No. 9 Kentucky looks to shake off its early season doldrums Friday when Mount St. Mary’s visits Rupp Arena in Lexington.
The Wildcats (3-1) began the year with strong wins over No. 1 Michigan State in the Champions Classic and Eastern Kentucky in their home opener. But then came a shocking 67-64 home loss to Evansville on Nov. 12 followed by a lethargic 82-74 win over Utah Valley on Monday.
Part of the issue is that Kentucky has been rocked by injuries. Big man EJ Montgomery has missed three straight games with a foot injury. Guard Ashton Hagans was hampered in the Evansville loss and guard Immanuel Quickley sat out Monday’s game after suffering a chest injury on the final play of practice. The Wildcats did not offer a status update Thursday morning.
That left UK with just seven scholarship players against Utah Valley, which had an impact throughout the roster, especially inside with big men Nick Richards and Nate Sestina.
“Nick and Nate played too many minutes,” coach John Calipari said. “Those extra seven, eight, nine, 10 minutes, it wipes them out. They stop playing. They don’t get back. They get run into a screen. We don’t rebound. We don’t block a shot. We don’t have the energy and spirit you got to play with to be good.”
Calipari, keenly aware of the problem, took to social media Wednesday to address the Kentucky fan base.
“As I get ready for practice with my team, with some players who can go and some who cannot, we are trying to figure out: How to be a threat offensively? How do we make more 3s? How do we guard five spaced players? How do we get more consistent in playing winning basketball?”
Three of the four concerns could be addressed by improved 3-point shooting.
Of 351 Division I teams, Kentucky ranks 347th shooting just 21.3 percent behind the arc. The Wildcats have made only 13 of 61 shots from deep, with its worst outing being its last game when UK made 1 of 12 against Utah Valley.
“I remember saying to Sam Cassell when I was coaching him, kid made so many game winners and game-winning free throws and I said, ‘How do you do it?'” Calipari said. “He said, ‘I’m not afraid to miss. I’m not afraid to miss a game winner. I’ll be good with it.’ We still have young guys that are playing not to lose. You can’t play that way.”
The poor 3-point shooting has dragged Kentucky’s overall field-goal shooting to 43.9 percent on the season. The Wildcats are making 52.5 percent on two-point shots and 78.9 from the free throw line.
Freshman Tyrese Maxey leads the way at 16.0 points per game. Quickley checks in at 14.0, Richards at 13.8 and Hagans at 12.8.
Mount St. Mary’s (1-4) arrives at Rupp Arena with its lone victory coming against Gettysburg and losses to Georgetown, Washington, Lamar and UAB.
Only two players average in double figures. Junior guard Jalen Gibbs scores 15.0 per game and sophomore guard Vado Morse checks in at 12.2.
The Mountaineers scored only 60.2 points per game while shooting 40.4 percent from the field and 28.1 percent from 3-point range.
–Field Level Media