Kentucky Basketball survives Saint Joseph’s: Recap, 3 takeaways, and postgame discussion
The Kentucky Wildcats outlasted the St. Joseph’s Hawks on Monday night in Lexington by a score of 96-88 that went into overtime.
Kentucky got off to a slow start and didn’t play particularly well in the first half. As we’ll delve into below, at least part of that is probably related to the rotation, but it’s becoming a bit of a trend on the defensive side. The Cats scored well, but the Hawks matched them 3 after 3 as Kentucky held just a 41-38 lead at the half.
After the break, Kentucky seemed to sleepwalk its way through as St. Joe’s unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers and offensive rebounds. The Hawks never gave in, and Kentucky just couldn’t keep them from scoring. Both teams hit big shots to close it out in regulation, but in overtime, Kentucky woke up and finished them off.
To be frank, it was a pretty rough showing. Let’s hope they get things shored up after a scare, especially with a top-15 Miami team coming to Rupp Arena next week.
Next up, the Cats will take on the Marshall Thundering Herd on Black Friday in Lexington.
Cats need their bigs
This Kentucky team is fun. They run and gun, and they shoot the ball better than any Cats team in recent memory. As fun as it is, it isn’t quite as fun to watch teams, especially lower-level ones, outrebound UK, dominate the offensive glass, and get to the rim at will.
That’s not a recipe for success. Luckily, reinforcements are, hopefully, on the way. We all know that the Cats are missing 21 feet of big men, which includes 7-footer Ugonna Onyenso, 7’1 Aaron Bradshaw, and 7’2 Zvonimir Ivisic.
Getting the big men back is vital to UK’s ability to compete for a national championship. Rim protection and simply the ability to alter shots will pay huge dividends for this team on the defensive side. It’ll also be nice to have better rebounders out there, too.
Right now, Kentucky has 6’9 Tre Mitchell, two or three guards, a small-ball four, and out-of-position Jordan Burks. Mitchell is playing great for Kentucky, but he has his limitations, and it’s not fair to put the weight of this frontcourt on him.
I believe Bradshaw will be a great fit for this team when he returns. Obviously, he has the best pedigree, but despite his wiry frame, he’s known for his ability to block shots and spread the floor offensively.
Big Z has European professional experience, but it’s best to temper expectations. Ivisic is really unknown, but his unicorn-like attributes could provide a huge spark for this team. It’s just hard to know how it’ll translate.
Finally, we’ve seen limited minutes from Ugo, but his delayed development does concern me, as does his slow, laboring style of play. He’s definitely more of a traditional big, but both he and Ivisic will block their fair of shots and should rebound well.
Dilly and Sheppard
Why are we still even having this conversation? I don’t know the answer to that question, but apparently, we need to.
Everyone on this planet can see Reed Sheppard and Robert Dillingham are better than DJ Wagner right now. The same goes for Justin Edwards. That may not always be the case, but it is right now, and there’s no question about it.
But, for some reason, Wagner and Edwards continue to start game after game while Sheppard and Dillingham come off the bench after the opposing team inevitably starts with a lead, and UK can’t score.
Dillingham can be a little erratic, and defense isn’t his strong suit, but he’s a microwave scorer and provides so much energy. Sheppard does everything well and just plays winning basketball—scores, passes, and defends.
Right now, Wagner provides solid on-ball defense but poor shooting and inconsistency when attacking the rim. Edwards plays like he knows he was the projected No. 1 pick before the season, but the results certainly aren’t there.
Now, I will say Wagner seemed to find his stride a bit in the second half and helped Kentucky pull out the win.
All these guys are freshmen. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of ups and downs. But let’s let the best guys play and make the “stars” earn it for once.
Passing and shooting
Two things Kentucky does very, very well: pass and shoot. They’re also really good at limiting turnovers, which goes into the passing side of things, but we’ve discussed that at length in multiple postgame articles, so let’s focus on this.
Kentucky finished with 24 assists on 33 made baskets, an outstanding rate.
The Cats have a very guard-heavy roster, and they’re obviously playing really small right now without the bigs. With that being said, these guys share the ball and shoot the ball so well. I’ve seen Calipari have good passing teams, so this isn’t something really new, albeit nice to see after the last couple of seasons.
However, the shooting is unlike anything I’ve seen on a Calipari team. Sheppard, Dillingham, Mitchell, and Antonio Reeves can absolutely light it up from deep. If Wagner, Edwards, and/or Thiero ever find their shots, watch out because this team can be incredibly dangerous.
On this night, after a rough start to the season in this area, Wager and Edwards combined to shoot 3/7 from deep, a strong rate of 42.8% This is exactly the kind of line they need from deep when everyone is back for this Kentucky team to win at the highest level.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, and go, Cats!