Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led Kentucky to an improbable victory over Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
Three days earlier, Kevin Knox led Kentucky to an improbable victory at West Virginia.
Remember PJ Washington starring in a less-is-more performance against Monmouth? Coach John Calipari credited a big game (20 points) to a loss of weight. Or how about Washington outplaying Tennessee star Grant Williams?
At other times, Hamidou Diallo energized his teammates and the Rupp Arena crowd with high-flying play. Plus, Calipari singled out his earnest, though earth-bound, defense of West Virginia star Jevon Carter as a key.
At other times, Calipari has spoken about Quade Green’s shooting being a valuable complement. And how UK is at its best with Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones on the floor. And how Jarred Vanderbilt’s rebounding zeal can inspire.
It seems Calipari has an answer for UK’s problems at his finger tips. He just needs to find the right button to push. Push One for jump shooting. Push Two for defense. Push Three for drives to the basket.
They have a lot of different pieces, a lot of different ways they can beat you. You look at a stat sheet. You might look at a (poor) shooting percentage, and that guy is very capable of going out and getting 25 (points) that night.
Bryce Drew, Vanderbilt head coach
It seems the revolving door at center stage is the way to define this season’s Kentucky team. It’s not a star system. It’s an ensemble cast in which anyone can star.
“That’s what Cal says all the time,” Knox said after Kentucky beat Vanderbilt this week. “There’s going to be somebody else who can step up big in the end. . . . That’s what makes us dangerous. We have so many weapons that can really score the basketball.”
Opponents have noticed.
The day before Vanderbilt played at Kentucky, Coach Bryce Drew noted how it was difficult to pinpoint a player to contain in building a scouting report.
“They have a lot of different pieces, a lot of different ways they can beat you,” he said. “You look at a stat sheet. You might look at a (poor) shooting percentage, and that guy is very capable of going out and getting 25 (points) that night.”
Besides complicating opponents’ scouting reports, Kentucky’s collection of potential go-to guys has eased concern about injuries. For example, a back strain sidelined Green for three games. Gilgeous-Alexander proved fully capable of leading UK to victory.
Among the “bigs,” no one has emerged as a consistent force, but depth allowed UK to carry on without (Jarred) Vanderbilt through the season’s first two months.
“That’s how it kind of goes around here,” Gabriel said. “One guy gets sick, it’s another man’s turn to step up.”
With the inevitable inconsistency that comes with coaching what’s essentially a freshman team, Calipari can make full use of the many buttons he can push.
The inconsistencies include:
▪ Green making only three of 15 shots (two of nine from three-point range) in the previous three games before making five of 11 shots (two of four from beyond the arc) against Vanderbilt.
▪ Nick Richards following a scoreless 11 minutes (with one rebound) against Mississippi State with a near double-double at West Virginia (nine points and eight rebounds).
▪ Knox sandwiching a clunker at Tennessee (1-of-9 shooting and six points) with 12-of-17 shooting and a 15.5-point scoring average in the games before (at LSU) and after (Texas A&M).
▪ Gilgeous-Alexander’s no assists and six turnovers at South Carolina, then six assists and no turnovers against Mississippi State.
▪ Calipari likening Gabriel to Derek Willis. Gabriel has made only three of 19 three-point shots in the last seven games.
No wonder Calipari’s fingers might be cramping. “You’re trying to shuffle the deck a little bit,” he said.
But the good news is there’s usually a good chance of finding the right card, er, Cat when needed.
Or as Killeya-Jones said of Knox scoring 34 points at West Virginia, “We all trust his abilities. When we need a basket, we know he’s more than capable of going and getting one.”
Then, Killeya-Jones added, “The great thing with this team is we have so many players who can do that. Even if Kevin is playing poorly, we still have four, five, six other guys who can step up to the plate.”
No. 21 Kentucky at Missouri
2 p.m. Saturday (CBS-27)