The day before Thanksgiving was the perfect time for the Cats to get another tune-up game under their belts before they start meeting some strong competition in December. As has been the custom the past few years, the game was a 1:00 tip on a Wednesday. The unusual start time coupled with a holiday weekend just screamed for a low turnout in the stands and possibly a low-level effort from the Cats. While the crowd wasn’t huge (20,070), it wasn’t too bad, all things considered. And the Cats? While there were a few missed defensive assignments early in the game, UK came out firing and hustling and scored 51 in the first half.
Fueled by PJ Washington’s 13 points and 8 rebounds (19 pts, 11 rebounds, plus 4 assists for the game), Kentucky’s offense looked a lot more cohesive than it had in previous games. Keldon Johnson (13 pts, 7 rbs) and Reid Travis (8 pts, 3 rbs, and 2 assists all while wearing goggles) also had nice stretches of play helping the Cats to a 14-point halftime lead.
Winthrop’s Josh Ferguson and Austin Awad appeared to be following in the footsteps of VMI’s Bubba Parham from Sunday night’s game as they appeared to be poised to drop a whole bunch of threes on the Cats. Each of them drained 3 treys with Winthrop shooting a collective 13-28 from long-range. Though the Eagles did rally in the 2nd half and close the lead to 13 points, the Cats were just too strong and when time ran out, UK held a 13-point advantage, 87-74.
After the game, Coach Calipari defended his team when questioned about the “bad defense” saying, “We didn’t play bad defense for 18 minutes in the 1st half and, well, I’m getting what I need from them for 24 minutes a game.” He noted having 24 minutes of good defense was an improvement and the biggest challenge facing his team at the moment is them having the discipline to play focused for 40 minutes.
Despite defensive lapses, there were many bright spots today. After going 0-2 for 3-point goals and scoring only 4 points in the 1st half, Tyler Herro came alive and ignited the Cats scoring 15 points for the game (3-8 3FGA) and added 3 boards and 7 assists. Nick Richards also warmed up greatly in the 2nd half and ended the game with 10 points and 2 blocks.
Washington’s double-double was his 2nd consecutive game to achieve that feat and the first Wildcat to have back-to-back double-doubles since Bam Adebayo did so in 2017. Kentucky made seven 3-pointers for the game which is their best on the season. UK also had 20 assists for the game (very good!) but they combined that with 19 turnovers (very bad).
Perhaps the greatest takeaway from this game is that the Cats are indeed improving in several areas, but they also have plenty of improvements left to make. Shooting roughly 39% from 3-FGA range should make the BBN breathe easier as they had been questioning Cal’s assertions before the season that this was a “great shooting team.” Today, that assertion didn’t seem outlandish at all. For that, we can all give thanks.
Enjoy the ride!
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