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Kentucky Basketball

Cats Take Care of Business, Beat UAB 69-58

November 29, 2019
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The 9th ranked Wildcats took on the UAB Blazers Friday night, coming away with a 69-58 victory. Once again, the highlights of the night were the solid performances by Nick Richards and Ashton Hagans, whose great seasons continue. Hagans tallied 12 assists, tying his career high. Many of those assists were to Richards, who finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds. Richards was also 7-7 from the field, with many of those coming on dunks after Hagans dished out the assist. The Cats led by as many as 20 points, 67-47, with 4 ½ minutes left, but a late barrage of threes by UAB closed the final margin to 11, for UK’s 6th win of the season.

First Half

Kentucky looked to start hot with the first points of the game coming off a Nick Richards dunk, but after a two-point jumper from Ashton Hagans the Cats went cold. The scoring drought lasted 4:10 before Nick Richards broke it with another dunk. The Cats fed off Richards’ play, going on a 9-0 run over the next four minutes to put Kentucky up 13-7 before UAB finally ended their own scoring drought with a three-pointer. 

Kentucky’s shooting stayed consistent through the first half, averaging 50% from the field while the Cats defense held the Blazers to 37%. Ashton Hagans led the way on both ends of the court, creating pressure on the defensive side while racking up the offensive stats at the other end of the floor. With eight assists in the first half, he was on track to set a new personal best. In a dramatic shift from what we’ve seen so far this season, Kentucky shot 45% from beyond the arc. 

Nick Richards continued his impressive season early, going four-of-four from the field to give Kentucky a strong presence inside. The combination of him and Montgomery playing well in the paint allowed the Cats to get free on the perimeter for good looks.

At the half, the Cats led 38-25 over UAB. Montgomery posted six of Kentucky’s 20 rebounds, while he and Richards led the way in scoring with eight points a piece.

 

Second Half

Richards and Montgomery continued to make their presence felt into the second half. The first points of the half came in the form of two free throws for Montgomery, who drew the shooting foul. The two added 8 points each in the second half. On the other end, UAB found more ways to get to the basket, driving and finishing with relative ease against the Cats. Of the Blazers’ 13 made field goals in the 2nd half, 8 came in the paint, on layups or dunks. Jalen Benjamin and Tyreek Scott-Grayson, both racked up 19 points, and combined for 5 2nd half threes, as the Blazers shot 8-16 from the outside for the game. That is one number that will not make Coach Cal happy.

Interior defense and stopping penetration were two of the biggest issues, as UAB scored all their points on either layups or dunks during a 10 minute span, from the 16 minute mark to the six minute mark. UAB’s strategy was similar to many teams’ strategy against the Cats: spread them out and drive and either look to kick or finish at the rim. Kentucky’s defensive rotations were lacking, and when the Cats adjusted to help on drives UAB kicked and made three consecutive threes to close the game on an 11-2 run and make the final 11-point margin a respectable one. The Cats were also sluggish during the final five-minute stretch, commiting several tunovers and committing a shot clock violation.

While the finish was sluggish, many positives can come from this win. Richards and Hagans continue their impressive opening to the season. Johnny Juzang was able to come in and get a couple of jumpers to fall, and Keion Brooks, taking up some slack for the injured Nate Sestina,  once again was able to contribute in a positive way, finishing off some breaks, getting rebounds, and even hitting a three. The Cats out-rebounded UAB by 13 over-all and were able to collect 11 offensive boards, one of their best numbers of the season in that category. Kahlil Whitney once again struggled, however, still not being sure of himself, and going 0-5 over-all and 0-2 from three and only getting 2 rebounds. He is one player still trying to figure out his role on this team. Cal had positive comments about Whitney post-game, saying “I have all the faith in the World in Kahlil Whitney.” EJ Montgomery scored in a variety of ways, in the half court, inside and outside and on the break, as he continues to get back in the flow of things after sitting out with injury.

The Cats don’t return to the court until next Saturday, as they face Fairleigh DIckinson at 4:00 in Rupp, on the SEC Network. During that time, Calipari will have ample opportunity to get more practice in all phases and continue to figure out where guys will fit offensively and defensively and continue to develop his team’s identity.

 

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Cats Take Care of Business, Beat UAB 69-58

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