Sidelines with John Clay

Three take-aways from Kentucky’s hard-fought win over Georgia

Sunday showed how tough the SEC will be

Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo after the hard-fought 66-61 win over Georgia in the SEC opener.
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Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo after the hard-fought 66-61 win over Georgia in the SEC opener.

Three take-aways from Kentucky’s 66-61 win over Georgia on Sunday night at Rupp Arena.

1. After a feel-good Friday, the Cats tough out a win

As we stated after Friday’s 90-61 steamroll of archrival Louisville, Kentucky is a very young team, comprised of mostly freshmen, and you never know how young teams are going to play. UK got too full themselves after beating Virginia Tech and lost to UCLA in New Orleans. The Cats bounced back and crushed the Cardinals, then shot 20.7 percent in the first half of its SEC opener.

“That’s as selfish as any of my teams have played in awhile in the first half,” said John Calipari.

[Three take-aways from Kentucky basketball’s rout of Louisville]

The Cats got things corrected in the second half, shot 44 percent and made the plays down the stretch in to beat the Bulldogs by five points. Wenyen Gabriel, as a sophomore an old man on this team, admitted that this team is going through ups and downs.

“We’re trying to find our identity,” he said.

Right now, that identity revolves around freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the 6-foot-6 point guard from Canada who came off the bench to score 24 points and earn MVP honors in the thumping of Louisville, then saved the Cats with 21 points on Sunday.

Gilgeous-Alexander just has a way of hitting the big shot, whether it’s a drive to the basket, or a three-pointer, such as the one he hit with 4:37 left to put the Cats up for good 54-43. When Georgia cut the lead to 58-57, Gilgeous-Alexander drove the right baseline and score to make it 60-57.

Afterward, Calipari called the Canadian, “our best player right now.” He’s certainly playing that way.

2. Kevin Knox and Nick Richards are in funks

They are struggling big-time. Knox, the 6-9 freshman, was held to seven points and four rebounds in 28 minutes on Sunday. Richards, the 6-11 freshman, picked up two quick fouls and played just two minutes in the first half. He did not start the second half, failed to box out on a rebound when he did enter, was subbed and didn’t return.

“We’ve got to get Nick back,” said Calipari afterward.

Over his last two games, Knox has made just four-of-18 shots from the floor. He’s one-of-seven from three-point range and has 11 rebounds. He did have three assists on Sunday after failing to make an assist and turning it over twice against Louisville.

[For Calipari’s Cats, the hard part starts now with SEC play]

Consider this: Gilgeous-Alexander got 13 free throws Sunday, and hit 12. Because he tends to roam the perimeter and rarely drives, Knox got just three free throws Sunday. He made two. The last three games, the Florida native has played 80 minutes and shot all of 10 free throws.

Said Calipari of Knox’s game against Georgia, “The game got physical.”

Richards, who failed to score and did not get a rebound, has scored in double figures just four times in Kentucky’s 13 games. He’s played 20 minutes over the last two games and has scored just 19 points in the last four games.

Earlier in the year, Calipari called on his friend, the sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, to have a little heart-to-heart with Richards, who responded by scoring 25 points and grabbing 15 rebounds against Fort Wayne. Maybe it’s time for a follow-up visit.

3. Good things happen when you guard the three

In that head-scratching loss to UCLA down in New Orleans, the Cats watched the Bruins go 12-for-30 from behind the three-point line. Then they watched it again. Calipari subjected his team to the tape of all 12 of the threes to show that on all 12 of them, by Cal’s estimation, there was no Kentucky defender in sight.

In the Friday follow-up against Louisville, the Cats held the Cards to just three made three-pointers in 25 attempts. And Kentucky won by 29.

Sunday, UK held Georgia to just two made three-pointers in 21 attempts. The Cats came on late for a hard-fought five-point win.

After four straight opponents made 10-or-more threes against the Cats, the last two have gone five-of-46 for 10.9 percent. Kentucky has won both games. Surely there is a correlation.

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

Overall, after shooting 20.7 percent the first half, UK shot 31.5 percent for the game, its lowest field goal percentage since shooting 28.1 percent at Texas A&M on Jan. 10, 2015. UK won that game in College Station 70-64 in overtime on the way to a 38-1 season. Under Calipari, Kentucky is 4-2 when it shoots less than 32 percent.

Georgia ended up shooting 39.7 percent, including 34.3 percent the first half. That’s the second straight game the Cats have held the opponent under 40 percent. Louisville shot 34.8 percent on Friday. It’s the seventh time in 13 games UK has held the opponent under 40 percent from the floor.

UK’s record under Calipari when holding the opponent below 40 percent from the floor: 154-11.

Kentucky averaged 0.999 points per possession. It’s just the third time this season UK has failed to reach the 1.0 mark -- 0.853 vs. Kansas and 0.987 against Troy.

Georgia averaged 0.884 points per possession. It’s the 10 time in 13 games UK has held the opponent under 1.0 and the fifth time under 0.9.

SEC men’s basketball standings

Team

W

L

W

L

Arkansas

1

0

11

2

Kentucky

1

0

11

2

Alabama

1

0

9

4

Florida

1

0

9

4

Ole Miss

1

0

8

5

Auburn

0

0

12

1

Miss State

0

0

12

1

Missouri

0

0

10

3

LSU

0

0

9

3

Texas A&M

0

1

11

2

Georgia

0

1

9

3

Tennessee

0

1

9

3

South Carolina

0

1

9

4

Vanderbilt

0

1

5

8

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