I get it. It can be difficult to get excited about a non-Power 5 opponent. It can be doubly-difficult when the SEC Football Championship is being played at the same time as this (to some, non-exciting) basketball game.
But Saturday’s matchup against Fairleigh Dickinson University out of the Northeast Conference did provide some reasons for the BBN to get excited about basketball. Even FDU Coach Greg Herenda while acknowledging big games by Richards, Montgomery, and Whitney referred to the day as a “Kentucky Festival.”
- It’s been said all season long that to contend for a national championship, Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery would need to be consistent scorers and rebounders. Richards has upheld his part of the bargain but EJ had still just shown “flashes.” We’ve seen EJ appear to improve the past couple of games but against FDU, he took it to a new level. This potent duo combined for 37 points and 19 rebounds (12 and 10 for Nick, 25 and 9 for EJ).
- How about 20 assists to only 9 turnovers? This is the kind of play the Cats will need to take to Las Vegas. Protecting the ball and treating each possession as precious will be a big key to picking up victories against Ohio State and Utah, and then back at Rupp against in-state rival Louisville on the 28th
- Ashton Hagans continues to increase assists while decreasing turnovers. This was not Ashton’s first double-digit assist game and hopefully won’t be his last. He had 11 points to go with his 11 assists while only turning over the ball 2 times.
- Tyrese Maxey showed, in my opinion, tremendous growth as a player. With 27 minutes of playing time, one might be concerned with his stat line showing only 2 points. But Tyrese stayed engaged defensively and pulled in 6 rebounds and added 5 assists. We’ve often heard Calipari speak of telling his players “How can you help the team when you aren’t scoring?” and Maxey seemed to embrace the opportunity to let his teammates score and he did all the other things to help.
Of course, with all the good things that happened in this game, Coach Cal still was ready to sound the alarm with the upcoming games. While he noted significant improvement this past week and expects another week of more growth, there were too many plays where the Cats gave up points or just failed to finish. As Cal says, “Fight and finish.” That’s the focus going forward.
But for tonight, the fans enjoyed the Kentucky Festival and this part of the ride!
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