A 96-78 victory over Ole Miss Wednesday continued a dramatic shift for Kentucky. The disjointed team that couldn’t shoot has become an offensive force.
In its last three games, UK has averaged 90 points. The Cats had been averaging 75.8 points. In that same span, UK has made an average of 8.7 three-point shots. The Cats had been averaging 4.8 threes. The quality of three-point shooting has improved as well as the quantity: shooting accuracy 32.9 percent before, 47.3 percent in the last three games.
As UK Coach John Calipari explained it, a part of the Jekyll and Hyde story involves Quade Green’s move from point guard to off the ball.
“When he gets it (as a point guard) and they’ve got their defense sunk in, he’s not that guy,” Calipari said. “But when he’s away from the ball, (Green is a) killer! Absolute killer! Makes baskets. He’s a scorer. He makes great decisions.”
The move off the ball has not lessened Green’s contributions. Against Ole Miss, he scored 18 points, which was the second-most he’s scored in a game (he had 21 against East Tennessee State way back on Nov. 17). His four assists equaled the most he’s had since getting five against Louisville on Dec. 29.
“He wanted me to help us score,” Green said of the move off the ball. “Just like Kevin (Knox). I’m smaller than Kevin, obviously. But he wanted me to be aggressive. Shoot when I got to shoot. Pass. Rebound. Just be aggressive all around.”
Green’s size – or lack thereof at 6-foot tall – makes him more effective doing these things off the ball, Calipari said.
“It’s a more open court for him” off the ball, Calipari said. “He can see more. If they have five guys back in there, it’s a little tougher for him to see the court.”
As he’s done with the other players, Calipari defined the role he wanted Green to play off the ball.
“You’re going to make plays,” he said. “You’re going to make jump shots. I don’t want you driving it on a 6-9 guy (or anyone else) unless the court is wide open and you have something easy. Short of that, shoot the ball.”
UK explained its suddenly high-powered scoring as a product of determining who to run the offense through.
“Coach has narrowed down what he wants guys to do,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “And we’re just playing off a couple of guys.”
Wenyen Gabriel said much the same thing. He nodded affirmatively when a reporter suggested the two players were Kevin Knox and Gilgeous-Alexander.
“It’s directed toward a certain two guys,” he said of UK’s re-orientated offense. “We go through them. We trust them to make plays, and we kind of play off of that.”
As he told it, Calipari did not suggest the offense run through Knox and Gilgeous-Alexander. He commanded that it be so.
“If you have a problem with that, come and see me,” he said he told the players. “You’re sitting on the bench.
“And occasionally we’re going to play through this guy because he’s a beast,” Calipari added in an apparent reference to Jarred Vanderbilt. “And if he gets it going, we’ll play through him.”
Given Vanderbilt’s frenetic style, the regular rules of assessing player performance might not always work.
“I didn’t think Jarred played well,” Calipari said, “and he had 11 rebounds. That’s like a bad game for him.”
Vanderbilt also had five points, two assists and a steal.
But whatever the numbers, Gilgeous-Alexander touted the difference Vanderbilt has made.
“Jarred’s helped us out a lot,” he said. “He adds a different dynamic. We’re completely different as a team because of him.”
Gilgeous-Alexander flirted with a triple-double. He scored 17 points, got credit for 10 assists and grabbed seven rebounds.
“I didn’t know that until in the locker room after the game,” he said. “Coach told me. I didn’t know. I was just playing ball.”
Rarely, if ever, has Calipari agreed to the notion of a must-win game. But he more or less put that label on the Ole Miss game.
“It was a win we had to have,” he said. “And I told them that after the game. I didn’t want to tell them that (beforehand). This was like the biggest game of the year for us. . . . Because it took everything off this next one (at Florida Saturday). So we can just go play a basketball game. I don’t know if we’re good enough to win or not.
“But we didn’t need anything else on our plate.”
UK recognized NBC announcer (and UK grad) Tom Hammond before the game. He received a framed jersey, joining Brent Musburger as announcers who received framed jerseys from UK in Rupp Arena.
Kentucky finishes the regular season at Florida on Saturday. The game has a scheduled start of noon EST with Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel calling the action for CBS.