Keldon Johnson bounces back from ankle injury
Kentucky’s 78-61 victory over UNC Greensboro included a cautionary tale for youngsters who dream about someday being basketball stars: Kids, break in your new shoes before wearing them in a game.
The consequence for not doing so hit home with 3:17 left in the first half. That’s when Keldon Johnson jumped to rebound a three-point shot by UNC Greensboro. The ball rolled around the rim, perhaps causing Johnson to adjust in mid-air. He landed awkwardly and laid on the floor in obvious pain.
“It was like he was shot by a sniper,” UK Coach John Calipari said.
After a few minutes Johnson got up, but he needed help off the court and on a slow hobble to the locker-room.
Johnson returned in the second half good as new. He nearly posted a double-double after halftime with eight points and eight rebounds. He finished with 13 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.
After the game, he said he rolled his left ankle, in part, because he had not properly broken in a new pair of shoes.
“I broke them in a little bit in the workouts and the shootaround,” he said. “It was painful. But I think it was more scary because it was the same ankle I hurt before.”
Johnson sheepishly acknowledged a change to an older pair of more flexible shoes helped him play in the second half.
Teammate Reid Travis offered advice on how he prepares to wear new shoes. “I usually break them in for at least three days,” he said. “That’s just a comfort deal for me.
“But Keldon’s a stylish guy. He likes to switch it up a little bit. So maybe he’s learned. Maybe he’ll break them in a couple days before now.”
The game contained a never-seen-in-public moment. Tyler Herro missed a free throw. He made every foul shot in UK’s four games in the Bahamas in August.
Herro came into Saturday’s game having made 10 of 10 this season. He hit his first two against UNC Greensboro.
But with 16:29 left in the game, Herro missed one of two. Then barely a minute later, he missed another one of two.
“I don’t miss,” he said afterward. “I don’t know what happened.”
Go left, young man
Calipari said he wanted Travis to use his left hand more when trying to finish around the basket. It’s advice the UK big man wants to heed.
“There were a few times I was on the left side of the bucket, and got it in my right hand,” Travis said.
Of course, the right hand in that situation is closer to the defender, thus making it impossible for the offensive player to use his body to shield off a block attempt.
“Just a bad habit of doing that,” Travis said. “Just go up and shoot a left hook. ... It’s something I’ve watched film on, and he’s trying to correct. ... I’m confident I’ll put the reps in.”
Nick of time
Nick Richards played only one minute. Fans cheered his entry into the game at the 12: 53 mark of the second half. Sixty-five seconds later, he went back to the bench and did not re-enter the game.
That cameo appearance included a block while in help defense, but there was also a foul for setting an illegal screen.
When asked about Richards’ blink-and-you’ll-miss-it playing time, Calipari said, “I’m playing three ‘bigs’ right now, and if the three ‘bigs’ are all playing well, I’m just going to leave them there.”
Richards will have the option of improving his playing time by outperforming one or more of UK’s other “bigs” in practice, Calipari said.
Fight to win
Although again saying Kentucky had plenty of improvement to make in the coming weeks and month, Calipari said he liked what he saw in this game.
“Today, we fought to win,” he said. “We did. And that’s what we’ve got to do for 40 (minutes). Let’s go. Fight to win.”
Calipari singled out Johnson’s fight, which included the career-high 11 rebounds.
“He fought like crazy ...,” Calipari said. “I went with seven guys who were really going pretty good. I just said, ‘We’re playing seven.’ That’s kind of old-school stuff. But whoever was really competing and fighting, that’s who I left in the game.”