The Kentucky Wildcats ran the Marshall Thundering Herd out of Lexington on Friday night by a score of 118-82.
The Cats got off to a rip-roaring start after getting refueled over Thanksgiving. Kentucky was firing on all cylinders from the get-go as they poured in the most points EVER in a half in Rupp Arena history. Going into the half, Kentucky led the Thundering Herd 69-41, propelled by their stellar backcourt and run-and-gun style of play.
After the break, UK didn't continue its onslaught from the first half, but they did continue to play very well and set the single-game record for points in the Calipari era at Kentucky, previously 115 in 2016-17.
DJ Wagner, specifically, exploded for a monster night with 28 points on 10/14 shooting. It wasn't a perfect game, but it was really fun to watch.
Next up, the Cats will take on the Miami Hurricanes in Lexington on Tuesday night.
Here are three things to know from win No. 5.
Offense is thriving
Well, that was fun! John Calipari’s squad was averaging 89.6 points per game coming into this one, and they blew that number out of the water.
As mentioned above, Kentucky dropped 69 first-half points thanks to a healthy 65% shooting mark overall and 8/11 from deep. They slowed down a bit in the second half, but you could still see the efficiency as they continued to simply score at will. In fact, Kentucky has now hit at least 12 3-pointers in four consecutive games for just the second time in school history and the first time since 1989.
This team is so much fun to watch because they shoot extremely well, are fast-paced, and have numerous scoring options. The Cats limit turnovers and share the ball freely. The ball movement is a thing of beauty. There are possessions where the ball doesn't even touch the floor.
Tre Mitchell has been the perfect fit thus far at the 5 spot. Dillingham and Reed Sheppard provided major sparks off the bench again. Antonio ThReeves made an appearance. And, while Wagner and Justin Edwards took a few games to find their footing, they’re looking more comfortable each and every game.
But the defense is not
The offensive is thriving and is fun to watch, but the defense? Not so much. Despite how fun this is right now, Kentucky has to shore things up on the defensive end.
Getting back three 7-foot centers will certainly help, and it seems Aaron Bradshaw will be back sooner rather than later, but right now, these guys need a lot of work. Giving up 41 points in a half to Marshall isn't ideal, even when dropping 69 points in response.
For these young men to reach their full potential, they have to limit opposing teams from scoring so much. Part of it is the offensive style of play—faster scoring means more defensive possessions and less energy on that side—but every now and then, the shots won’t be falling, and this team will need to get stops.
Best backcourt in America?
If there’s a better backcourt in the country than Wagner, Dillingham, Sheppard, and Reeves, I'd love to see it. These guys are what makes this team so much fun to watch.
Wagner got off to a slow start this season, and he won't be a great shooter this season, but his ability to attack the rim with either hand is elite. He’s a warrior. Dillingham is a microwave scorer who is Malik Monk-esque. Thus far, he looks like an elite shooter, and his speed and ball-handling abilities make it impossible to stay in front of him.
Sheppard is the glue guy, the do-it-all type that always makes the right basketball decision. This kid isn't the tallest or the fastest, but he knows the game, has above-average athleticism, can shoot the lights out, is an elite passer, has great hands on defense, and rebounds very well for his size. He does tend to be a bit too tentative on the offensive end, but he’s always so focused on getting his teammates involved, so I expect it will come with time.
Finally, we all know who Antonio Reeves is as a player, but he’s a better player this year than he was last and possibly better than at any other point in his entire career. The veteran dominated at Illinois State, and while he had some impressive moments last season, he was fairly inconsistent. You can tell that he’s taken it upon himself to help lead this team as he’s expanded his game, which already included elite shooting, to attack the basket and rebound at a much higher clip.
I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping!
Now, let's go beat those Cards tomorrow!