Tuesday night, the Kentucky Wildcats returned to the friendly confines of Rupp Arena for the first time since December 15 and it couldn’t have come at a better time. After having shown signs of serious growth and improvement with very solid wins over North Carolina and Louisville, the Cats took a small step backward on Saturday when they lost to Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Texas A&M figured to be a good recovery game. Entering Tuesday night’s contest with a 6-6 record, they seemed to be the perfect opponent for the Cats to face in order to regain confidence and return to the unselfish play they had exhibited the previous 2 weeks.
The first 5 minutes of the game were anything but recuperative, however. With 3 offensive fouls, missed defensive assignments, and shooting as bad as I’ve seen in a while, the Cats quickly fell behind 10-0 before a Keldon Johnson layup ended the drought.
After that, the Cats steadied the ship and went on a 22-6 run over a 6-minute stretch. Nick Richards provided a solid 4 minutes during that stretch, scoring 5 points and Immanuel Quickley poured in 7 points. It was a solid rest-of-the-half marred only by a flagrant 1 on TAMU’s Mitchell and before all the dust settled, 2 additional offsetting technical fouls were called, then one more dead ball technical against Walker. When the teams headed to the locker room at halftime, the Cats had a 12-point cushion 46-34.
But apparently “revert” was in play for Kentucky again as the second half went anything but smoothly for Calipari’s team. The Aggies cut the lead to 7 but the Cats were able to stretch it out to 11 points and led 60-49 with just over 12 minutes to play. That’s when things got, well, interesting is a kind word. Texas A&M eventually cut the lead to 66-64.
That’s when the Cats went next level with their defense, passing, and offense. In the last 6 minutes of the game, the Cats increased their lead to 14 and it appeared the final would be 85-71. But Kentucky’s decision to just dribble the ball out until time expired turned out to be a little misguided and the officials called a shot clock violation even though there were only .06 seconds remaining and the outcome had been decided. I guess as they say, “them’s the rules” and the Aggies inbounded the ball at half-court & launched a prayer, which of course was answered. It mattered little unless you’re betting on point spreads and the final score was 85-74.
The Cats were led by Herro with 21 points, followed by Ashton Hagans with 18. PJ Washington was held scoreless in the 1st half but finished the game strong with 9 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Immanuel Quickley seemingly built on his minor breakthrough at Alabama and added 10 points and 2 assists, providing offense at the most crucial times. Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery both showed signs of growth, each getting 2 blocks. Richards scored 5 points in 4 minutes while Montgomery had 4 points for the game. They still have work to do in terms of not getting blocked out for rebounds, but forward progress is being made.
For Kentucky, they are now 1-1 in conference play and move to 10-3 overall. Though I had predicted a thin crowd for tonight’s game, the BBN faithful came through and registered attendance was 22,048. Sure, there were still empty seats, but the enthusiasm of this crowd definitely helped the Cats finish this game with a W.
Postgame interviews with Coach Cal, Jemarl Baker and Immanuel Quickley are below:
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