Sunday’s game pitted the young Cats against a veteran, tournament tested Vermont Catamounts. The close game had a very NCAA Tournament feel to it.
The length and size of Kentucky’s 1 through 5 seemed to cause the smaller out sized Vermont team some trouble in the first half. Many of the shots in the paint were rushed or altered and PJ Washington appeared to be dominating down low. The Cats carried a 12 point first half time lead to the locker room, but Coach Calipari warned his young Cats that they would be in for a fight.
“You cannot play Popcorn State and learn anything. You got to play good teams. Now, I didn’t realize how good this team was until I watched the tape and then I’m like, who scheduled this to be our second game? This is ridiculous. … I told my team at halftime, these guys know how to win, man, they won 29 games last year.”
He was right. The Catamounts showed immense tenacity. They continued to run their sets and get good looks around the perimeter. Breakdowns on defense led to easy layups around the rim or kick outs to their multitude of perimeter shooters. All around, it was a rough game defensively for the Cats.
The Cats, who led by as many as 11 points in the second half, had to hold on at the end for a nail-biting 73-69 win. Vermont had two very good chances at the end to tie up the game when the score was 72-69. With 17.8 seconds left in the game, the Catamounts ran Ernie Duncan off of multiple picks to get him a wide open look for 3. He missed to the left and the Cats couldn’t secure the rebound. After some discussion, the Catamounts would take the ball out under the basket. With 5.7 seconds to go, Duncan would get another look at the basket for 3, but would be deflected by Gabriel. P.J. Washington brought down the two-handed rebound and would be fouled on the play. He went on to hit 1 free throw with 0.04 seconds left.
PJ Washington, who Calipari called a “beast,” in 35 minutes of action, secured 10 rebounds and ended with 17 points. He made his presence known in the paint from the start and never backed down from the physical nature of the older Lamb. But the real stand out in the game was Quade Green who earned his first start after coming off the bench in the Cats’ win against Utah Valley. Green scored 15 points, 13 of which came in the second half. He was perfect 5-5 at beginning the second half. He would end with 15 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and only 1 turn-over. Cal was optimistic about Green’s performance.
“Quade played well today. … I kind of like Quade with his hands on the ball at the end, to be honest, I thought it looked pretty good.”
While the Cats pulled away with the win, it revealed some glaring deficiencies that will need to be amended in order to take a run in March. Up next for Kentucky is the annual State Farm Champions Classic in Chicago. They will take on No. 4 Kansas. That will make 3 games in 5 days for the young Cats.
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