Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 71-59 win over Southern Illinois:
1. From shock to ‘strides.’
Kentucky Coach John Calipari said his team ‘made strides’ in the 12-point victory. Then again, the bar for improvement was set pretty low after the shocking 34-point drubbing the Cats took on Tuesday night in Indianapolis against devlish Duke. Three days later, Calipari said Friday, “I never saw it coming, what happened up there.”
Not that Kentucky’s first win of the season was easy. Far from it. In the first half, the Cats treated the basketball as if it were covered in Crisco, turning it over 14 times for 38.3 percent of their possessions. They trailed 13-5 early and 26-25 with 2:26 left in the first half, before rallying for a 31-28 lead at the break. They trailed 44-37 with 14:19 left before going on a 12-2 run to take a 49-46 lead and never looked back from there.
And some Cats did make strides. Nick Richards grabbed a remarkable and career-high 19 rebounds, the most by a UK player since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s 24 points and 19 rebounds in the win over Louisville on Dec. 31, 2011. That came after Calipari said he had been worried after the way the sophomore center had played in the two exhibition games before going scoreless against Duke.
Immanuel Quickley started at point guard in place of Ashton Hagans and finished with 15 points, tying Keldon Johnson for team-high. When Southern Illinois led 46-40, Quickley buried a three that served as a spark for the Cats.
Sophomore guard Quade Green came off the bench to score 14 points to go with three assists. Green’s three cut the SIU lead to 44-40. And his fast break assist to EJ Montgomery for a jam pushed Kentucky’s advantage out to 49-46.
Montgomery had 10 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes to go with his eight points and six rebounds in 22 minutes on Tuesday. Montgomery and Richards combined to block five shots.
And after giving up a shocking 1.409 points per possession and 118 points to Duke, UK allowed just 0.871 points per possession and 59 points to the Salukis.
2. Some Cats are still struggling, however.
At the top of the list is sophomore forward PJ Washington, who committed five turnovers in 20 minutes while scoring just three points to go with six turnovers. In two games, Washington has scored 11 points with eight rebounds in 37 minutes. That’s not the start Kentucky fans expected.
Washington did undergo offseason hand surgery and Calipari said he did not believe the sophomore has confidence in that repaired hand just yet. PJ took just two shots in his 20 minutes on Friday. That’s unusual.
Meanwhile, freshman Tyler Herro is struggling with his shot. Herro missed all six of his field goal attempts on Friday, including two from three-point range. This after Herro scored 14 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished five assists against Duke. Friday night was an off night.
Reid Travis scored 22 points on Tuesday. Friday, he played just two minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls. The grad transfer ended up with just six points and five rebounds in 14 minutes. He also took just two shots.
And after starting on Tuesday, Hagans played but 13 minutes off the bench against SIU. He didn’t score, though he did contribute three assists.
3. The patience of Job.
Colorful Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson thanked Lexington for the hospitality shown his Salukis, compared UK to the comic strip dog Marmaduke and said Big Blue nation should read the Book of Job from the Bible to learn about patience.
“You want to microwave the maturation process and you can’t do that,” Hinson said. “It takes time. So back off and let these guys go through the maturity process and let Coach Calipari do what he does best.”
Not sure Friday night’s win and Hinson’s advice took all the sting out of that jaw-dropping loss to Duke, but the advice is well-taken. It’s a long, long, long season. This is only Nov. 9. Cal said he was still mad at himself for scheduling Duke as the opener and an experienced SIU team as the second game of the season.
There were rays of light on Friday, however. Southern Illinois won 20 games last season and could make the NCAA Tournament this season. The Salukis’ best player, Armon Fletcher, fouled out after playing just 15 minutes and scoring eight points. This was SIU’s first game, after all.
UK gets some much-needed film and practice time before Wednesday night’s game against North Dakota. For example, Calipari said he was going to make his team watch all 19 turnovers and ask, “Was that necessary?”
According to Hinson, what’s necessary is patience.
Kentucky basketball 2018-19