Tyler Herro helps Kentucky’s improved defense
Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 90-44 victory over Monmouth on Wednesday night at Rupp Arena:
1. Do I really have to come up with three?
After all, this was a yawner of a late night, mid-week game against a Monmouth team that hit Lexington having lost its first seven games of the season. No wonder the mismatch, er matchup drew an announced crowd of just 18,680.
Kentucky did get the job done, winning its sixth straight. Four Cats placed in double figures, led by Tyler Herro with 16 points, followed by Keldon Johnson with 15, Quade Green with 14 and Reid Travis with 13. PJ Washington and Tyler Herro each had eight rebounds. And Herro was credited with five steals.
On a night where you had to fight to stay awake, John Calipari praised his team’s energy, calling it “unbelievable” and saying “We just rode the guys that had energy.” He pointed to freshman EJ Montgomery, who played with so much energy off the bench in the first half, Calipari started him in the second half. The coach also praised freshman guard Ashton Hagans, who provided a pick-me-up over the final minutes.
2. “The more stops we get, the more points we get”
That was sophomore guard Quade Green talking, summing up how Calipari has sold his current emphasis on a team that would love to score points. The more, the better. And the better UK plays defensively, the more possessions it will get on offense. “And more shots,” said Green.
So how did the Cats do on defense? Calipari seemed please. True, it’s hard to tell when you’re going up against a team that’s yet to win a game. But UK held the Hawks to just 27.6 percent shooting from the floor. One of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country (25.5 percent coming in), Monmouth made just two of 16 tries from beyond the arc for 12.5 percent.
“I think we were better,” Herro said afterward. “I think we communicated better; did a better job knowing our rotations.”
Monmouth averaged just 0.641 points per possessions — 64.1 points on 100 possessions — the lowest by a UK foe since West Virginia managed just 0.619 points per possessions against the Cats in the Sweet 16 of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
UK held 10 teams below that 0.7 mark while going 38-1 that season. Until Wednesday they had done it just once since, holding Michigan State to 0.664 in the 2016 Champions Classic in New York.
3. This is not Calipari’s best three-point shooting team — yet
The coach keeps saying it is — “I’ll say it again, this is the best three-point shooting team I’ve had since I’ve been here” — based on what he’s seeing in practice. (We don’t get to watch practice.) But that has yet to translate into games. The Cats entered Wednesday night shooting just 33 percent from three-point range.
They exited having made a season-high 10 three-pointers on a season-high 24 attempts. Quade Green was 4-of-7 from three-point range. Herro was 2-of-5. Reid Travis, PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans made one triple each.
“We need to take between 18 and 24 threes,” Calipari said afterward. “Any time my teams historically have taken 30 threes, we don’t ever win. We just don’t. . . . But when you have a team like this, they should shoot 18 to 24 threes. They really should.”