The Kentucky Wildcats largely performed to expectations in the team’s 81-59 victory over the St. John’s Red Storm on Thursday night.
Coming into the outing with the infamous target that immediately gets placed on your back when you’re dubbed No. 1 in the nation, this could have gone one of two ways for Kentucky. One, it could have motivated them to reinforce the notion that they’re the best in the land, thereby inspiring them to smash St. John’s from the first second of the game all the way to the end. Or, it could have spurned on the much maligned Red Storm, giving them that extra bit of incentive to topple a giant and play over their heads.
Fans got to see a little bit of both, with St. John's doing their best to hang on in the first half and Kentucky taking control in the second.
While not especially dominant offensively for large portions of the first half, the Wildcats absolutely smothered the opposition defensively whenever it mattered. By coming up with 10 blocked shots and forcing 11 turnovers in the first half alone, Kentucky reaffirmed itself as the best shot blocking at least, defensive at most, team in the country. That, above all else, distracted the attention away from their eye-popping eight turnovers in the first 13 minutes of action.
St. John’s, despite their attempts at slowing down the pace and going inside via their very, very athletic talent, simply couldn’t do much against the a squad that protects the rim the way Kentucky does. As expected, the Red Storm’s gameplan of avoiding the longball -- except in times of desperation -- in favor of taking it inside, while an excellent strategy in theory, just doesn’t jive when you’re playing a team like the Wildcats. By the end of the first half, St. John’s was eight-of-27 and shooting 0-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Kentucky forward Anthony Davis finished the game with 15 points, 15 rebounds and an absolutely huge eight blocks. Terrence Jones was impressive as well, racking up 26 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in the effort.
Although most of Kentucky’s players ended up getting their numbers on Thursday, head coach John Calipari acknowledged that the group wasn’t where it needed to be at this point.
"Offensively, we aren't in sync yet.”
The Wildcats converted on 40.6 percent of their shots and 67 percent from the charity stripe versus the Red Storm.
St. John’s, on the flip side, converted on 31.7 of their shots and a horrendous 15 percent of their 3-pointers.
Overall, this game went according to plan. Everything that everyone acknowledged Kentucky was better at than St. John’s proved to be true. They were bigger, quicker and more athletic throughout – and all of those things helped mask some of the offensive woes and shoddy ball-handling that was seen in the first half.
That will not be the case again this weekend versus a North Carolina Tar Heels team with something to prove.
If Kentucky gives Roy Williams’ bunch an inch, they’ll end up taking a mile. It was reassuring to see the Wildcats not take any blatantly bad shots on Thursday, but that won’t be enough. Against a team of the Tar Heels’ caliber, not taking bad shots alone is only half the battle – you also can’t make any mistakes.
St. John’s was a nice little appetizer for the freshly minted No. 1 team in the land, but the main course comes on Saturday.
Tipoff is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. eastern time.