Three Things We Learned From Kentucky’s Road Win Over Georgia
The Cats faced their first road test of the season at Georgia last night. Despite trailing at the half by 6 points, Kentucky dominated the second half and came away with a 9 point win. It was an impressive team performance that this group should be able to build from. Here are my three main takeaways from the game.
- Cal is getting comfortable with his rotation- Last night Cal went with five guys down the stretch to get the win. That group was Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Nate Sestina and Nick Richards. I think you can expect to see that five and EJ Montgomery as the primary 6 man rotation as we go forward. Keion Brooks and Kahlil Whitney will continue to get minutes depending on the game and how they play. The young duo could also see their roles increase as their games grow during this season. The reality is that if Kentucky hopes to compete for a Final Four they don’t have to have 8 or 9 good guys. They just need 6 and the 2012 title team proved that. I think Cal has 5 and EJ Montgomery can become the 6th if he plays with consistent energy. As Cal shortens the rotation up it will help the teams production on the floor. During the Calipari era I can not remember a team that was less reliant on freshmen than this team is. That experience is something that should be a big factor going forward and it showed last night. The Cats played like a veteran team that was not phased by the road environment or playing from behind. Give this group more time together and they will become a cohesive unit that will be hard to beat in March.
- Nick Richards is the most important player on this team- Obviously this team has multiple players that it could not afford to lose. But if you want to point to one player that dictates how this team performs, I believe it is Nick Richards. Georgia went on a run in the 1st half after Richards picked up his 2nd foul and went to the bench. Having him back on the floor in the 2nd half was the biggest factor in changing the game. His length inside keeps teams from trying to drive the lane and on offense he is becoming a legit scoring threat from multiple areas. He is also a catalyst for the team when he is on the floor. As his confidence and experience continue to grow he could take his game up another notch in the coming months. Many fans won’t admit it now, but many of them wrote Nick off a long time ago. It is pretty awesome to watch him proving his critics wrong.
- The backcourt is the best in the nation- If you have been following along you know that I have been saying that Kentucky has the best guards in the nation. Nothing has happened to change my mind and last night just supports my opinion. The trio of Hagans, Quickley and Maxey combined for 45 points, 15 assists, 14 rebounds, 7 steals and 5 blocks. Cal is going with a three guard lineup more and more often and the team is benefiting from it. They are getting used to sharing the court together and learning each others tendencies. Quickley has become the most consistent threat from deep and has raised his season 3-pt percentage to 38%. Hagans is more than capable of scoring points when needed but he excels at creating offense for his teammates. Maxey is the got most explosive offensive weapon and can score off the dribble and from outside. The thing that takes this trio to another level is the defense that each of them plays. They are all big enough to guard bigger players and disrupt them with their quickness, but they are also capable of pestering smaller quicker guards with their length. If Kentucky is going to cut down any nets this season it will be because of these three Wildcats.
Kentucky will return to Rupp Arena to face Alabama on Saturday. This team still has a long way to go before they become the team that Cal wants them to be by March, but they are making strides. Last night was a big step in the right direction and you can’t ask for more than that.