Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s win over Morehead State

Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 92-67 exhibition win over Morehead State on Monday night at Rupp Arena:

1. Morehead State provided a toughness test

That’s what UK point guard Quade Green called it. And it was an unexpected toughness test. After all, surely no one expected the in-state team from the OVC with 10 new players to pull within 51-49 of Kentucky with 12:32 to go in the game. But there were the Eagles, outrebounding the Cats, hitting shots and scrapping their way back in the game.

To Kentucky’s credit, the young Cats responded with a 12-0 run to stretch the lead to 66-51 with 8:23 to go and continued on to the 25-point victory. Hamidou Diallo led the way with 23 points. Green chipped in 20. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 17 points and dished four assists.

But give Morehead lots of credit. Under Coach Preston Spradlin, a former John Calipari staffer who is in his first year as head coach after being interim head coach last season, the visitors were hardly cowed by Rupp or the Cats. They ended up shooting 49 percent from the floor and made 10 of 21 three-pointers for 47.6 percent.

“I was proud of the way we played,” said Spradlin afterward, with good reason.

2. A bad night on the boards for the Cats

As previously mentioned, and as something of a surprise to Spradlin, who did a double-take at the stat sheet when told of the stat, Morehead State did outrebound Kentucky 30-25.

“We were getting outrebounded for no reason,” said Green.

This is a bit alarming considering that (a) the Eagles were at a size disadvantage and (b) Calipari’s teams are known for always crashing the glass. In fact, in his time at Kentucky, Calipari’s best teams have also been his best rebounding teams.

Monday night, however, the Cats had trouble coming up with rebounds. Kevin Knox, the 6-9 forward from Tampa, grabbed just three rebounds in 31 minutes. PJ Washington, the 6-7 forward from Dallas, managed just four boards in 27 minutes. Nick Richards, the 6-11 center from Jamaica, did not start and played just 12 minutes. Still, he failed to get a single rebound.

“You know what, our guys we kind of answered the call with it,” Spradlin said. “That’s going to be a calling card for both of those teams going forward, I can tell you that.”

3. Not having Jemarl Baker is not good

Asked about the scheduled examination of freshman guard Jemarl Baker’s injured knee, Calipari made some news. The coach announced that the California native had his knee scoped and would be out for up to three months.

Baker was a late addition to the 2017 signee class to provide some much-needed outside shooting. His absence obviously hurts, especially when UK is also without freshman Jarred Vanderbilt, though Calipari said that Vanderbilt will return to practice soon basically just to see how his injured foot will respond.

“We’re not as bad as everybody says shooting the ball, I mean I’m with them every day,” said Calipari about not having Baker. “But we’re more of an athletic, driving, throw the ball at the basket, go rebound it kind of team, too.

“But we’re going to have teams that are going to pack it in and you’re going to have to make shots. (We shot) 37 percent (from three), not great, but again, we had a couple of threes.”

Diallo made two of his four three-point attempts. After going three-for-four from behind the line on Friday against Thomas More, Green was just one-of-four on Monday. Knox missed two of his three three-point attempts. As a team, UK was six-of-16 from three for the night.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader