Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s Blue-White Game

Three takeaways from Kentucky’s Blue-White scrimmage on Sunday night in Rupp Arena:

1. John Calipari: I think we have 10 guys who can play.

In translation, that means 10 guys who can play well. There’s not going to be much drop-off when the Kentucky coach decides who will start and who will go to the bench. Right now, before the team’s first exhibition game on Friday night, his top 10 appear pretty evenly matched, and able to mix and match.

Calipari said he expects some of the players to start separating themselves from some of the others, but did not say when he expects that to happen or who those players might end up being. Right now, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what his starting lineup might look like. PJ Washington would be a good bet.

Maybe the same for Reid Travis. Those two are veterans. Tyler Herro is making a strong bid. But it’s hard to know for sure. And the coach might try some different combinations before settling on an early rotation.

For example, Nick Richards looked like he did in the Bahamas, much improved from a year ago. The sophomore center had 16 points and 16 rebounds as well as five blocked shots. But freshman center EJ Montgomery also played well, scoring 21 points and snatching eight boards. He also showed a nice baseline touch on his jumpers. Who will Cal start?

And Cal has several guards to sort out, including Quade Green, Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Hagans, Herro and Keldon Johnson, to name a few. All will play. When and how much are all to be determined.

2. An early look at three-point shooting.

One of the expected improvements in this year’s Cats over last year’s Cats is perimeter shooting. To be more specific, we’re talking three-point shooting. To put in the Calipari vernacular, we’re talking about three-point making.

The two teams combined to go 13-for-35 on the night from three-point land for 37.1 percent. The Blue team was 6-for-14. The White team was 7-for-21.

Tyler Herro led the way, making four of his six three-point attempts. Keldon Johnson, who split time between the two teams, was two of five from three-point range. No one else made more than one three.

Quade Green had the toughest time, making just one of five. Ashton Hagans and Jemarl Baker were both one of four from three. Calipari said later he thought the fact that Baker missed last season after two knee surgeries has caused the redshirt freshman to get off to a slow start. Baker was better in the second half Sunday night.

The two teams were locked in from the foul line. Combined, the Cats were 19-for-25 for 76 percent. And free-throw shooting, especially early, has not always been a strength of Calipari’s teams at Kentucky. This one appears to have the tools to be much better in that area.

3. This Kentucky team is ultra-competitive.

After the game, Tyler Herro said teammate Keldon Johnson was upset in the locker room that his team ended up in the losing effort. In fact, Herro said that Johnson brings out the best in him because the fellow freshman, and Herro’s roommate, is so competitive.

On at least two occasions, Nick Richards blocked shots by Ashton Hagans, then stood over top of and taunted the freshman. That would be his freshman teammate, by the way. What’s the deal?

“That’s just a little brotherly love from the both of us,” said a smiling (Saint) Nick. “We always go at it in practice. He makes those layups in practice, but today it went my way this time.”

No harm, no foul. We don’t get to see this team’s practices, but if we did we could imagine that they are knock-down, drag-out battles in which everyone loves to win and no one likes to lose.

Except for EJ Montgomery, who has given himself away. The freshman upped his game for the Pro Day in front of the NBA scouts a couple of weeks back. And Calipari said that Montgomery played better Sunday night than he has practiced recently. “He told on himself,” said the coach.

“I’ve got to start bringing it every day,” Montgomery said.

Especially with this team.

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