he doesn't possess the elite athleticism or size to attack the rim at will.
It’s early, so I don't want to overreact, but what I've seen so far is that Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard are not only UK’s best guards but possibly their best players.
Sheppard does a little bit of everything. He’s active on the defensive end and has great hands. He plays under control, runs the offense smoothly, can shoot it, and doesn't back down. The Kentucky (double) legacy just always seems to make the right decision and provide positive minutes.
Dillingham is a bit more of a wild card. He’s erratic and is not shy, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. This might be the closest thing we’ll ever have to Malik Monk. Dillingham has elite speed and floor vision. He caught fire in the first half, hitting three consecutive threes on his way to 16 first-half points while hitting four total threes.
It’s a long season, and I’m sure Wagner will come along, but right now, Sheppard and Dillingham might be Kentucky’s best players.
P.S., I didn't forget about Antonio Reeves. That young man had an good game (I also didn't forget the late misses), but I'm not including him in this point guard discussion, and he took a lot of shots.
Mitchell is the perfect fit, but Cats need their bigs back
Tre Mitchell isn't elite in any one category, but he’s very good at a lot of things. He passes the ball well. He can knock down the deep ball. He has excellent footwork down low. Working against the big man, though, is his size.
Mitchell spreads the floor and makes those around him better. He isn't perfect, but the veteran fit in this lineup like a glove. On the other hand, it’ll be nice to get back over 21 feet in big men if/when Ugonna Onyenso, Aaron Bradshaw, and Zvonimir Ivisic return.
The West Virginia (and UMass and Texas) transfer wasn't the best player in the portal, but he was the perfect fit for this team. With that being said, Kentucky needs its big guys back to make any real noise in March. The Cats need the rim protection and rebounding badly.
This team limits turnovers
One frustrating part of having a young team, albeit Uber-talented, is that they tend to make dumb freshman mistakes. Specifically, they turn the ball over...a lot.
That doesn't appear to be the case with this team. They turned the ball over just nine times in their first two games, but that was just the level of competition, right? Wrong.
The Cats took on the No. 1 ranked team in the country on the national stage in November with a veteran-laden roster, and they played under control and valued the basketball. That’s certainly a welcome sight.
While this team plays a lot of guards, turnovers were still expected, especially early. So far, they’re passing that test with flying colors.
Thiero is a grown man
Adou Thiero came into Kentucky as an awkward, three-star guard and the son of a former Calipari player at Memphis. In just over a year, Thiero has matured into a grown man.
Thiero has grown two inches and gained thirty pounds in his time in Lexington as he transitioned from point guard on his high school team to the starting four for the Wildcats. He’s taken the change in stride as he uses his guard skills and increased size to absolutely abuse opposing defenders.
The sophomore forward played out of his mind in this one, providing much, much-needed rebounding, especially on the offensive glass, and a kill-or-be-killed mentality on offense. He can’t shoot. He’s not quick enough to just drive by guys. But he uses his strength and versatility to dominate around the rim.
His improvement is just what Kentucky needed, and it’s fun to watch.
There were a lot of positive takeaways from this one. It was a fun game, and Cats fans should be excited for the rest of the season. But in the end, a loss is a loss.
On to the next one. Go Cats!