What can you possibly learn by playing a team that hasn’t won a game yet this season? For Cal’s Cats, it’s all about progress and discipline. Can his team improve defensively, be disciplined enough to play 40 minutes focused, and can they do all of that while scoring, too? In short, can they beat a team they are supposed to beat and do so by a healthy margin?
On first glance after Wednesday night’s game, it would appear the Cats are finally making meaningful progress in all of those areas. After the game, Calipari offered this:
“We are zeroed in right now defensively on what we have to do. Now we made some mistakes but effort and energy we scrambled, we didn’t stop as much. There were times where they left the — they held them under four points and I went to sub and the guys in the game said, what? They don’t have six yet, leave us in. And they stayed in the game. And so they’re taking pride. We also added something, three stops in a row equals a kill. Now we had two stops in a row probably eight times, seven, eight times, nine. But we had five kills. That’s how you stretch games out.”
Tyler Herro began the game showing that pride. He was stepping into passing lanes, deflecting balls, and never giving up on any play defensively. Those stops paid off offensively, too, as he ended up leading all scorers with 16 points and on top of that, led the team in rebounds with 8. Oh, and for the 2nd time this season, he recorded 5 steals for the game. So what did Cal think about Tyler’s game?
‘He anticipates, which we’re trying to do. I put on the board, to have defensive confidence, first of all you got to talk, so if everyone’s talking and they’re chattering you’re more confident. If you anticipate, you’re going to be more confident defensively. That’s what he does. The third part of it is, you have to trust that you’re teammates have your back if you try to do something. That’s help the helper. You’re going to get beat some. But if you’re aggressive and you know and you trust your team, you’ll go and do the stuff Tyler’s doing, you’ll run through, you’ll go for a steal that’s thrown over your head and your teammate steals it. We got to go from day one and just keep building.”
And what did Tyler have to say about his game?
“I think we played much better defensively. I think just communicating and talking, we did a lot better. Staying in front of our command and not giving up 3’s, we did really well on tonight.”
Quade Green seemed to get new life in this game as well. He finished with 14 points on the strength of hitting 4 of 7 three-point shots. Adding 2 rebounds and 3 assists were nice bonuses, too. When asked about the impact the team’s work on transition defense this week had on his game, Green said:
“Yeah, I think that helped us. That influence helped us focus on stopping the ball the majority of the time, so that’s what really helped us. It doesn’t really matter what stops the ball, just that the ball stops.”
Green’s hot streak didn’t go unnoticed by teammate Herro who had some pretty high praise for Quade:
“Quade’s just as good or even a better shooter than me so whenever he gets the opportunity he can let it go.”
Keldon Johnson also had a solid all-around game, though only grabbing 3 rebounds wasn’t very Keldon-like. However, his energy on defense kept him on the court and he closed the night with 15 points an 2 assists.
Overall, the Cats did a lot of things very well. They got 40 rebounds to Monmouth’s 25. While the Cats did have 14 turnovers, they offset that with 15 assists (Monmouth had 15 TOs to 4 assists). Hitting 10 of 24 three-pointers supported Cal’s assertion that this team should be one of his best shooting teams ever. Finally, you look at the performance at the FT line: 20-23. That calculates to 87% and that is what this team needs to maintain as the season moves forward.
Were there still some careless turnovers? Yes. Did the Cats play as they should for a full 40 minutes? Not exactly as they had a bit of a lull a few minutes into the 2nd half. But what this team did do was show a marked improvement on defense, and they held the Hawks to only 2 three-point baskets on 16 attempts. They seem to be embracing the concept of “kills” and dominating an opponent that they should dominate. Hopefully, the BBN can recognize and appreciate that and hopefully the team builds on this success and continues to improve.
So after this feel-good night, it’s time to remind you once again to enjoy the ride!
Next up: UNC Greensboro December 1st at 1:00 pm (This is a time change from the original 4 pm!)
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