The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team opened up the season defeating a pesky Utah Valley by 10 points. It was not the game that many thought. A well coached Mark Pope team came into Rupp Arena and gave the pre-season ranked #5 team in the country all they could handle.
The fact that Kentucky lost 93% of its scoring from last year definitely showed many times during the season opener. The Cats struggled most of the game in their half court offense. Hamidou Diallo led the Cats in scoring with 18 points (5 Boards, 3 Assists) after missing his first five shots from the floor. Kentucky shot just under 22% (21.9) from the floor in the first half, 25% from the three-point line. On a positive note, UK hit 9 of 11 free throws (81.8%) in the first half.
After shooting 40% from the field and 100% from the free throw line in the first half, coupled with a sloppy half from the Cats, Utah Valley took a 34-25 lead into the half. Kentucky missed their last 15 shots from the field to finish out the first half contributing to the Utah Valley lead.
Kentucky came out in the second half and gave up a quick three-point play to Utah Valley pushing the lead to 37-25. After this three-point play, the Cats would go on an 18-0 run leading 43-37 at the 15:37 mark. Kentucky extended their lead to 14 points with just over 6 minutes to go in the game and ended up winning 73-63.
In the post game press conference, Coach Calipari said this was the start that he expected from his team. Noting their inexperience and youth on a stage like Rupp Arena. Cal said at halftime he told his team “Let’s see who we are and who’s willing to fight in the second half.” Cal also noted that he was never concerned with the score but rather about his team was playing. Cal highlighted Wenyen Gabriel’s 13 rebounds and the difference this made in the game.
This team will continue to grow and improve both on the offensive and defensive end of the court. As the season proceeds, offense (half court) will certainly need improvement but for the early part of the season defense and transition offense will be the key to victory for this team. Athleticism and quickness on defense (this team deflects a lot of balls) will be a great strength for this team all year. Expect a different leading scorer and impact player each night out.
Near the end of Coach Cal’s press conference he stated that “I clapped and cheered more this game than I did all last year. I will do whatever this team needs from me to win.” No doubt this young group of men will need more and more encouragement and cheering early in the season.
Kentucky will welcome the Catamounts of Vermont to Rupp on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 pm. Utah Valley has less than 24 hours to prepare for the pre-season #1 Duke Blue Devils on Saturday night at 7:00 pm in Durham.
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