Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 86-67 win over Fort Wayne on Wednesday night:
1. Fort Wayne coach: Nick Richards was the game
Richards was certainly on his game. The freshman center scored 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in 26 minutes as the Cats improved to 5-1. Richards was razor-sharp from the floor, making nine of his 10 shots. He was a perfect 7 of 7 from the foul line. And five of his 15 rebounds came on the offensive end. As Fort Wayne Coach Jon Coffman said afterward, the visitors couldn’t keep Richards off the glass.
In his five previous games, Richards had scored all of 14 points with 24 rebounds. Total. He said Wednesday that he had been playing tense, trying to do too much too soon in making the transition from high school to college.
So UK Coach John Calipari put Richards in touch with Cal’s friend Dr. Bob Rotella, the famed sports psychologist, who has helped Calipari before. Rotella told Richards he needed to relax, to take his mind off basketball before games. It worked Wednesday.
“I was probably just thinking about too much,” Richards said. “It was a lot for a guy coming in from high school and just taking on a college role like that, especially being a starter, especially at Kentucky.”
Richards also said, “I was getting rebounds, and when I get rebounds I usually have a good game.”
2. This was Kentucky’s best offensive game so far
The Cats averaged 1.222 points per possession, easily their best 2017-18 efficiency showing. The previous high was 1.059 in the win over Vermont. It’s a small sample size, but the Cats have been under the coveted 1.0 mark twice in six games, the lowest PPP being 0.853 in the 65-61 loss to Kansas in the Champions Classic.
Kentucky shot 60 percent from the floor, its highest percentage since shooting 64.7 percent against Auburn on Feb. 21, 2015. It was the 10th time in the Calipari era that UK has shot 60 percent or better. No. 1 on that list was a 67.7 percent night against Long Island University on Nov. 23, 2012.
UK also dominated the glass again. For the second straight game, the Cats outrebounded the opponent by 23. The margin was 53-30 in Monday night’s win over Troy. It was 44-21 on Wednesday night.
Besides Richards’ 15 boards, Wenyen Gabriel had 10 rebounds to go with his nine points. Cal wasn’t totally happy with Gabriel’s production, however, citing the sophomore’s four turnovers.
3. This team isn't going to shoot a lot of threes
Fort Wayne shot a ton of three-pointers. The Mastodons out of the Summit League went 12 of 37 from three-point range for 32.4 percent. That’s the most attempted three-pointers by a UK opponent since Sam Houston State went 18 of 38 for 41.4 percent against Kentucky on Nov. 19, 2009.
The Cats, however, took just 11 threes Wednesday, making five. Hamidou Diallo was 2 of 3 from behind the arc. Kevin Knox was 1 of 3. Gabriel was 1 of 2. PJ Washington and Brad Calipari each missed their only three-point attempts.
Through six games, Kentucky has attempted just 73 three-pointers, an average of 12.1 per game. Compare that to the opponents, who are 47 of 170 from three-point range. That’s an average of 28.3 attempts per game against the Cats.
UK is shooting 38.4 percent from three. The Cats are 28 of 73 from three. Kevin Knox leads the way, having made 11 of his 27 triples. Diallo is now 5 of 14 from three. Quade Green is 6 of 13.
The guess here is that Calipari is OK with those numbers. He has always been a coach who prefers drives to the basket where players take contact, score and get the and-one opportunity at the line. So far, Kentucky has attempted 126 free throws. Its opponents have attempted 91.
Kentucky basketball 2017-18
Kansas (at Chicago)
Monmouth (at New York)
UCLA (at New Orleans)
at South Carolina
at West Virginia
at Texas A&M