Takeaways from Kentucky’s win over Kansas
Kentucky got one of their biggest wins of the season on Saturday when they knocked off the 9th ranked Jayhawks. It capped off a streak of three straight wins against ranked teams which had not happened since 2003. After some time to think about it these are my takeaways from the game.
- The Cats defense is legit– Kansas is a high scoring team but that did not keep the Cats from locking them down on the defensive end. In the last five games opponents are averaging just 61 points a game against Kentucky. The exciting thing is that this team can still make a lot of improvement on their defense. They have a lock down defender in Ashton Hagans who is picking up steals at a record breaking pace. Tyler Herro did an amazing job guarding Legerald Vick on Saturday and he just keeps getting better. PJ Washington continues to block shots and use his quickness to make plays on defense. Nick Richards came off the bench and blocked 5 shots in just 9 minutes of action. Keldon Johnson is the player that can really take the teams defense to another level once he figures that end of the court out a bit more. He has the talent and the drive to be a great defender when he puts it all together. If the Cats hope to make a Final Four run they need to be elite defenders and they are getting closer to that each game they play.
- The smash brothers are getting their chemistry right- PJ Washington and Reid Travis combined for 38 points and 25 rebounds against Kansas. The Jayhawks had no answer for the duo and the Cats exploited it. The on court chemistry between the two seems to be improving each game. The passing between them at times was reminiscent of Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes who teamed up as one of the best interior passing combos the Cats have ever had. The scary thing for opponents is that Travis and Washington both have a higher ceiling than either of those former Wildcats. It is still crucial for Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery to give the Cats a shot blocking presence but Reid and PJ getting on the same page is huge. They are the best scoring combo the Cats have had inside in a long time. They give the Cats a scoring option when outside shots aren’t falling and they can score off missed shots as well. As they continue to figure out each others game and their tendencies it will make them even more lethal. I continue to believe that they will match up very will with Tennessee.
- Rupp Arena was amazing- It is not always the case but on Saturday Rupp Arena was a huge home court advantage for Kentucky. The fans were loud and ready to go from the tip to the final buzzer. PJ Washington said he had never heard Rupp that loud since he has been in Lexington. Bill Self and Dedric Lawson both said what an amazing environment it was on Saturday. It was the best home crowd that I have heard there in a couple of seasons. What that tells me is that Big Blue Nation believes that this can be a special team and they are getting behind them more and more. I expect Rupp to be a huge advantage for the Cats in the remainder of their home games. The Cats need to win all six of their remaining games in Rupp, so it is a great time for the fans to make their presence known.
- This team still has another level they can get to– They played great and did what was necessary to win the game but they have far from peaked. Both the defense and offense can improve by a fairly wide margin. I think that on both ends of the floor they have only begun to figure out how they want to play. Part of that has to do with the players learning the system but part is also that Cal is still working to figure out exactly how to play with this specific team. Eventually I think shots will start to fall with regularity for this team and when that happens it will open up the offense for everyone.
- The bench will be fine- After the game there were some questions about the fact that the bench was held scoreless against the Jayhawks. I think it is silly to make much out of that because it has not been the norm. The starters were playing well and Cal opted to ride them to the finish which meant a few more minutes than normal for the starters. The four man bench is talented and can help the Cats to victory in any given game. Immanuel Quickley may be the best 6th man in the SEC and he will be huge for the Cats as the season continues. Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery have both shown how important they can be and the Cats need the length they can provide. Jemarl Baker has played solid defense every time he steps on the floor and he is a very good shooter from deep. One scoreless game is no reason for worry. This bench can be one of the better benches that the Cats have had since 2015.
The Cats head on the road to face Vanderbilt tomorrow night. The Commodores always play Kentucky well in Nashville so the Cats have to be ready for a battle. Stay tuned for our preview of that matchup tomorrow.