Sidelines with John Clay

Three take-aways from Kentucky basketball’s win over Virginia Tech

Kentucky guard Hamidou Diallo (3) recovers a loose ball past Virginia Tech Hokies guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (4) during Uks 93-86 win at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. Kentucky forced 19 turnovers in the victory.
Kentucky guard Hamidou Diallo (3) recovers a loose ball past Virginia Tech Hokies guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (4) during Uks 93-86 win at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. Kentucky forced 19 turnovers in the victory. aslitz@herald-leader.com

In addition to my column, three take-aways from Kentucky’s 93-86 win over Virginia Tech in Rupp Arena on Saturday:

1. Kentucky can use the press as an effective weapon

After saying earlier in the year he would rather UK’s length in a half-court defense than press full-court, John Calipari took the opposite approach on Saturday.

And the approach worked as Cal’s Cats forced Virginia Tech into 19 turnovers. Kentucky scored 36 points off those turnovers, compared to just 13 points for the Hokies off turnovers.

Combine that with UK’s 18 second-chance points and as Virginia Tech Coach Buzz Williams pointed out, 60 percent of Kentucky’s points came by turnovers and rebounds.

“I think that’s the game right there,” Williams said. “That is the game.”

Virginia Tech actually outshot UK. Entering the game as the nation’s leader in field goal percentage at 55.3 percent, Virginia Tech shot 58.2 percent to Kentucky’s 48.5 percent.

The Hokies made 10 of 22 three-pointers, including seven of 12 in the first half. Kentucky was 11 of 22 from three-point range for 50 percent.

In large part because of the turnovers, Virginia Tech averaged 1.130 points per possession. In large part because of forcing those turnovers and controlling the offensive boards (36.8 percent offensive rebound percentage to 24.0 for Virginia Tech), UK averaged 1.217 points per possession.

Kentucky came into the game ranked 277th in turnover percentage, yet the Cats turned it over just 14.4 percent of its possessions. Virginia Tech turned it over on 25 percent of its possessions.

2. Hamidou Diallo can shoot the three-pointer

The biggest knock on the redshirt freshman from New York has been his perimeter shooting. As Williams himself said Saturday, Diallo is “uber athletic” but the critics have doubted Diallo’s ability to knock down shots.

Saturday, Diallo was four of seven from three-point range on the way to a 20-point performance. When the Hokies cut the Kentucky lead to 85-83 with 1:13 left, Diallo rose up and nailed a huge three-pointer out of the left corner to push the lead back to five points with 47 seconds remaining.

“He has worked on his shot,” said Calipari after the game, and it’s beginning to show.

[Kentucky basketball individual game-by-game stats in a Google Doc]

For the season, Diallo is now 10 of 26 from three-point range for 38.5 percent. That ranks third on the team among players who have shot 10 or more three-pointers.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexanders leads the way at 46.2 percent on six-of-13 threes. Quade Green is next at 44 percent on 11-of-25 threes. Then comes Diallo, followed by Wenyen Gabriel at 35 percent on seven of 20 and Kevin Knox at 33.3 percent on 16 of 48.

As a team, Kentucky’s 11 made three-pointers was a season-high. The last time UK made 11 or more threes was Feb. 14, 2017, against Tennessee when the Cats were 11 of 25. The last time they made 50 percent of their threes when shooting 20 or more was Jan. 3, 2017, when UK made 13 of 25 for 52 percent against Texas A&M.

3. One down, three to go before 2018

Though unranked, Virginia Tech was the best team had faced after the 65-61 loss to Kansas at the Champions Classic in Chicago on Nov. 14. And Kentucky passed the test. Still, Saturday was just the first of four challenging games before the calendar flips over to 2018.

Next Saturday, UK heads to New Orleans to play UCLA, which was 58th in the Ken Pomeroy rankings before losing 77-63 at home to 25th-ranked Cincinnati on Saturday.

On Dec. 29, Kentucky faces archrival Louisville, which improved to 8-2 with an 81-72 win over Memphis in Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday. Quentin Snider led the Cards with 19 points. Pomeroy had the Cards ranked 27th on Saturday.

On New Year’s Eve, Kentucky opens SEC play against Georgia, which was 7-2 and ranked 76th by Pomeroy. The Bulldogs did lose 72-62 at UMass on Saturday. The winners made 12 three-pointers to knock off Mark Fox’s team.

Top 10 opponents shooting percentages in Calipari Era

Team

Date

FG

FGA

Pct

Opp res

Florida

3/8/14

28

47

0.596

W

Virginia Tech

12/16/17

32

55

0.582

L

Tennessee

2/16/13

29

50

0.580

W

Wichita State

3/23/14

27

49

0.551

L

Mississippi State

1/17/17

32

59

0.542

L

UCLA

12/3/16

35

66

0.530

W

UNC

12/17/16

35

66

0.530

L

Mississippi State

1/12/16

27

51

0.529

L

Missouri

2/1/14

27

51

0.529

L

UCLA

12/31/15

28

53

0.528

W

UCLA

3/24/17

29

55

0.527

L

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