Six takeaways from Kentucky’s road win over Georgia
The Cats got their first SEC road win of the season last night and it came in impressive fashion. Here are my takeaways from the game.
- Ashton Hagans is the best point guard in the league- It was abundantly clear last night that Hagans was the most dominant player on the floor and Georgia had no answer for him. He finished with 23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals in his homecoming win. He is averaging 16 points in SEC play and is a candidate to win defensive player of the year if he can keep up his impressive steal numbers. There is not another point guard in the league as good as Hagans and when all is said and done he will likely be one of the best point guards in the nation. Back in November I said that he was the most important player on the roster for the team to become elite and he is proving that to be true. Very soon you will begin to see Hagans name climbing up NBA draft boards. He is taking ownership of this team and that is exactly what Cal wants him to do.
- Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery played great- If you have been following along you know that I have been beating the drum that Nick and EJ have to play bigger roles. I have said that the duo needs to play 30-35 minutes a game. Last night they played 29 minutes and combined for 10 points, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks in the game. That is exactly what the Cats need from the pair. Whether it is a shared effort or one has a big game and produces more in a given contest really doesn’t matter. They just need one or both of them to rebound the ball and impact the game with their length on defense. Last night was a good confidence builder for both players but the next step is to do it with consistency. Auburn will be a good challenge for them because unlike most years they have size inside. If the Cats want to compete for the Final Four they must get consistent production out of this combo.
- Tyler Herro is impacting the game even when his shot isn’t falling- He was 0-2 from 3 but that didn’t slow him down in the game. He made several mid range shots and finished with 12 points. He also grabbed 7 rebounds, dished out 4 assists and had a steal. He has a knack for flying in and grabbing defensive rebounds around the free throw line area. He also tipped the ball out for a big offensive rebound in the 2nd half. He is becoming a complete basketball player that does not let his shot dictate how effective he is in a game. He also continues to be an elite shooter from inside the arc where he is shooting 56% on the season.
- No points from Keldon, no problem- The Cats showed they could win a game with 0 points from their leading scorer. Think about Kentucky trying to win a game last year if Kevin Knox went scoreless. That should tell you all you need to know about the depth and talent on this team compared to last year. Obviously Keldon is a crucial player going forward and the Cats need him to produce but it is good for the team to know that they don’t need to rely on him. The good thing is that there is no worry that Keldon will lose confidence after last night because he is one of the most confident kids we have covered.
- The offense needs to run through Ashton- There is always a learning curve as Cal works to figure out how each team needs to play on offense. Should they run the offense through Reid Travis and PJ Washington or should they run it through Keldon Johnson? It is clear to me that the answer is none of the above. It needs to run through Ashton and let him make plays and set up his teammates. Sure there will be times that plays are called for other players but the majority of the time it needs to be up to Ashton to run the offense. He is the best playmaker on this team and it is what he is built for.
- The defense is coming together- In the 2nd half against Vanderbilt, the Cats allowed just 17 points. Last night they allowed only 18 against Georgia. That is locking a team down in the clutch when the game was still in question. Defensive stops is what creates scoring runs and it is what wins games in crunch time. It is no secret that this team has struggled to defend more than any team of the Calipari era up to this point but that may be changing. They have the pieces to become a very good defensive team. They are making up for a lack of shot blocking by putting up big steal numbers. If Richards and Montgomery can add in more shot blocking it will help take the defense up another level.
The Cats have their toughest road test yet when they travel to Auburn on Saturday. The Tigers are a top 15 team with a very talented roster. A loss seems very likely but Kentucky showed last night that they are making strides toward becoming an elite team. We will find out a lot more about this team on Saturday.