Updated: Jan 20
The Cats are Figuring it Out.
Written by: Dylan Ballard
Edited by: Samuel Stallard
This weekend the Cats defeated Alabama at home 76-67 while hitting 9 threes in the process. I know for a Kentucky team in January that doesn’t seem like a large feat, but this team is a much different team than we’ve seen in a long time (well not really, but kind of). As usual, this Cal-coached team has had their share of early struggles, from loses like Evansville and Utah or even close games with teams like Utah Valley State. A lot of people have given up hope. We heard things like “Cal has lost it”, “put Cal on the hot seat”, and other slander. So, today I’m gonna fill you in on why I believe this team that looked dreadful in the beginning has turned the corner and will be a contender.
Early on this team struggled with no offensive identity, post presence disappearing in big games, and the usual freshman struggles. Now, we are seeing a team that has an established point guard who might be the best defender in the nation, an emerging big man, Nick Richards, and sophomore Quickley is as hot as anyone in the country right now.
When did the tide turn for this team? The Louisville game.
I know it is a short sample size and you are probably thinking “it’s only been four games ago”, but the energy and effort since the Cats out-ran the cards 78-70 is unmatched. The way the game went back and fourth and how the Cats fought tooth and nail to make sure we got that victory proves this team has learned a few things. The energy in Rupp that day and the feeling of “we can do this” was unmatched. Since then, UK is 3-0 in the SEC to start out conference play and we’ve seen a different team. Now this team is hitting threes, feeding Richards (which led to his all-time scoring high of 21 pts), Maxey & Quickley have had huge games, and most importantly, they have to fought to win. I think with as much inconstancy seen in college basketball this year, the Cats have taken a huge step towards becoming one of the best teams in the country.
So, what does UK have to fix and how can we keep progressing this season?
⁃ Continue to play through Nick Richards. When say that I don’t just mean feeding him the ball (even though that has worked in the past few games), but much more. They have to continue play through him by feeding and kicking it out, setting screens, sealing defenders, and keeping him involved in the offense.
⁃ Play the three guards together. When Maxey, Hagans, and Quickley have been on the floor together, we’ve been unstoppable. Their styles are all different and this has given this team the edge we’ve needed the last few games.
⁃ Find & feed the hot hand of the evening. Lately, Immanuel Quickley has been unstoppable and has been scorching the threes. Maxey has had some games where he’s hot (especially in the big stage games) as well as Hagans and Sestina. Experiment in each game, find the hot hand, and feed it.
⁃ Brooks, Montgomery, and Whitney have to step up and be consistent. I know Montgomery had a great game against Alabama and that’s awesome, but I need at least one of these guys to be consistent. Lately, we have shown that we can only play five guys and a small bench (or no bench) can be dangerous. If we can get some consistency out of one those dudes, it will do this team wonders.
As we come down the stretch of the season I think college basketball continues to prove anyone can lose to anyone this year. Heck, this Kentucky team has been the poster child for anyone losing to anyone. But I now I’m thinking this team can compete with anyone with the way they are playing right now. They’re beginning to find offensive identity while retaining strong defense, thus showing they’ll be a contender in March (as always). As Kentucky continues to grow and run through the SEC, I feel this team is easier to root for. They won’t win every game and probably lose games they shouldn’t, but I can guarantee you one thing—when March rolls around, we’ll have a shot at the national championship!