Justus: UK’s performance ‘tremendous,’ ‘elite’ and an ‘all-time high’
Mega Bemax was supposed to be most likely opponent to beat Kentucky on its exhibition series in the Bahamas. Bolstering Mega Bemax’s supposed aura as the “Kentucky of Europe” was the fact it had three of its players chosen in three separate NBA drafts: 2014, 2016 and 2017.
That was a first for professional basketball in Serbia, even if only one of those nine players was a first-round pick.
Kentucky made sure that the only thing that stood out about Mega Bemax in Saturday’s game was its pink uniforms.
Mega Bemax takes pride in including a shade of pink in its team colors. Last season, their uniforms were “intensive pink and royal blue.” This coming season, the team plans to wear “shock pink and bright cyan.” (Cyan is greenish-blue.)
Kentucky made sure this opponent was not pretty in pink. If anything, UK’s 100-64 victory looked like a bull made angry by the waving of — in this case — a pink towel.
PJ Washington led Kentucky with a double-double: 20 points and 12 rebounds. Five other UK players reached double figures: Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro with 16 each, Nick Richards with 15, Immanuel Quickley with 12 and Quade Green with 10.
It didn’t take long for Kentucky to begin the battering. The Cats made their first six shots, took the lead for good less than four minutes into the game and seemingly never checked the rearview mirror.
Early foul trouble for two of UK’s “bigs” seemed incidental. Reid Travis picked up two fouls within 44 seconds, the second coming at the 15:34 mark. Nick Richards picked up his second foul two minutes later.
Ho hum. Neither immediately went to the bench. There was no need to conserve resources at this banquet of Kentucky basketball.
While Kentucky made 15 of 31 shots in zipping to a 47-29 halftime lead, the team from Serbia struggled mightily to put the ball in the basket. Mega Bemax made only three of its first 21 shots (14 percent), and had made only one of 13 three-point shots until Kostia Mushidi hit one in the final seconds to set the halftime score.
Kentucky had its defensive intensity dialed up from the start with a bit of half-court trapping and on-ball pressure throughout.
As in Wednesday’s game against the Bahamas Select Team, the combination of physical play and UK intensity led to a momentary temper flare. This time the referees had to separate the players after a Mega Bemax player knocked a driving Immanuel Quickley to the floor late in the half. Order was quickly restored.
The many Kentucky fans in attendance enjoyed what they saw in the first half. This was never more true than when Tyler Herro stepped to the line to shoot free throws with 6:19 left. A fan yelled, “He’s a super Herro!”
Kentucky’s propensity for highlight-reel material turned into an avalanche early in the second half. Reid Travis got it started by leaping high for an offensive rebound that led to Quickley three-pointer. That was the appetizer.
Then Washington leaped high for a pass that slammed it home. That was the entrée.
Then Green bypassed a fast-break layup for a lob that Johnson rose high to dunk. As Mega Bemax called time, Johnson high-stepped to mid-court where Washington waited to collaborate on an elevated chest bump.
A “Go Big Blue” chant erupted.
The blowout did not cool the game’s competitiveness.
Less than four minutes into the second half, referee Brent Hampton told Ashton Hagans and Mega Bemax’s Luka Asceric, “Both of you, stop!”
Three minutes later, double technical fouls were assessed to Asceric and Richards.
Barely a minute later, a Mega Bemax player pleaded his objection to a non-call by saying, “He pushed me!!”
With victory long-since assured, the fans called for a walk-on to enter the game with more than six minutes left by chanting the name “Jonny David.” The fans got their wish when he entered the game with 4:58 left.