Kentucky Beats Portland, Turns Sights Towards Maui

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I thought this might be a bit of trap game for Kentucky. Making a stop in Portland, Oregon, to face a Portland team that shoots it well and has a guy in Luke Sikma that could challenge Kentucky’s lack of size underneath. UK’s youth could also prove evident in a stopover game that was to see them jump on a plane for Maui pretty much as soon as the clock hit zero’s.

Didn’t happen. And while watching the Wildcats jump out to a 15-0 lead to start the game, everyone was quick to remind me of my prognostication that this one could be tougher than expected.

It wasn’t. Kentucky rolled the entire way. After their 15-0 start, Portland had a 13-8 run to cut it to 23-13 with a little over seven minutes in the half. Kentucky answered with eight strait to regain their lead. The Pilots then mustered an 11-7 run at the end of the half to make it 38-24. The Cats then started the second half 12-2 run to push their lead to 24. Another 10-0 run made it 64-32 and they never looked back en route to a 79-48 win.

Portland entered the game, shooting 54-percent from the field and 51-percent from three in their first three games, all wins. On Friday night against the Cats they couldn’t get anything to fall after missing their first 11 shots from the field. Overall, the Pilots ended up shooting 18-for-59, 31-percent, from the floor and 4-for-20, 20-percent, from deep.

Jared Stohl, who led the nation in three-point shooting percentage a year ago, managed to shoot just 2-for-9 and 1-for-7 from deep for a total of nine points. I’ll tell you this, Mr. Jared Stohl is going to have him some nightmares regarding Deandre Liggins. Liggins, who really embraced his role as a defender last year, was excellent Friday night. Stohl has one of the quickest releases in the country, meaning that if a defender loses him for a mere half-second, he is going to get a shot off. They run him through a ton of screens and Liggins was up to the task, fighting through them, and keeping a constant lock the three-point threat.

Sikma pulled down 12 rebounds, but like Stohl struggled on the offensive end, shooting just 2-for-7, good for four points.

You have to be excited about this young team’s effort on the defensive end. Everyone talks about John Calipari’s ability to recruit, but what amazes me about him is his ability to turn this excellent recruits into excellent defenders, almost immediately.

On the offensive end, it appeared that the Wildcats could get any shot they wanted as they ended the game shooting 28-for-51, good for 55-percent. They also continued to prove that this team could be very effective from deep as they knocked down 8-of-18 three-point attempts.

Brandon Knight led the way with 21, and Darius Miller (15), Doron Lamb (13), and Terrence Jones (12) all finished in double-figures.

Knight, who embraces but shies away from comparisons with John Wall, was excellent once again. The kid is fast and got to the rim whenever he wanted. He also can shoot it. A scary combination. In just his second collegiate game you just see that this kid is a smart, smart basketball player. It’s going to fun to watch him all year. His numbers are impressive. He shot 7-for-13 from the floor, 2-for-5 from deep, and in 32 minutes turned the ball over just once.

Miller did what Miller needs to do. He led the way. And more importantly, he was consistent. Throughout his first two years he has had a tendency to show brilliance and then quickly turn to ghost. The Cats need him to lead and on Friday he did that, scoring seven consecutive points in their opening 15-0 run, and knocking down 6-of-7 shots from the field. He filled the box as well, with five rebounds, four assists, five steals, four blocks and was 3-of-4 from deep. He turned it over twice.

Despite scoring 12 points, Jones struggled in his hometown. He scored the first two points of the game on a H-O-R-S-E-like bank shot and didn’t score again until the second half. Because of Kentucky’s lack of size, they are going to need Jones to bang underneath and two games into the season he is not really showing a willingness to do so. He is a very versatile big and because of that he tends to prance around the perimeter or the 10-15 foot range and settle for jumpers. Kentucky needs him to body up underneath and use his length to score at the rim.

We all knew that Lamb can shoot it and he can. Last night he was 3-for-4 from deep. But, his skill-set is there. He is way more than a shooter and will be fun to watch this year.

Now it’s time for the Maui Invitational, which is one of my favorite things all season long, even when the Wildcats are not involved. They open with Oklahoma and will have opportunities to face Washington, Michigan State and Villanova. Should be a fun tournament. We’ll have a full preview on Sunday.


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