The University of Kentucky Wildcats won their 7th straight game of the 2018-19 season with a 78-61 win over the visiting UNC-Greensboro Spartans on Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena. As the calendar turns to December, head coach John Calipari and his Cats are getting ready to dive into the meat of the non-conference schedule with Utah, North Carolina and rival Louisville looming. The Wildcats had one the previous six games, but haven’t really had a dominant performance since the opening night loss to Duke. Against UNCG, Kentucky answered a few more questions.
UNCG was an NCAA tourney team last season, falling to Gonzaga in the first round of the Boise Regional. Head coach Wes Miller returned the bulk of that team this season, so it was clear that Kentucky was going to have their hands full with a veteran, poised Spartans squad. UNCG’s Francis Alonso scored 19 first half points as the visitors jumped out to a 5-0 early lead on their way to a 40-37 halftime lead. The Cats were tentative on both ends of the court and UNCG took clear advantage.
The second half was a back and forth battle, with the Spartans maintaining their lead and looking to upset the 10th ranked Wildcats. In fact, UNCG led 55-50 with 13:08 left in the second half. At that point, Wildcats’ Reid Travis and Asthon Hagans had back to back three point plays to put Kentucky in front 56-55 and the Cats didn’t look back. Over the last 13 minutes of the game, the Cats outscored the Spartans 28-6. For the first time all year, Calipari’s team was the more poised team as Kentucky shut the door on UNCG, making winning plays.
The Wildcats were lead by Reid Travis (22 points, 12 rebounds) and Tyler Herro (18 points, 5 rebounds) and Keldon Johnson (13 points, 11 rebounds). Freshman EJ Montgomery is working himself into the rotation with 8 points and 5 rebounds in just 15 minutes. However, the one player that both coaches raved about in their postgame remarks was Kentucky’s Hagans. With UNCG’s Alonso scoring 19 first half points, Hagans locked in during the second half and Alonso finished with 22 total points, only three in the second half. UNCG’s Miller said that Hagans was the difference and that his defensive pressure got the Spartans out of their offensive sets and basically gave them no good looks in the second half.
The Cats are 7-1 on December 1 and while they haven’t set the world on fire (yet), Coach Calipari says this team is getting better and showing improvement. Cal said that he’s shifted to a 7 man rotation and is only interested in playing guys that earn the right to play. The December schedule is daunting, but Kentucky will only be playing on Saturdays and that should provide a lot of work during the week. The Wildcats aren’t where they need to be, but they’re better than the team that was run out of Banker’s Life Fieldhouse by Coach K’s Blue Devils. There’s still work to be done, but there is definite progress being made.