Five takeaways from Kentucky’s win over Mississippi State
The Cats got their second straight win against a top 25 team for the first time since the 2015 season in the NCAA tournament. It was a big win for this team and here are my takeaways from it.
- PJ Washington played like an all-SEC player- He led the team in scoring with 21 points and added in 6 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. The shot blocking is absolutely huge for this team due to the lack of a true rim protector being on the floor all the time. The other thing that was impressive was how PJ shot the ball from beyond the arc where he went 3-5. If he can continue to step out and make those it opens up the floor for the Cats to drive the ball and it makes it harder for opponents to double team Reid Travis. When PJ plays at a high level it makes it extremely hard to beat Kentucky.
- The defense is so much better- Early in the season it was no secret that Kentucky struggled to defend. That was especially true of their 3-point defense. Last night they held the Bulldogs to 15% shooting from three and just 31% overall. Slowly but surely they are looking more and more like a Coach Cal type of defense. Their shot blocking numbers continue to be the lowest of any team that he has had but they are learning to make up for that.
- Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery are making strides- The duo combined for 13 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 23 minutes of action. Those may seem like modest numbers but the key is how much they impact the game defensively when they are on the floor. Kentucky needs them to continue to make progress over the coming month if they hope to play in the Final Four. They will be needed on Saturday to help defend Dedric Lawson of Kansas who is a skilled scorer in the paint.
- Tyler Herro won’t be in Lexington very long- The freshman has raised his 3-point percentage to 36% on the season and it will keep climbing. His scoring ability inside the arc is on an elite level as well. He is rebounding the ball at a very high level and makes plays for his teammates off the dribble. He is also shooting over 90% from the charity stripe. His size and scoring ability make him a great NBA prospect. At one point I felt fairly confident that Herro would be back after this season but now I think it is extremely likely that this will be his only year in Lexington. There is a lot of season left to play so we will know a lot more about that in March. Either way I see no way that Tyler is at UK for more than two years. Enjoy this special player while you can.
- Immanuel Quickley makes winning plays- For the second straight game Quickley made key plays when the game was in the balance. His stat line may not have been eye popping in either game but he has came through in the clutch. Cal trusts him and is not afraid to have him in the game when it is all on the line. Immanuel has settled into his role and steps up whenever he is needed. He will only improve as the season goes on and that will give the Cats a dangerous weapon off the bench.
Now the Cats begin to prepare for a top 10 showdown with the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday. It is a huge opportunity for Kentucky to pick up a big resume win. I am already excited to walk into Rupp Arena that day because the atmosphere will be great. The Cats will be ready for war that day.