Exhibition Win Gives the Cats What They Need
For Kentucky fans, Friday night was the glorious return of competitive basketball.
For John Calipari and the Wildcats, Friday night was a to-do list.
“It’s a great lesson,” Coach Cal said. “This will be a great teaching tape.”
Fans had plenty of reason for excitement after watching UK dominate Transylvania in its first exhibition, 94-66. Kentucky used every inch of its significant size advantage to pound the Pioneers inside, as the Cats outscored their crosstown foes 62-24 in the paint and shot 56.9 percent from the field.
“I feel like we attacked the lane really well,” PJ Washington said. “We got our bigs involved. We shared the ball really well.”
UK’s four big men – Reid Travis, Washington, Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery – all scored at least 12 points and were joined in double figures by Quade Green (13), Keldon Johnson (13) and Ashton Hagans (10). Travis had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Montgomery 14 points and nine rebounds as UK outrebounded Transylvania by a margin of 52-18.
“For me it’s just trying to bring energy, trying to hit the boards hard,” Travis said. “I think that’s a big thing for me, that points and touches and things like that are going to come. We got a very talented team and some nights you kind of gotta play your role as far as when the ball’s going to come to you and be able to make your move and do things like that. But I feel like rebounding and energy on defense are things that I can bring every night.”
Generally speaking, Travis felt like UK brought the kind of energy necessary for the Cats to pursue their goals. That, perhaps more than anything else, was the greatest positive from Friday evening.
“All intentions were there in terms of working hard, putting effort towards it,” Travis said. “I felt like guys brought a lot of energy out tonight and really wanted to do the right things.”
Similarly, Green was happy with the way the Cats talked on the floor. They may have been a little quiet to start, but Green said he and his fellow veterans Travis and Washington inspired them to speak up.
“That’s a big thing,” Green said. “No communication on the floor, it can go (badly). You don’t communicate on the defensive end, someone’s going to score.”
It wasn’t for a lack of communication, but Transylvania did a fair amount of scoring on UK’s defense, especially in the second half. After halftime, the Pioneers shot 48.1 percent from the field and hit five 3s, often finding open lanes to the basket.
“I feel like we could have worked on our on-ball defense a lot more,” Washington said. “We had a couple breakdowns that led to 3s and easy layups for them. That’s a big thing we need to work on.”
Oddly, Calipari implemented a strategy that caused some of those breakdowns.
“We pressed the whole game, not to try to steal,” Calipari said. “I wanted the conditioning. Let’s see where we are conditioning. And so you press, and you’re all over the place, and then they hold the ball for 25 (seconds). That’s great conditioning, and we broke down a ton because of it.”
In a regular-season game, Calipari might have called off the press. But in a game where the sole goal was improvement, he stuck with it. In turn, he got what he wanted.
“What they ended up doing and showing these guys, if the other team plays harder than you, you’re not going to look good, and it doesn’t matter what level it is,” Calipari said. “You have to figure out how hard is this guy playing. I’ve got to play harder than he plays and you have to come in the game with the idea, I’m going to make him chase me. I’m not chasing him.
“Every one of our players has improved. Every one of them. Now it comes: Do you — does that mean you think you don’t have to play harder than the other guy? Because you’re way better as a player, it doesn’t — you know, that’s the equalizer in all that we do.”
In the week before UK’s next game against IUP, rest assured the Cats will receive that message in more than one form. That’s the whole point of these exhibitions.
“It was good just to go out there and play a different team,” Travis said. “I feel like we’ve been going at each other a long time when you talk about the practices from the summer and this preseason. So it’s nice to go up against somebody else and really compete. Obviously we got a lot of things we need to work on defensively with our conditioning, but that’s expected the first game. So I think it’s going to be good for us to be able to go look at the film, really just work on some of those things in practice the next couple days and just get ready for the next game.”