Three things from Kentucky’s 74-73 win over Texas A&M:
1. Toughness isn’t necessarily roughness
That’s what the head man said. To John Calipari’s way of thinking, toughness really means being engaged. Knowing what to do and when to do it. Hitting big free throws. Not committing careless turnovers. Grabbing a clutch rebound. And, on this night, playing through fatigue.
The Cats were down to seven scholarship players on Tuesday. Tai Wynyard (back) was in street clothes. Quade Green (back strain) was out. Though practicing, Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) is not quite ready. No one knows when we might see Jemarl Baker (knee). So Calipari was playing with basically a seven-man rotation plus three first half minutes out of son Brad.
(If you were wondering where Mrs. Calipari was on Tuesday, she was in Boston with daughter Megan, who is scheduled to undergo surgery on her broken wrist Wednesday.)
So Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played 39 minutes and scored 16 points. After being sick at LSU and still a bit under the weather at Tennessee, Hamidou Diallo played 34 minutes and scored 18 points. PJ Washington, who exited the Tennessee loss with 12 minutes to go because of cramps on Saturday, but who is becoming the lead dog on this team, played 32 minutes and scored 15 points.
After the dead fish that was UK’s second-half effort in the 76-65 loss at Tennessee, was Tuesday tough enough?
“We got closer,” said Calipari, who added plenty of things he didn’t like, such as late turnovers, missed free throws, allowing Texas A&M’s Admon Gilder to be wide open from the right corner for a three-pointer that wold have tied the game in the final seconds.
“As good as you’re going to get,” said Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy afterward.
“Thank God he missed,” said Calipari.
2. Welcome back, Hami
As previously mentioned, Diallo was suffering from the flu at LSU where he played just 22 minutes, scored just seven points and turned the ball over four times as the Cats escaped Baton Rouge with a 74-71 victory.
Down on Rocky Top, Diallo was better but still under the weather when foul trouble limited him to 16 minutes and five points before fouling out. He took a season low five shots.
Back at Rupp on Tuesday night, Diallo was back to looking like his old/young self. He made six of nine shots from the floor and six of nine shots from the foul line. Though he had just one rebound and no steals, he contributed two assists.
After scoring just four points in the first half, Diallo poured in 14 in the second half. Eight of those came in an electric burst when the Cats fell behind 44-39 with 17:27 to play.
At 16:41, Diallo made one of two free throws. At 16:08, he scored from the right wing. At 15:39, he threw down a thunderous fast break jam. At 14:23, he made one of two from the line. Finally, at the 13:50 mark. he scored on drive down the right baseline to put UK back in front 47-46.
“I’m trying to find my way within the team, that’s what I’ve been trying to figure out these last couple of games,” Diallo said afterward. “It’s going to be a bumpy road. It’s going to be an up-and-down road. You just got to keep playing and keep trying to get wins. That’s what it’s all about.”
3. The Cats might have caught Texas A&M just in time
After an 11-1 start, the Aggies have now lost four straight. Once No. 5 in the AP poll, A&M is now 0-4 in the SEC. They’ve encountered more than their share of various injuries, suspensions and other off-court distractions.
Tuesday, however, Kennedy’s club was missing only Duane Wilson, a 6-3 grad transfer who is nursing a knee injury. D.J. Hogg was back for the second game after a three-game suspension. Admon Gilder, who had been out with a knee injury, was back.
Robert Williams, who missed the team’s Saturday loss to LSU, was also back after sitting out three days of practice. Considered the team’s best pro prospect, the 6-10 sophomore came on strong in the second half to finish with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Meanwhile, Tyler Davis was Tyler Davis. The 6-10 junior always gives Kentucky fits. No difference this night. Davis scored a game-high 21 points, making eight of 10 shots from the floor. He even nailed a three-pointer.
In the end, this time on the road, the Aggies took their second straight one-point loss because they couldn’t make open shots. Still, Kennedy had to feel like he’s starting to pull the car out of the ditch. Kentucky shot 55.8 percent. It won the boards 28-27. Yet A&M only lost by a point.
Said Kennedy, “It’s only going to get better.”
Kentucky men’s basketall 2017-18
vsMonmouth (New York)
vsUCLA (New Orleans)